This is it. December. A month to go until the Iowa caucuses Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary Jan. 8. People ask, how’s Johnny doing?

To: John Edwards

It’s possible you’re starting your last month of campaigningever. Or, you may catch fire. You could win in Iowa. Polls say that most of your supporters attended a caucus four years ago, whereas half of Clinton’s supporters and almost as many of Obama’s will be first-timersif they show up. Up or out, you should campaign in December as if you are the only candidate in the race.

Three reasons for this: First, Clinton is picking at Obama’s inexperience, and Obama’s picking back at her caginess. Why get in their way? But second, and much more important, Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire and America are looking for a leader, not a critic. They want to know what kind of president you’ll be. Show them. If you’re true to yourself, and attuned to what the country needs so desperately, you’ll be the confident, can-do Johnny that North Carolinians remember from your ’98 Senate campaign. Reason three: The country needs an optimist.

We’ve been operating out of fear since Sept. 11. We’ve let special interests set the national agenda sincewell, at least since Eisenhower told of the military-industrial complex. We are, indeed, the “two Americas” you’ve spoken about, which is not new except that we accept it so passively. But in our hearts, especially at the holidays, we believe in one “great America” and yearn to be part of it. We remember JFK, not only for his “vigah,” but for the lift we felt as we prepared to “bear any burden.” We have many burdens to bear today. We must set fear aside and regain our courage.

This can’t be a happy time for you, with Elizabeth’s cancer. But it should be a proud one. You’ve run a good campaign, taken strong positions, andas Paul Krugman said in our paper last weekwritten the road map for the ’08 Democratic nominee, whoever it may be. Your agenda: withdrawal from Iraq, universal health care, the petroleum-free future our economy needs and the planet’s health demands, and above all, a national commitment to address problems together and share the wealth that comes from solving them fairly. It’s the mission, as your new ad says, that you and Elizabeth set “in the quiet of a hospital room.” Now, the next president must help the country set it, and go for it with courage and confidence.