Thursday, January 31, 2008

Adieu Edwards

With Dennis Kucinich not included (and now out of the race) and with Mike Gravel also excluded and hanging on just to be ornery, the Democratic candidates didn’t have much to debate in recent debates. But until yesterday (Jan. 30), there was still a slim chance that primary voters would select – and then that, in November, the people would elect – someone who might unleash a dynamic that would move the country in a genuinely progressive direction. For a while, it looked like John Edwards might do just that. But now, having been aggressively marginalized by the corporate and corporate friendly media, he has taken himself out of the race. There is therefore no one left to vote for – though empty talk (that’s all it is!) of “change”(for what?) and “hope” (in what?) and “unity” (with whom?) may still “inspire” apolitical and clueless voters like Caroline Kennedy.

As per usual, there is still plenty to vote against – the prospect of an unalloyed Clinton Restoration, under a Hillary Clinton presidency, above all. Then in November, voters living in “battleground” states, can vote against whichever dismal Republican gets the GOP nomination. That will probably be John McCain, incarnation of the imperialist dream, though it could still be the Family Values guy, Mitt Romney. Those two draw on different constituencies and differ on a number of issues, but they certainly have one thing in common: they both make George Bush look good – well, almost. One would think that, after Bush, a Democrat, any Democrat, could hardly lose. But never underestimate the fear and loathing Hillary Clinton engenders – for the wrong reasons. And never underestimate the racism of the American electorate. It’s not just white voters who might bolt. No one dares talk about it, but all the indications are that many Latinos don’t exactly take to African American candidates either. It’s likely, even so, that either Clinton or Obama will be the next President; for that we must thank George W. Bush. But there’s still a chance that, come November, Democrats will rue the day they forced Edwards out of the race. If not then, then surely in the years that follow – as the perils of inchoate and unprincipled centrism become increasingly obvious.

Before the primaries got underway, I proposed a ranking of the Democratic candidates. Hillary Clinton was, of course, at the bottom of the list – not for the reasons most anti-Hillary voters put her there, but because there’s no political space between her and her husband. Her husband’s administration completed what Ronald Reagan started and prepared the way handily for what George W. Bush subsequently did. In doing so, it helped generate a lot of inequality at home and killed many people abroad – in Iraq (through sanctions), and in Yugoslavia and elsewhere (through bombs). In a slightly more just world, Bill Clinton would long ago have been brought to justice. In our actual world, the Democrats won’t even try to impeach the far more virulent criminals Clinton made way for – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and a host of others including, of course, the hapless Bush boy himself. It is a sure thing that they’ll never be brought to justice. It is even surer that the Clintonites won’t. Needless to say, the reasons to vote against Hillary now are mainly prospective – we mustn’t let that sorry crew back into power. But there’s also a bit of retrospective justice that can come from denying the Clinton family the office they think is rightfully theirs. That’s probably as much justice as the Clintons will see in their lifetimes. In some remote future, though, when today’s political concerns no longer resonate, be sure that historians will have their way with them.

The second worst of the bunch was Joe Biden, a Clintonite in words and deed. Then came Barack Obama. He was followed, in ascending order, by Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson, though, the choice between them was very close. Edwards stood at the top of the list, towering over the others. [Kucinich and Gravel, already plainly “unelectable,” were off the charts. Of all the candidates, Kucinich was far and away the best on “the issues.” But I like Gravel better, and will probably vote for him when I finally get a chance to vote, if only because he’s old enough and crusty enough to point out, more civilly than I would, that the others, Hillary Clinton especially, are full of shit.] I suggested then that Biden and Clinton fall below the threshold that even ardent lesser evilists like myself can accept, but that Obama probably does make the cut. Nothing has happened in recent weeks to cause me to change my mind.

Why did Edwards fail? According to the media yesterday and today, it is because poverty never caught on as an “issue.” There’s some truth to this. Unlike in 1968, when Bobby Kennedy ran a similar campaign, today’s poor -- black, white and brown -- are quiescent. Unlike in 1965, when LBJ launched “the war on poverty,” the idea that the state can be used to solve social problems has all but disappeared from our political culture. It would have taken both – insurgent social movements and a political culture disposed to be helpful – to have made poverty an “issue.” No candidate could do that on his own.

In a larger sense, though, it is a mistake to think of poverty as an “issue” at all. It is a by-product of the economic system no Democrat even thinks to question. In principle, wealthy capitalist societies can eliminate poverty -- northern European social democracy very nearly did. But the conditions must be right: there must be a stable (and fairly homogenous) population, a strong labor movement, political parties that are comparatively free to operate independently of business interests, and so on. All these conditions are lacking here. Indeed, after decades of deregulation – the work of Clintonites as much as of Reagan or the Bush family – we have, in place, conditions ripe for the intensification of poverty, not its diminution or elimination. Would an Edwards presidency have been able to reverse the process? Perhaps it might have begun to do so. My expectation was that it would indirectly encourage the development of social movements beyond its control that would propel the struggle forward. We’ll never know. Supposedly, both Clinton and Obama promised Edwards that they’d not turn away from the poor. Could he be so na├»ve as to believe them?

Did Edwards really get out of the race for the reason his spokesmen claim: because he didn’t want to play the role of “spoiler” or “king maker”? That seems unlikely. Isn’t “spoiling” and “king making” what politics is about? Wouldn’t spoiling the prospects for a Clinton Restoration be an eminently worthwhile accomplishment in its own right? Why he got out at this point -- before Super Tuesday, even before tonight’s debate -- is, in a word, unclear. Perhaps he just ran out of money. Time will tell.

Poverty might have been doomed as an “issue,” but that is not why the Edwards campaign failed to gain traction. For that, the corporate and corporate friendly media are largely to blame. It is not just that Clinton v Obama makes for good drama. Edwards was ignored because his “message,” like Kucinich’s and Gravel’s, was anti-corporate. That’s something the corporate and corporate-friendly media cannot abide.

Juan Williams’ commentary this morning on NPR illustrates the problem perspicaciously, while purporting to account for it. Most NPR commentators are banal and uninformative. Williams is all that and more; his sensibilities veer plainly towards the right and his analyses veer even more plainly towards the inane. Such was the case this morning. He repeated the line the corporate media deploy when they talk about Edwards (which they do as little as possible). According to Williams, Edwards’ campaign was “strident” and “shrill” and, of course, Edwards is a phony (what with his haircut, his hedge funds, and his oversized house). Also, there are those votes of his in the Senate that purportedly make a mockery of his current positions. Edwards can say a million times that those votes were wrong, something Hillary Clinton won’t say about her even worse record, but that’s not good enough for NPR. In reality, of course, it’s the Juan Williamses of the world that derailed America’s best chance in generations to take a progressive turn. What chutzpah!

What we’re left with now is vacuous talk of “change” coming from a living Rorschach test in whom benighted Democrats see what they want. But if voting for Obama is what it takes to send the Clintons packing, then so be it. From the safety of a “safe” state, I can aver that I will not vote for any Clinton ever again. [I was talked into it in 1992, and I’ve regretted it ever since.] I’m beginning to think similarly about Obama. As he runs even more towards the right with Edwards and Kucinich and the others gone, I expect this thought will soon become irresistible. If only to send a “message,” it’s looking more and more like it’s Third Party time again. It’s certainly time NOW to begin to mobilize for the situation we will confront next year and beyond – even if the least bad, and only remotely acceptable, candidate wins.

Note: the news this morning is that Ralph Nader has launched an exploratory committee to run for President again, probably as a Green. That should get the Pelosiites' goat! The Greens have other able candidates as well. Far more than any worthless pledge from Clinton or Obama, this may be the silver lining in yesterday’s sad news.

No comments: