Why I'm (still) voting for John Edwards on Super Tuesday

Millions of Democrats continued to support John Edwards long after the media had conspired to make impossible his nomination by the Democratic Party. For many progressives, he was the embodiment of the desire for a new start after the corrupt, incompetent, authoritarian regime of George W. Bush.

Months ago, his campaign stopped being about electing John Edwards and became a crusade to force the Democratic party to live up to its history -- embodied in the administrations of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, and its ideals -- the vehicle used by generations of liberals and progressives to advance the causes of economic justice, civil rights, peace and the environment.

Whatever happens on Super Tuesday, progressive Democrats should continue to vote for John Edwards until the convention. It was Edwards, with his growing maturity in foreign policy and his focus on economic justice as the cornerstone of his effort, who thrust progressive policy proposals into the campaign. As Paul Krugman wrote in The Times,
Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.
The issues remain

But, with Edwards out, if the struggle for economic justice and the pursuit a more rational set of national priorities are to remain a part of this campaign until election day, Edwards delegates need to be at the convention in the largest numbers possible.

The empty call for "change" has become the buzz word of this election year. It's gotten so in the last couple months that you can't announce you're running for dogcatcher without issuing a press release assuring voters that you are a "change agent." The usefulness of "change" to a politician is obvious: it encourages each voter to see the candidate as a blank screen on which to project his particular hopes and dreams. But the endless mantra of change has left many citizens hungry for details.

With Edwards' run over, who among the major candidates can be relied on most to deliver the profound transformational changes we need? The next president will inherit a failed military policy; a looming disaster for the economy; the aftermath of decades of growing structural deformities in the economic system; a crisis in health care; a crumbling infrastructure...the list is longer than a bill coming out of the military appropriations committee.

The next president is going to be required to exhibit bold vision and provide tough leadership if s/he is to succeed in building the political and cultural consensus that will bring about the reform and rebirth of the American system. We are still learning who that person might be.

No hurry to choose

It isn't time yet for progressives to decide between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The rush of some liberals to endorse Obama in the hours leading up to Tuesday's vote has much more to do with stopping Clinton (and, honestly, I wish Ted Kennedy better luck with his Anybody-but-Clinton offensive than he had with his Anybody-but-Carter effort a quarter century ago) than it does with his goals or likelihood of success.

For now, progressives should withhold their support from both candidates until they make convincing specific proposals about what their administrations will do about health care, international trade, economic justice and job creation, infrastructure, runaway military spending, and the host of other problems that have been festering since the Reagan years.

Take the troubled economy. Hillary Clinton recently proposed (long after Edwards) a broad economic stimulus package that includes a $30 billion “emergency housing crisis fund” to help states rescue low-income families who are unable to meet their mortgage payments and a $25 billion budget item (ten times current federal assistance) to aid low-income families in paying heating bills this winter. She would also spend $10 billion to extend unemployment insurance.

Inevitably, Obama responded a few days later with his own plan, but as was true with other initiatives by Edwards and Clinton -- notably health care -- Obama's proposal mirrored theirs but was more conservative. The senator from Illinois, for example, doesn't include the alternative energy components that are in both the Edwards and Clinton plans, and he emphasizes across-the-board tax cuts, similar to those contained in the agreement between the House leadership and the Bush administration, instead of direct aid to the hardest hit Americans that Clinton and Edwards favored.

This is not to say that either Clinton nor Obama wouldn't be infinitely superior as chief executive to John McCain, Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee. But, so far, both Democratic candidates appear to be cautious, middle-of-the-road politicians at a moment in our history when more is demanded, and there is no rush to decide Tuesday or anytime before the convention which of the two is better-suited or more likely to rise to the challenges the country will face in the next four years.

Edwards supporters were attracted by a campaign based on ideas, on specifics, and on progressive ideals. Why should we hurry to embrace a candidate who gets specific only reluctantly and who promises to rise above "partisanship," as though the ideas of the right and left are practically and morally equivalent and that what is missing is someone to moderate between them? If we've learned anything over the last several administrations, it is that bipartisanship is a code word for conservative rule. At the very least, it should be enough to give progressives pause before hastening to vote for him that in this campaign Obama has attacked Clinton and Edwards repeatedly from the right.

There are plenty of reasons that one might decide to support Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, but a commitment to progressive politics is not one of them; there will be plenty of time between now and Denver for those who supported John Edwards to make up their minds which candidate offers the best hope for real change.

The media or the voters?

If you were an Edwards supporter, it is probably because you believed he best embodied your hopes for the future, but once again the media has decided whom you are permitted to consider for the nomination. Now that Democrats have accepted the proposition that only Obama or Clinton is worthy of the party standard, Democratic primary voters are told we must hurry up and choose between them, and our only basis for deciding is a guess about who will be strongest in November. The last couple of Democratic guesses haven't been so hot.

Many Democrats are strongly anti-Clinton. Edwards quit now so that he and Obama wouldn't split the anti-Clinton vote on Super Tuesday, and thus hand her the nomination by default. But with Obama surging in the polls in the weekend before the vote, there is no longer a danger that Clinton will sew up the nomination any time soon. There is no longer a reason, if ever there was one, for progressives to be pushed into deciding between them.

If you feel strongly that the war should be ended as soon as possible, say within Edwards' proposed ten months, why be in a hurry to decide between candidates who expressly support continued counter-insurgency efforts and the presence in the Middle East of "advisers," counter-terrorism units, and Halliburton-style private contractors? Getting the combat troops out in 12 months, as Clinton says she will, or in 16-to-18 months, as Obama plans to do, is a distinction without a difference if four years from now we are still dumping people and money into the Green Zone.

As Dennis Kucinich repeatedly pointed out during this campaign, a permanent war economy, that directs more than half of federal discretionary funds to the military, leaves no room for needed social programs. Progressives should reserve their support for whichever candidate is most willing to offer concrete programs for revising -- for changing -- our priorities.

The last thing the Democrats should want to face is the nightmare of an election night in which the pundits are happily puzzling over how Ron Paul and Ralph Nader have racked up enough votes to make John McCain the president.

Not Edwards but Edwards-ism

Every four years, the left of the party is cornered into supporting a moderate who either loses, because he fails to distinguish himself from his GOP rival, or wins and turns out to be no change agent, after all.

Some former Edwards supporters now resist the idea of marking the spot next to his name. Many invested enormous quantities of time, money and emotional capital because of his promise that he would fight 'til the end. To them, he now appears to be just another hack politician whose words cannot be trusted. But a vote on the Edwards line on the ballot is no longer an endorsement of Edwards himself. It is a vote for the issues that led us to support him.

Should the Democrats arrive in Denver with neither Clinton nor Obama in control -- a virtual certainty, the progressives in attendance will be in position to negotiate a stronger platform and specific commitments on the war and on domestic spending. As Clinton said in Nevada, “This is ultimately about delegates and how many delegates every one of us have.” Edwards may have been willing to squander his influence on Obama's behalf this week without getting anything in return (that we know of), but there is no reason for Edwards' supporters to do the same thing.

In a close race, an uncommitted 15 percent or so of the delegates could have the power to decide the nomination (for example, by voting yay or nay on seating the Michigan and Florida delegations). Don't forget that, because a fifth of the seats at the convention are occupied by so-called superdelegates (members of Congress, governors and other party officials), in order to arrive at the convention with an insurmountable lead, a candidate must win about 62% of the delegates in the caucuses and primaries, clearly an impossible chore for Clinton even if Obama's recent surge ebbs as completely as it did in New Hampshire (despite Clinton's "victory" in New Hampshire, for example, at the end of the day she and Obama each walked away from the Granite State with 9 delegates - and Edwards got 4).

Based on the polls at the time he pulled out, Edwards might have had as many as 300 convention delegates. While there is no way anything like those numbers can be achieved now (made even more difficult by primary rules designed to discount insurgent campaigns), it remains important to remind the party that the issues we cared about a week ago are still the issues we want addressed by this campaign. When the serious delegate wrangling begins in Denver, a block of independent progressives of any measurable size will be able to negotiate significant concessions.

Until South Carolina, an argument could be made that supporting Obama was a way to stop the Clinton juggernaut. But it has been stopped. Now the job is to prevent the Democrats from repeating the mistake of running a cautious, neo-Republican campaign that will end, as it did for John Kerry, in victory by the bona fide Republicans.

The personal charisma of the Democratic nominee will not be enough to assure election, and if not-being-George-Bush wasn't enough to elect John Kerry last time, it alone certainly won't be sufficient to propel Clinton or Obama in to the Oval Office now that Bush is history. Since the heyday of Roger Ailes and Lee Atwater, Republicans have become expert at demonizing their opponents, as the Swiftboaters did so effectively to Kerry. Clinton has been subjected to this treatment many times over and you can be sure the Republican hit teams are in maneuvers somewhere, but should Obama stop Clinton, don't be surprised at how quickly the conservative talking heads, now beaming on him as the embodiment of Anyone-but-Clinton, will discover that he is the Spawn of Satan.

Even now, despite the nearly universal animus toward the incumbent president, the polls show McCain as tied with or narrowly beating Obama or Clinton. When they address policy, however, the same polls give the edge to the Democrats by significant margins. If the Democrats win, the irony is that it will because they embraced the ideas advanced by John Edwards; it follows that Edwards supporters need to be in Denver to keep the focus on those ideas.

Unanswered Questions

Five years ago, during his aborted run for the Democratic nomination, Howard Dean asked a series of questions that still need to be answered:
What I want to know[, Dean said in part], is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the President’s unilateral intervention in Iraq...

What I want to know is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting tax cuts, which have bankrupted this country and given us the largest deficit in the history of the United States...

What I want to know is why the Democrats in Congress aren’t standing up for us, joining every other industrialized country on the face of the Earth in providing health insurance for every man, woman and child in America....
And Dean was speaking before we knew how complete the failure in Iraq would be, before we understood that we are enduring the most inept, mercenary, and tyrannical government in our history, before Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, before waterboarding, before illegal spying on Americans, before the suspension of habeas corpus, before the obscenely large deficit.

The press liked to ask why John Edwards was so mad. The more interesting question is why Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama aren't madder.

If they are outraged that the United States spends more on its military than all of the rest of the world combined, they haven't said so. Are they revolted that preemptive war and the torture of prisoners are official policies of the United States? What are they going to do about repeated and extended service deployments; Walter Reed, military suicides and PTSD; and medical care, jobs and education for veterans? Are they ready to return the Constitution to its central place in our political life, by respecting the Congress and the Supreme Court as coequal branches, by appointing judges who will uphold the law, by renouncing signing statements as a way of getting around the people's representatives, by respecting the separation of church and state, by reining in the intelligence agencies?

Are they outraged that any American must die because he doesn't have access to food or housing or health care? Are they offended that the professional bureaucracy and the balanced budget bequeathed by the administration of Bill Clinton have been replaced by cronyism and incompetence and the biggest budget deficit in history? Do they intend to restore the progressive tax system? Will they renegotiate trade agreements to protect jobs, worker safety and the environment? Are they going to take on big oil, big pharma, and the agri giants, fight for affordable universal health care, back the development of alternative energies, rebuild an infrastructure that has been in decline since Reagan?

Enquiring primary voters want to know.

John Edwards has abandoned his campaign of ideas. That makes it more important than ever to vote for him.

Update: links about similar thoughts by JRE supporters who are voting for him today or in upcoming primaries:

Benny's World

Acebass at the Daily Kos

BruceMcF's Midnight Oil at the Daily Kos

Montana Maven

NcDem Amy at JRE's blog

Ted Daley at Alternet

Sarah Lane at Lefty Lane

Surburan Guerilla

Vyan at the DU

Ellinorianne at the Daily Kos

4 comments:

destiny said...

2 votes for Edwards in Illinois!

benny06 said...

I'm with you on this.

I linked your site to a post on my blog, Benny's World, about sticking with JRE today in the voting booth. Quite a few of us believe the same as you and I do. You were a bit more articulate in your post, whereas my post was about the experience of voting this morning.

Anonymous said...

After surfing all morning to try and decide between Hillary and Obama I decided to stay home...one last search led me to your site. I'm putting my shoes on, going out in the sleety rain and cast my vote for Edwards. Thanks for the encouragement to do what I knew was right!

MO Voter in St. Louis

Sarah Lane said...

I agree with you on many of your points. A vote for Edwards is a vote to remind the Democratic party that they need to start implementing much of what Edwards fought for. If anything, a block of voters who continue to fight for John's policies, will be able to influence what seat at the table those policies could get.

 
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