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Edwards Reconsidered
Thursday, 03 January 2008 11:01
by Norman Solomon

There have been good reasons not to support John Edwards for president. For years, his foreign-policy outlook has been a hodgepodge of insights and dangerous conventional wisdom; his health-care prescriptions have not taken the leap to single payer; and all told, from a progressive standpoint, his positions have been inferior to those of Dennis Kucinich.

But Edwards was the most improved presidential candidate of 2007. He sharpened his attacks on corporate power and honed his calls for economic justice. He laid down a clear position against nuclear power. He explicitly challenged the power of the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical giants.

And he improved his position on Iraq to the point that, in an interview with the New York Times at the start of January, he said: "The continued occupation of Iraq undermines everything America has to do to reestablish ourselves as a country that should be followed, that should be a leader." Later in the interview, Edwards added: "I would plan to have all combat troops out of Iraq at the end of nine to ten months, certainly within the first year."

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Now, apparently, Edwards is one of three people with a chance to become the Democratic presidential nominee this year. If so, he would be the most progressive Democrat to top the national ticket in more than half a century.

The main causes of John Edwards’ biggest problems with the media establishment have been tied in with his firm stands for economic justice instead of corporate power.

Weeks ago, when the Gannett-chain-owned Des Moines Register opted to endorse Hillary Clinton this time around, the newspaper’s editorial threw down the corporate gauntlet: "Edwards was our pick for the 2004 nomination. But this is a different race, with different candidates. We too seldom saw the positive, optimistic campaign we found appealing in 2004. His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change."

Many in big media have soured on Edwards and his "harsh anti-corporate rhetoric." As a result, we’re now in the midst of a classic conflict between corporate media sensibilities and grassroots left-leaning populism.

On Jan. 2, Edwards launched a TV ad in New Hampshire with him saying at a rally: "Corporate greed has infiltrated everything that’s happening in this democracy. It’s time for us to say, ‘We’re not going to let our children’s future be stolen by these people.’ I have never taken a dime from a Washington lobbyist or a special interest PAC and I’m proud of that."

But, when it comes to policy positions, he’s still no Dennis Kucinich. And that’s why, as 2007 neared its end, I planned to vote for Kucinich when punching my primary ballot.

Reasons for a Kucinich vote remain. The caucuses and primaries are a time to make a clear statement about what we believe in — and to signal a choice for the best available candidate. Ironically, history may show that the person who did the most to undermine such reasoning for a Dennis Kucinich vote at the start of 2008 was... Dennis Kucinich.

In a written statement released on Jan. 1, he said: "I hope Iowans will caucus for me as their first choice this Thursday, because of my singular positions on the war, on health care, and trade. This is an opportunity for people to stand up for themselves. But in those caucuses locations where my support doesn’t reach the necessary [15 percent] threshold, I strongly encourage all of my supporters to make Barack Obama their second choice. Sen. Obama and I have one thing in common: Change."

This statement doesn’t seem to respect the intelligence of those of us who have planned to vote for Dennis Kucinich.

It’s hard to think of a single major issue — including "the war," "health care" and "trade" — for which Obama has a more progressive position than Edwards. But there are many issues, including those three, for which Edwards has a decidedly more progressive position than Obama.

But the most disturbing part of Dennis’ statement was this: "Sen. Obama and I have one thing in common: Change." This doesn’t seem like a reasoned argument for Obama. It seems like an exercise in smoke-blowing.

I write these words unhappily. I was a strong advocate for Kucinich during the race for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. In late December, I spoke at an event for his campaign in Northern California. I believe there is no one in Congress today with a more brilliant analysis of key problems facing humankind or a more solid progressive political program for how to overcome them.

As of the first of this year, Dennis has urged Iowa caucusers to do exactly what he spent the last year telling us not to do — skip over a candidate with more progressive politics in order to support a candidate with less progressive politics.

The best argument for voting for Dennis Kucinich in caucuses and primaries has been what he aptly describes as his "singular positions on the war, on health care, and trade." But his support for Obama over Edwards indicates that he’s willing to allow some opaque and illogical priorities to trump maximizing the momentum of our common progressive agendas.

Presidential candidates have to be considered in the context of the current historical crossroads. No matter how much we admire or revere an individual, there’s too much at stake to pursue faith-based politics at the expense of reality-based politics. There’s no reason to support Obama over Edwards on Kucinich’s say-so. And now, I can’t think of reasons good enough to support Kucinich rather than Edwards in the weeks ahead.

Norman Solomon’s latest book is "Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State." For more information, go to: www.normansolomon.com

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Comments (6)add comment

Jon said:

Appreciate your thoughtful comments
and I agree wholeheartedly. The issue that most illustrates your point is the disjunction between Kucinich's support of impeachment v Obama's utterly conciliatory philosophy, including his prior ridicule of the Alito filibuster and support of Lieberman in the Connecticut primary.
January 03, 2008
Votes: +0

Mary Robinson said:

Last time Kucinich told supporters in Iowa to vote for Edwards if Kucinich wasn't viable. Our issue in Iowa was the invasion of Iraq so we were shocked by Kucinich's choice. This time I listened I wasn't surprised by his Obama choice, or when I heard Kucinich scolding Thom Hartmann on his radio show for not showing him due deference. Kucinich's character flaw (we all have them) is vanity. I don't like how he confuses politics with virtue to such an extreme that to disagree with him is to sin. He is not qualified to be president.
January 03, 2008
Votes: +0

Rosa said:

Dark sabotage
Kucinich is increasingly becoming a liability to progressives. Between his cosmic fairiness, dirty politics out of spite and pattern of sell-out, he only increases the Left's lack of legitimacy. He is fast losing that Left flank as gate keeper.
January 03, 2008
Votes: +0

Clark said:

Doesn't add up
I am curious to hear Mr. Kucinich's true reasoning behind his second choice suggestion. As it is I can't help feeling what you have elucidated: while he may understand the magnitude of the challenges we face, he, like Mz. Clinton is willing to compromise in a very un-populist fashion.
January 03, 2008
Votes: +0

Lucinda said:

Something you overlook
(My apologies for the long post, but...)
There's a telling event you seem to overlook with Edwards, which, for me and I'm sure for Kucinich, is a hard thing to get beyond, and that is the "open mike" incident between Edwards and Clinton after one of the democratic debates (when they thought no one was listening). To some, this may seem like no big deal. To me, it shows that Edwards has little regard for our democratic process, for hearing and having to respond to different voices and perspectives. Though he and Clinton didn't name names, it could be well assumed that Kucinich was one of the candidates they were referring to as "not serious" enough to be included in the debates. So, for me, as much as Edwards might now talk the talk, I simply cannot believe or trust his positions. There may be a decent man in there, but he has shown himself too willing to compromise our democracy at the most basic level (what little democracy we have). He is clearly not the populist champion he makes himself out to be. I think Kucinich knows this.

On the other hand, with Obama, though I think he could definitely use some evolving on certain and important issues (our use of nuclear and coal, what de-funding the war would mean for our troops), I still feel I can trust where he's coming from in his approach. That's a much better place from which to work. If we, the people, decide to champion a cause, he shows himself to be someone who can be reasoned with (unlike Bush) and who I believe actually wants to hear what we have to say (unlike Edwards). Obama's instinct to resist vilifying opponents is actually a very constructive and rare quality – the direct opposite of Bush's "you're either with us or you're against us" meme. I believe it will ultimately encourage better results for us, both domestically and worldwide. Obama's philosophy includes the notion that the perfect can sometimes be the enemy of the good. On this, I have to agree. It is still always debatable where that line is, given the circumstances in which we find ourselves. He is very practical in his approach to issues, which means he’s not always as “courageous” in his pursuit of things like clean energy or ending the war as we might hope him to be. I think our democracy is in need both kinds of leaders -- those like Obama who are more of consensus builders and those who are true crusaders and agitators. While the campaign/media-coverage process itself does tend to reduce every candidate to a dumbed-down, sound-bite version of themselves, I think many misinterpret Obama’s qualities (measured speaking style, thinks as he speaks, respect for multiple perspectives, etc.) because we live in jaded times and are not used to encountering someone like him. What I recognize when I hear Obama speak (especially person-to-person) or read his writing (especially Dreams from my Father) is someone who thinks deeply about things, who has a good measure of emotional intelligence, and who can see the many shades of grey within humanity. (His very identity required that he learn to bridge divides, both within himself and without.) Taken as a whole, Barack comes closest to what I would hope a statesman to be. His “conciliatory” (or bridge-building) abilities are unique and badly needed right now. It is up to us, the people of this country, to become the fire (the leaders if you will), spurring someone who listens, like him, to act on our behalf. That’s how democracy should work. I see that Obama understands and continually works to create this dynamic between citizens and our government.

FYI – My views on issues actually align more closely with Kucinich than with Obama (I caucused for him last time), though I think Obama has more of the functional leadership qualities that are necessary for a President of a large, diverse country. Sometimes the messenger does matter. We need someone who can successfully engage people of all different perspectives/views to work together to solve our common problems.

My personal aside – I continue to push for our country’s eventual use of Instant Runoff (or “preference”) Voting in our presidential primaries & elections – in which case we wouldn’t have to forsake support for valuable, but less “electable” candidates in order to have our vote / our preference / our voice ultimately count. We can champion our issues and candidates more whole-heartedly, without fear of this ever “spoiling” an election. IRV, together with regular community-level debates between neighbors about our issues and candidates in the preceding months to an election, would allow us to actually have a true democratic republic. I encourage those who are unfamiliar with IRV to learn about it, and those who think it’s a good idea to help champion and implement it. If we start using IRV for local and state elections, more and more people can begin to see how well it works.
January 03, 2008
Votes: +0

tj said:

these candidates are being presented to you by a ruling elite. They were not brought forth by you the people. By accepting any of them, you are submitting to a power that overwhelms you, you are surrendering your power to bring forth your own government, and you are being conquered just as much as the people of Iraq are being conquered by this same power group, and you are submitting to the will of this small, rich, group of people who are telling you what to do, what to think, and who will lead you.
January 03, 2008
Votes: +0

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