Monday, December 17, 2007

Why John Edwards may be the best option for Democrats

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Like many of my Democratic friends -- like many Democrats period -- I've been struggling with the current crop of candidates. Whom to support?

I've never much cared for either Clinton or Obama. The former is too much of a centrist triangulator, and I don't trust her on foreign policy. The latter is too much of a feel-good, group-therapy Oprah candidate, and I don't like his use of Republican talking points in trying to take down Clinton. Both would be fine presidents and both are on the right side (which is to say, the liberal-progressive side) on most of the issues that matter to us (climate change, in particular), but it seems to me that we can do better.

I admire many of the other Democratic candidates, including Dodd and Biden, but what about Edwards. I used to blog at his One America Committee, and, absent Gore, he was long my preference. He seems to have learned from his initial support for the Iraq War, to have developed a keen appreciation for foreign affairs, to have built a solid policy platform around key issues like health care and poverty, and to have deepened his message beyond the trite "two Americas" routine. And yet... Maybe I was still longing for Gore, maybe I was still waiting for one of the other candidates to step up and inspire me, maybe it had something to do with the fact that he was behind, well behind, and looking more and more like a long shot. Whatever the reason, I lost interest in Edwards. That's too strong, perhaps, but I'll stick with it. Something about him began to bother me and his message just stopped resonating. I'd heard it all before, I was tired of it, and his whole candidacy seemed to lack a certain power to it, an essential reason to support it.

Although I will support whichever Democrat emerges from the primaries -- which is to say, I will support any Democrat over any Republican -- and although I do not intend here to endorse a specific candidate, I must say that I'm beginning to like Edwards more and more. Again. Indeed, he is, once more, my preference -- I think. It may be that he is the least bad of the top three Democratic candidates, but I would like to think rather that he is the strongest of three fairly strong candidates. Whatever my reservations with respect to Clinton and Obama, I do not dislike them generally, and, reservations aside, I can admit that they are highly credible candidates.

And yet -- those reservations, upon which I have only touched here (see here for Clinton and here for Obama). Besides, I've generally liked Edwards a great deal (see here and here). And today, in a short post that got me thinking, and got me writing this one, Atrios put the differences clearly and powerfully:

Obama: The system sucks, but I'm so awesome that it'll melt away before me.

Edwards: The system sucks, and we're gonna have to fight like hell to destroy it.

Clinton: The system sucks, and I know how to work within it more than anyone.

I, too, think the system sucks. So do many of us. The question is, who can do something about it? Obama is, I grant, serious about policy, but he is essentially running a cult of personality campaign. Plus, his message of two Americas as one, of healing the rifts, is, I think excessively idealistic and, indeed, naive. Naive because the other side, the GOP, plays rough. Although it would be nice to have a uniter rather than a divider in the White House, the reality of American politics is that there are two major parties that generally do not aim for compromise. And, to an extent, why should they? For us, what does compromise mean other than selling out Democratic principles and embracing Republican ones. Remember that the other side -- and I'm not just referring to Bush/Cheney but to most on the Congressional side and certainly to most of the presidential field -- continues to support a losing war in Iraq, wants to bomb Iran, supports the use of torture, rejects diplomacy and internationalism, advocates theocratic social policies, cares little for environmentalism and even less for the climate crisis, and so on and so on. This is the Republican system. Not only would Obama not be able to overcome it, he would find himself having to make compromises with Republicans who, in turn, would be working to destroy him.

As for Clinton, I have no doubt she knows how to work the system. She's proven she can, and her tenure in the Senate has been marked repeatedly by efforts to reach out to the other side, including, most worrisome of all, on Iraq and Iran. As with Obama, she would find herself having to make compromises with Republicans, who, even more aggressively and vindictively, would be working to destroy her.

Which, again, leaves Edwards, a sound voice for progressive values (and one who is polling well against possible Republican opponents) at a time when the two leading candidates are hurling dirt at one another and otherwise putting themselves in a position to act like Joe Lieberman. No, they wouldn't be that bad, don't get me wrong, and Obama in particular is admirably progressive, but what America needs now is a fighter, I think, not a cult of personality or a triangulator. Some combination of the three, along with the better qualities of Dodd (the system sucks, but we need to defend the Constitution), Biden (the system sucks, but I'm crazy enough to speak my mind), Richardson (the system sucks, but I speak Spanish and have travelled the world as a diplomat), and even Kucinich (the system sucks, so let's impeach Bush and Cheney), would be ideal, but, barring that, and barring a Gore run, the best option may very well be Edwards.

Think about it.

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