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By contrast, Gephardt and Lieberman, and North Carolina Senator John Edwards, seem to be moving, and talking, in slow motion. All three spend a fair amount of time telling their personal stories, which are compelling. All three say they are fighting for average folks like their parents. All three voted with the President on Iraq and try to confront that issue straight on. Edwards is best at this: "I know you don't agree with me on Iraq," he told an audience in Indianola, Iowa, which seemed to be entirely composed of peace activists, "but I want to tell you directly, from my own mouth, why I feel the way I do about this." And then Edwards--Gephardt and Lieberman do almost exactly the same--said Saddam is a real threat who needs to be disarmed, but quickly moved on to the President's "cowboy mentality" and diplomatic depredations: "Your family is safer in a world where people look up to America than in a world where we are hated." At this, an elderly woman named Jane Majors scribbled a sign with Magic Marker and held it above her head: BUT WAR WILL MAKE THEM HATE US MORE.
And so there's a tortoise-and-hare quality to the campaign. Dean dashing, the others slogging along, ducking brickbats and trying to explain themselves. (Senator John Kerry, whom most of the candidates privately see as the front runner, was recuperating last week from prostate-cancer surgery.) There will be changes soon. An embarrassing swarm of newcomers--including a buffoon brigade, starring the Rev. Al Sharpton--seems likely to clog the stage in the coming weeks. But the biggest changes will be outside the candidates' control: this campaign, more than any other in recent memory, will be defined by events in the world. The looming war, the possibility of another terrorist attack, the hunt for Osama bin Laden--the race will be an endless series of surprises.
In such circumstances, steadiness will probably be more important than speed or heat or flash. Dean will have a role to play: he'll sharpen the others, teach them how to speak English, force them to clarify their positions. But I suspect that a year from now, when the voting begins, the public will be more in the mood for comfort food--perhaps even macaroni and cheese.