April 3rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

Just saw Fred Thompson and John Edwards provide the closing keynotes for the CTIA Wireless conference in Las Vegas. The political theme carried over from last year, when George H W Bush and Bill Clinton were the closing speakers. A step down, perhaps, but two former presidential candidates is interesting nonetheless.

John Edwards spoke first and appeared very much as I have always suspected he would. There is John Edwards the trial lawyer, confident and methodical in laying out a compelling narrative. But there is also John Edwards the rich man who wants to be the friend of the little guy, with a vague air of superiority. His charm runs over to smarminess on occasion.

He covered several themes but did so in a way which appeared to flow well from one to another. He talked about the flawed political process, but did so good-naturedly rather than bitterly. He spoke of climate change and emphasised population growth as a factor, making several exaggerations in the process. And he repeatedly made reference to the wireless industry and its contributions to the political process.

Fred Thompson was a crusty old Republican, with a lazy demeanor that said a lot about why his campaign never took off. His first five minutes was made up of set-piece jokes, some funny, some less so, though his biggest laugh (and deservedly so) was when he said that he had flown in earlier today into Las Vegas “under heavy sniper fire.” He meandered here and there, covering some of the same ground as John Edwards though tempering his criticisms of the process by saying that it could be changed (but not talking about specifics). A lot of his remarks were very self-referential in a way Edwards’ were not. And he didn’t mention the wireless industry until the last minute of his 20-30 minute remarks.

In a brief Q&A session at the end, both candidates were asked who their professional heroes were. Edwards said his hero was Bobby Kennedy, primarily because of the attention he paid to the issue of poverty. A second was Terry Sanford, Governor and Senator from North Carolina, who had apparently handled issues of de-segregation sensitively.  Fred Thompson’s hero was Howard Baker, who preceded him as Senator from Tennessee and acted as something of a mentor to Thompson.

A second question asked whether the two former presidential candidates would accept the VP slot if offered it. Edwards, who knows whereof he speaks, simply said no. Thompson said that to answer the question would be presumptive since he hadn’t been asked it by the one person who mattered, but also said that he would not accept it.

Overall, although I have far more sympathy with Thompson’s politics than those of Edwards, I found that Edwards came across as the more congenial, the more interested in the industry he was speaking too. Last year, the roles were reversed, with the Republican (George H W Bush) being the more humble, giving more credit to the wireless industry and generally coming off better, and Clinton very self-centered, keen to impress and relatively uninterested in his audience. Edwards still seemed alternately snooty and smarmy at times, but largely presented himself better than Thompson.