US: what after Edwards for working americans?

John Edwards has dropped out of the presidential race. From trade to an ability to really talk about unions and on many other issues, Edwards shaped the Democratic presidential debate speaking for voiceless working class Americans. What will happen now? Here is how labour and political writers Jonathan Tasini (Working Life) and Jonathan Stein (Mother Jones) commented.

Jonathan Tasini:

I’m hoping that he becomes the Al Gore of economic struggles. Gore rose dramatically in stature–far beyond what he ever achieved as a political figure or a candidate running for office–when he became THE political voice on climate change. I’m hoping that Edwards, who made it clear that the campaign to end poverty in America was the calling of his life, now continues that fight. As a non-candidate, more people (and, maybe even, the pathetic press) will tune into a message that comes from someone who is not running for office.

Working Americans–the people who Edwards wanted to represent and whose policies and positions were superior to the other major candidates–will need an advocate for them past the general election. In the past several months, I’ve told virtually every person or audience that I’ve spoken to that, no matter who wins, we–that would be, labor advocates or people trying to build an economic justice movement–will still have a fight on our hands because the system that a new president would confront (whether they feel audacious and hopeful or not) will be hard to change without a movement out in the country demanding that change.

We still face a battering of wages, disappearing pensions, 47 million people without health care, so-called “free trade” deals that Democrats don’t seem united to vanquish from the agenda, unprecedented greed in the CEO ranks…you know the drill.

Edwards has a role to play as a rallying force for those people who want to change the economic system.

Edwards, seize the moment.

P.S. Of course, the traditional press will give Edwards WITHDRAWAL from the race far more coverage and treatment than they ever did while he was running. Shame.

P.S.S.: the more I think about Edwards dropping out, the more sad I am because I think there will now be a space for the remaining candidates to stop talking about (or just paper it over) the economic warfare being waged against millions of people.

Jonathan Stein:

John Edwards withdrew from the presidential race but declined to endorse one of the two remaining candidates. He said he had spoken with both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama earlier today and had secured a pledge from both of them that ending poverty would be a central focus of their candidacies and presidencies. Seemingly satisfied with their commitments, Edwards is content to keep his views private for the time being.

Speaking to the working people who have been the feverish focus of his campaign, Edwards said, “We see you, we hear you, and we are with you. And we will never forget you.” It was a significant departure from his earlier campaign rhetoric. Previously, Edwards has argued that working class Americans are voiceless, and that he speaks for them. Today, he indicated that their voices are heard, as if Edwards’ candidacy has empowered the traditionally ignored.

And he may be right. If Clinton and Obama continue to focus on poverty, they will force the Democratic Party to do the same. The nation’s political discourse will have been shifted because of Edwards’ valence.

And it won’t be the first time. By tomorrow Edwards will be old news, so let’s take this opportunity to appreciate him and what he did in this race.

Edwards staked out clear and progressive positions on health care, poverty, labor, and economic stimulus weeks and sometimes months before Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton did. He took standard Democratic positions, but bled them of their prevarications and their hesitancy and, yes, their cowardice. He took the rhetoric of the Democratic Party and gave it backbone. In New Hampshire, I heard him compare at length the economic struggle of one hard-working family with the insane annual salary of a corporate CEO. He was the only serious presidential contender I’ve ever seen that was willing to engage in open and unapologetic class warfare.

As a result, he repeatedly pulled his competitors for the Democratic nomination to the left. In fact, this may have hurt him: Obama and Clinton adopted his polices and to some degree, his rhetoric. With little substantive difference with the frontrunners, he didn’t get the media coverage he deserved (He got it from Mother Jones!), but his fingerprints will remain on this race and possibly on the next presidency.

Where will John Edwards’ supporters go? Edwards has a strong preference for Obama; it’s clear from listening to him speak at campaign events and debates that he respects Obama’s co-embrace of the change message. But when I spoke to Edwards supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire, they didn’t share their candidate’s affinity for the Senator from Illinois. That makes sense: Edwards’ base is working class whites, a group among which Clinton has done very well and Obama has done very poorly.

The door is open for Edwards to endorse down the road. (We’ll have to wait to see if a deal has been made.) I suspect he will definitely not endorse Clinton, and may or may not endorse Obama. (If Obama fails to speak about poverty on the stump, however, all bets are off.) I think anything short of full-throated Obama endorsement will mean that his supporters split relatively evenly between the two remaining Democratic candidates in the race.

John Edwards: A Look at the Man and the Message (Political Affairs)


1 Response to “US: what after Edwards for working americans?”

  1. 1 Dan Jordan January 31, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    Unfortunately the way people vote the only way to go now is Hillary and Obama.Clinton is more Union then Obama and i don’t see Hillary taking the VP spot.Obama is young enough to be around in the next 8 years and it going to take 16 straight years to pull us out of the mess we are in now.I still think Edwards is the top dog but now i see him as an AG or Supreme Court.To bad for the Country about John but we can’t afford 8 more of any Republican.Dan 490 IBEW

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