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.
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.