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Kia Franklin

In Pre-Caucus Raucus, Obama Jabs Edwards and Trial Lawyer Profession

The Iowa caucus is tonight, and the candidates aren't holding any punches. Poll results show Obama, Clinton, and Edwards fighting neck and neck to win Iowans and inspire them to get out the vote. I also read that the candidates are expected to spend $200 per voter to affect its outcome.

In this environment, aggresive tactics and hard-hitting critiques of their opponents are to be expected. As a matter of fact, when the candidates aren't putting up their best fight, they face criticism for being too nice or diplomatic.

But it would be nice if these political jabs were based on something other than pure personal attacks that do nothing but play into the conservative agenda. Like Obama's quick jab at the trial lawyer profession, interpreted as a challenge against successful former trial lawyer and competitor John Edwards. According to WaPo, in a recent speech Obama emphasized to voters that he's "a normal person" who was squarely middle class until winning his Senate position. He reflected on how he could have taken lucrative career opportunities but that his dedication to public service prevented him from doing so. "That's why I didn't become a trial lawyer," he adds.

To my pleasant surprise, this comment has generated a good little bit of 'net-based broo haha among the left. For instance, Kos at DailyKos and TPM Cafe ask whether Obama's criticism is really meant to suggest that because Edwards was a trial lawyer he is less commited to public service. TPM Cafe includes a link, courtesy of the Edwards campaign, to a video statement by Sandy Lakey, Edwards' former client whose daughter was seriously injured by a faulty drain cover. (See here) They say this is the best response to Obama's challenge.

Obama's remarks not only assault a profession that is driven by representing "normal people"-who he claims to be and represent-in legal battles against Goliath-like opponents like big businesses; they also just don't make sense politically. For someone whose appeal is largely based on his fresh perspective and willingness to advocate for the average person, his attack of Edwards looks suspiciously stale and similar to those made in the last election.

Atrios succinctly critiques this move by Obama as something that looks like pandering to the conservative right. Alas, Obama's not alone among the candidates in his willingness to vilify trial lawyers. In fact, actually a while back I wrote about remarks made by Edwards which, ironically, appeared to advance the tort "reform" agenda more than hilight the importance of our civil justice system.

In this sense one could say that the attack on civil justice is a bi-partisan effort among the candidates. It's not just the trial lawyer remark, it's the willingness to accept what the right has said about the civil justice system, and to operate from that framework. Obama's quick willingness to suggest that the profession is antithetical to public service is just symptomatic of that problem.

By the way, a cursory little search for pro-civil justice statements among the candidates yielded very little meat. (Anyone got anything on this? Please feel free to share links in the comments section) It's like this isn't an important issue for them unless they're using it to attack one another or to jump on the tort "reform" bandwagon. Oh, how I'd love it if we could get the candidates talking about how we can improve the civil justice system for real people, so that they can use it more effectively to protect and advocate for themselves. (Stay tuned on this... more to come soon.)

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 10:15 AM, Jan 03, 2008 in Civil Justice
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