I wrote this on the Edwards official campaign blog on Sunday March 14, 2004, just days after the Super Tuesday and Edwards' suspension from the Presidential race.
Of all 10 Democratic contenders this year, only Edwards left a lasting legacy - a legacy in language, in the way political discourse is framed. The theme of Two Americas has become a part of our vocabulary - no need to explain what it means because everyone already knows. It is mentioned, most often with correct attribution to Edwards, in numerous articles written by people spanning the political spectrum from the rabid right-wingers to the Socialists. Erskine Bowles is campaigning with a theme of Two North Carolinas. Even before Iowa, John Kerry started talking about Two Worlds (John Edward, the psychic, seems to be able to freely travel between those two worlds). Of course, the real theme of the speech was One America and how to get to it, while Two Americas were mentioned only as a starting point on that journey. But, you cannot expect journalists to comprehend future, they live in the present, and only the best ones have appreciation for the past. The 'frame' of Two Americas directly, and I think succesfully, counteracts the conservative theme of American Unity (against enemies - the essence of politics of fear) and the theme "what's good for GM is good for America" i.e., trickle-down economics. Another Edwards' 'frame' is "the Politics of Optimism and Hope" and his success in the primaries showed that a positive message for the future can energize voters and trump vicious attacks and resume-comparison. It did not work 100% this time around, but it will become CW by the time next elections roll around. Another Edwards' 'frame' is "the shifting of values from work to wealth". This "shorthand" effectively neutralizes the Republican 'frame' of "lifting the tax burden". "Burden" is something heavy and bad for you. Add "tax" to it and you get "tax = bad". Let Republicans come in to lift it and they become good guys. If someone, Democrats for instance, want to change something about the tax code, they are automatically villains - they place more of a "burden" on you. Edwards' rhetoric refreshes the notion that taxes are a fee, a due we all have to pay in order to live in America and have the infrastructure that allows us to do our business and succeed. Legacy left in language is the strongest and most long-lasting legacy. I hope the Democrats keep "stealing' Edwards' frames, as that completely changes the tone of the discourse into one in which Republicans canot win.