The Editor’s Desk

John Edwards had just changed his shirt—blue for blue—and opened a Diet Sunkist orange soda. It was a hot New Hampshire day late in the summer, and Jonathan Darman and I had gone up to check in on Edwards's retail political performances. After a sweaty speech in the sun in front of a public school, the Democratic candidate climbed back aboard his bus for a conversation about the campaign. Then as now, the preponderance of coverage of the race seemed to focus on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and I asked Edwards how he felt about that. "I have been through this before," he said, referring to his 2004 bid. "And in Iowa and New Hampshire, you just have to go look people in the eye, and you never really know what is going to happen until late in the game." Four years ago, Howard Dean had been all the rage—and then Iowans actually caucused. Edwards remembered the season the shift began. "In '04, it was December before I started getting a really telling question: 'Tell us why you would be a better general-election candidate than John Kerry.' It wasn't about Dean. And I think it may be December this time before folks get really serious."

It is now December, and the 2008 campaign, as anyone who is even remotely interested in it knows, is unusually fluid—or at least unusually so in that we know it is fluid, as opposed to the journalistic tendency to convince ourselves that a single front runner is pretty much inevitable. Does Edwards's appearance on our cover this week suggest that we think he is going to win Iowa on Jan. 3 or New Hampshire on Jan. 8? No, because we have no idea who is going to win those contests on either side. But our cover choice does mean we do not believe the conventional wisdom that has turned this largely into a Clinton-Obama race.

A big reason for our skepticism is Edwards's character. As ArianCampo Flores and Suzanne Smalley report, he is a steely (some would say too steely) and hungry (some would say too hungry) politician, a man who has made his own way in the world and who sees no reason why he should not rise even further. On the bus that summer day, I asked him about trust. I told him that I have young children growing up in New York City, which no doubt remains a terrorist target. Why should I put their safety in his hands? Edwards answered instantly: "Because I know how to fight," he said. "I grew up in a place where you had to know how to fight to survive." The words came from the core; in them, there was a glimpse beyond and behind the artifice of a lawyer-candidate.

With immigration playing such a large role in the campaign and with worries about a 2008 recession on the rise, Sharon Begley explores the scientific roots of fear, with particular emphasis on how anxiety shapes our political choices.

Lally Weymouth's exclusive interviews from Pakistan are reminders of the complexity of the job awaiting whoever wins next November. In conversations with Pervez Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, Lally got the two most important politicians in what is arguably the world's least stable nuclear power to talk about terrorism, order and the Western view of Pakistan.

And I commend Joshua Alston's profile of Sam Waterston to you. I am an unabashed admirer of "Law & Order," and we are pleased to note that Waterston's Jack McCoy is finally getting promoted to district attorney—which is, so far, perhaps the most significant thing to result from Fred Thompson's decision to enter the presidential race.

Join the Discussion