Edwards' comments come on the eve of ABC's Sunday debate in Iowa, the first in the crucial state in the presidential nominating process.
The former senator has particularly emphasized Iowa in his campaign, and the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll had him essentially tied with Clinton and Obama in the Hawkeye State.
Edwards has put the bulk of his campaign attention on Iowa this year -- as if he learned the lesson of 2004, when Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., edged him out in the state with the first-in-the-nation caucuses and never looked back en route to the Democratic nomination. This week, he's making 31 stops in Iowa cities and towns during a six-day bus tour, putting his tally of Iowa events so far this year well above 100.
But 2008's Edwards looks almost nothing like the Edwards of 2004, who projected sunny optimism and mostly refused to attack his fellow Democrats.
He's taken on an aggressive populist tone in his campaign this year, with angry rhetoric about "these people" who are in control of the government, and crowd-pleasing lines about how he'll take on "the special interests in Washington."
Edwards likes to quote Robert F. Kennedy, but he's less Kennedy than he is Willie Stark, Robert Penn Warren's fictional small-town Southerner who rose from poverty to the governor's office based on angry appeals to the forgotten class.
"I listen to George Bush as little as I can get away with," he said at a campaign stop Thursday. "But sometimes I hear him, even when I'm not trying, and this is what I hear from him: 'Stay home, watch television, Dick Cheney and I, we'll take care of you,'" his voice rising to accentuate the mocking tone.
"I don't want that crowd taking care of me," Edwards continued. "First of all, I don't trust 'em, the last thing I want is them taking care of me. Second, that's not who we are. That's not America."
He's doesn't shy away from drawing distinctions between himself and his fellow presidential candidates. He regularly jabs Clinton over her ties to lobbyists -- "We are not the party of Washington insiders" -- and Obama over his rhetoric about the need to bring the country together to solve problems.
"I do not believe you can bring about change by being nice and compromising," Edwards said Thursday at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. "I mean, the insurance companies and drug companies and oil companies and their lobbyists have been running the government in Washington. And the only way change is going to occur is if we take them on directly and beat them."
Edwards also makes a thinly veiled argument about electability, strongly suggesting that he is the only major candidate who can help down-ballot Democrats in next year's elections.
"One of the things that everybody in Iowa should be asking themselves," Edwards said Thursday night in Ottumwa, "me, Sen. Clinton, Sen. Obama -- those three candidates -- it's not just winning the White House. We also need to strengthen our position in the House and the Senate. How do we do that? We win in tough places ... Who -- Clinton, Edwards, Obama, who if you're running in Georgia, in a tough place, or Virginia, or in Iowa, who would you rather run with?"