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North Carolina Senator John Edwards has written a book. There’s nothing particularly surprising about that. Eight of the nine Democratic presidential candidates (all but Carol Moseley Braun) have books out or soon will. For candidates these days, a book seems to be as expected as a resume. Four Trials, however, is not a vision of where Edwards hopes to lead the country. It doesn’t lay out his positions on the issues. In fact, neither the book nor the dust jacket even mentions that Edwards is running. It is not entirely surprising that the former trial lawyer avoids talking about his political career. He has yet to complete his first term in his first political office, and he recently ended months of speculation by announcing that he won’t seek re-election to the Senate while running for president. But it does seem surprising that, in an autobiography with a publication date of Dec. 1, seven weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Edwards doesn’t even explain why he got into politics. The closest he comes is this passage near the end of the book: “If you can’t help enough people being a lawyer, consider being a lawmaker.” Not a political book “It’s not a political book,” Edwards said of Four Trials, which was written with University of Maryland English Professor John Auchard. “I’m not a lifelong politician. Two decades of my life were spent doing what this book described. And more importantly, what it was focused on was the sort of strength and courage and optimism of the people that I represented, which had a huge impact on how I see the world.” There is presumably a risk in Edwards’ proclaiming his role as a plaintiffs’ lawyer. Lawyers aren’t winning any popularity contests these days. An American Bar Association study last year found that only 19% of Americans have confidence in lawyers, placing them just slightly above the news media. Candidates John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, Richard Gephardt and Carol Moseley Braun are also lawyers. And across the board, the Democrats’ positions on several “tort reform” bills aren’t dissimilar. [See chart.] The other lawyer-candidates, however, aren’t advertising their profession. Four Trials consists of four chapters, each about a trial. Edwards, 50, was a young lawyer when he tried the first, and was not long from launching his Senate campaign when he tried the fourth. The first two suits were medical liability cases, which became his specialty. The second could have been used to argue that noneconomic damages in medical liability cases shouldn’t be capped, a position Edwards and many other Democrats support. His clients claimed that their daughter was injured by an obstetrician who delivered her vaginally despite evidence that she was in danger and that a cesarean section would have been safer. The child was born with cerebral palsy. Edwards never raises the political issue. Here, and throughout the book, he highlights the human drama. He chooses not to use it to make a political point. One of the few places where he touches on the issue of tort reform is near the end of the last chapter. Even there he does so obliquely. Referring to the parents of a child severely injured by a pool drain, he writes that “it’s hard to sit there and listen to strangers say, ‘Lawsuits like these are what’s wrong with America!’ and then go home to your innocent daughter and her feeding tubes.” Candidates as authors The kind of book a candidate publishes is less important than getting one out, according to veteran journalist and National Public Radio senior news analyst Daniel Schorr. “I think there’s now a certain imperative,” said Schorr. “I do think it has begun to be a tradition. I don’t think anyone was ever elected because of a book he had written nor rejected because of a book. It’s simply one more card you play if you are entering or involved in political life.” For some candidates, Schorr said, “it tends to be a campaign document. It tends to be a longer version of a stump speech.” For others, it’s “a statement of credo-of what your life was like or what you believe in.” Edwards’ book falls into the second category, weaving his life story into the trial narratives. Since the candidate has been criticized for being a trial lawyer, Schorr noted, it made sense for him to write a book defending this role. “It’s what he’s done all his life,” Schorr said. “It’s what he’s made his money from. And it is one way to approach a candidacy, by saying: ‘Never mind if I’m a candidate or not. This is what I’ve been doing for a living, and let me tell you why it’s a good thing.’ “ Howard Rubenstein, founder of the media relations firm Rubenstein Associates, no longer represents politicians as he did for many years. He, too, believes that most presidential candidates feel obliged to ante up with a book. The advantage, he said, is that the author can make his case “in one place without the bits and pieces of sporadic television” or the vagaries of a reporter “with an attitude or a spin.” It can generate book-signing parties, receptions in voters’ homes and media interviews without concerns about equal time, he said. “It can be the basis of a whole campaign.” Edwards’ campaign has begun using Four Trials to raise money. Contributors receive copies of the book, which lists for $24, when they donate at least $35. For $250, they get a signed copy. There are also risks in writing a book, Rubenstein cautioned. A boring or poorly researched book can expose a candidate’s weaknesses, he said. But a book like Edwards’ (as it was described to him) can “humanize” a candidate and “create a human interest story. I like that,” Rubenstein said. “I think it’s very smart.” If the other lawyers in the race aren’t proclaiming their prepolitical careers, Edwards said he gave no thought to avoiding the subject. “It’s a big part of who I am,” he said. “You have to be honest with people about who you are.” Hechler’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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