Edwards Reconsidered

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.”

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.

Several 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 is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He writes the Political Culture 2013 column. Read other articles by Norman, or visit Norman's website.

13 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Binh said on January 3rd, 2008 at 10:45am #

    Sad to see such a brilliant progressive taken in by Edwards’ primary-only sales pitch. His angle is to capture the angry Dems who can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary and her near-political-twin Obama to secure the VP slot for himself.

    Kucinich’s role is similar, except he’ll never get a VP slot. His goal is to pre-empt any anti-war Nader-type third party run. He hopes to repeat his smashing success in 2004 in coopting progressives back into the party that opposes them and all they stand for. He is a shepherd who is preventing the sheep from straying to Greener pastures so that they stay in line for the slaughterhouse.

    Hillary/Obama will win the nomination, Edwards and Kucinich will back the winner, and Solomon will follow Edwards and Kucinich and back the pro-war corporate candidate on grounds they are “the lesser evil.” We saw how well the lesser-evil strategy worked in ’04, I can’t wait for the sequel in ’08…

  2. John Halle said on January 3rd, 2008 at 1:14pm #

    Norman,

    While I take issue with what I take to be your overly rose colored view of activism within the DP, I agree with your (provisionally) positive evaluation of the Edwards campaign-if not Edwards himself.

    I think what needs to be stressed here is that this is not a matter of principle but of strategy and tactics: the kind of fundamental change we are take for granted as necessary needs to proceed in two steps. The first is rhetorical; the basic ideas-economic democracy, non-interventionist foreign policy, need to first become mentionable in the mainstream political discourse. Only after that has occurred will can we move to the second step whereby the ideas find substantive political expression.

    It was the genius of Clinton to have reversed this process. Remember that the platform Clinton was elected on was “putting people first”. He then proceeded to govern by the principle “putting corporations first” and by the end of his presidency it was simply impossible to formulate even the mildest, new deal politics and Keynesian economics without appearing as if one was from the planet Mars. In other words, he began by first killing hope in the political realm, but more damaging eliminating from political discourse the vocabulary necessary to express it.

    That said, I agree with Binh that it is quite possible that Edwards motivations are largely if not entirely cynical. Namely, he is trying to parlay the grassroots support for basic political decency into his own advancement.

    But his doing so has the effect of returning to the mainstream discourse ideas which have been altogether unmentionable for over two generations that will count as a victory for us. It will not be a sufficient condition for us to move forward, but I would argue that it is a necessary one.

    John

  3. Max Shields said on January 3rd, 2008 at 4:12pm #

    The Democratic Party cannot provide the change (nor its litany of candidates) that we need. It’s that simple.

    Check today’s Democracy Now segment with Allan Nairn http://www.democracynow.org/

    The US policy sanctioned, promoted and enforced by each administration Dem/Repub is murderous. It’s pretty hard to find anything to reconsider since these want-a-be commander-in-chiefs have yet to give us any. Kucinich has lost his place as a principled progressive.

  4. JMS said on January 3rd, 2008 at 5:40pm #

    Can someone explain to me why Kucinich is backing Obama over Edwards? “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” isn’t doing it for me. What are these priorities? What is his rationale here?

  5. HR said on January 3rd, 2008 at 5:59pm #

    This article is a good example of why I don’t look to the opinions of “leaders” in making my choices any more than I look to hucksters in the fascist media, including newspapers. “Leaders” are too willing to sell out, and then expect others to follow them in their “wise” choices. This fellow has every right to an opinion, and I have every right to consider it so much trash. Such articles and thinking remind me all too well of the attitudes during the antiwar movement of the Vietnam years. Then, too, we had “leaders”, leaders who sold us out by supporting wishy-washy types like McCarthy and McGovern (and Kennedy), thereby ensuring that Nixon would get elected, twice, and that the war would continue nearly 10 more years. If people let others do their thinking for them, then all is surely lost.

  6. dan elliott said on January 3rd, 2008 at 6:32pm #

    —–Original Message—–
    From: cuibono
    Sent: Jan 3, 2008 1:56 PM
    To: Nixdaz Iodemz

    When oh when will some of our “progressive” editors get wise that Norman Solomon is a fink? That he was a key promoter of the “ABB**” bs in 2004? and he’s pulling the same **** again this time.

    Norman Solomon is nice looking, nice wavy hair, a qualified Featured Act in any Society Matron’s drawing room. But politically, he’s a noxious weed.

    Yes, he’s a really skilled writer; he does write Prose, not typical Journalese. But he’s a shill for the other side, for the Status Quo.

    Oh yeah, he writes highly informed whining about the State of the Media. Blah blah, so does everybody else from CJR to CSpan panelists from Harvard. But when it comes to the q. of Power, he’s there to see it doesn’t stray from the hands of the current Masters of the Universe.

    Jezuzz H Kreist! Here we have this soldout MF busily detecting nuances between bunco pitches offered by the number two & the number three Ruling Class choices to be the next president. How obvious does it have to get that none of these turkeys get to run their rap on primetime TV unless they’ve been vetted and approved in Tel Aviv, AIPAC hq., and the highest reaches of Wall St*? Gimme a break.

    *(Hmm, wonder who that’d be…?)

    **”Anybody But Bush”

    Published on Thursday, January 3, 2008 by CommonDreams.org
    Edwards Reconsidered by Norman Solomon /// SNIP.

    A friend of Cuibono was moved to comment:

    From: deleted to avoid copyright issues?
    To: cuibono
    Sent: Thursday, January 03, 2008 2:36 PM
    Subject: Re: when will some of our “left” editors get wise…

    Norman isn’t as much a fink as is Kucinich for his endorsement of Yo Mama. Dennis K has really run a limped wrist campaign. Norman has never disengaged from a system that he naively believes can be corrected. If people still registered Demo are going to vote in the primary, and that’s most of the folks left of center (which is not technically left of center as we know it), Edwards’s stated positions are far better than H & B’s, including rejoining the world court which Obismal would consider after speaking with the generals, given the large numbers of US bases and soldiers stationed around the world, he says, without a mention of what the fuck they are doing there.

    Yeah, in power, the zios would present the bill and Edwards would see that–“what’s that?”–yes, he had already signed it. So it goes.

    BTW, thanks for the Jews and Bhutto piece.I am being interviewed by Hisham Tellawi tonight on TV and was going to talk about the Bhutto-Zio connection.//// ———————->

    (the phrase “limped-wrist” refers here of course to the Guaguanco Estilo Matanzas, as favored by the clave-supremacist Los Munequitos de Matanzas over the more familiar Estilo LaBana associated with Los Papines. –dan).

  7. Hue Longer said on January 3rd, 2008 at 7:50pm #

    Thanks Max,

    I second that recommendation to read or listen to the Allan Nairn segment. Edwards may be making foes (seemingly anyways) with corporate special interests, but certainly not Military interests.

    This lessor evil of the lessor evils trick that Soloman is buying or selling shouldn’t work on anyone who watched Kucinich not make one demand or appeal for platform as he bent over for the DNC in 04—-I predict Paul will do the same

    No man owns the truth—just because someone with face time gets to say what most here seem to know, doesn’t mean he owns it and that he should be given mercy for betraying any or all aspects of it.

    If Cindy Sheehan tomorrow said that she was considering taking impeachment off her table and invited Edwards to eat at it, I’d say forget her too…

    Screw Dennis, I don’t care that he talks a better game than Howard Dean, the results are the same and it’s amazing that anyone is talking in glowing terms at all about Edwards or Gore (C’mon Nader, what hypocritical bullshit to support Edwards after everything you railed against Chomsky for doing to you)

  8. JMS said on January 3rd, 2008 at 9:48pm #

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think he said that he’s supporting Edwards – he just said that he supports him over the other candidates, especially Hillary. Nader kind of did the same thing in 04 with Kucinich.

  9. Hue Longer said on January 4th, 2008 at 1:36am #

    JMS, support is support—that’s why so many are pissed at Nader

  10. Max Shields said on January 4th, 2008 at 8:41am #

    Counterpoint (By Alexander Cockburn
    and Jeffery St. Clair) is falling all over its self (to bad that site is so arrogant they avoid post boards like this to keep it a one way con-versation) with the notion that Obama has just landed a blow to the Dem machine!!

    So, who are his advisors? And what exactly has Obama said that makes him so different from Hillary?

  11. Max Shields said on January 4th, 2008 at 8:44am #

    From the Black Agenda Report on Obama: http://www.blackagendareport.com/

  12. Max Shields said on January 4th, 2008 at 9:36am #

    Correction Counterpunch http://www.counterpunch.org/

  13. Campaign ‘08: Democrats « Hope2012 said on January 5th, 2008 at 8:09am #

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