I’ll be voting for John Edwards in next week’s Wisconsin presidential primary. I think all progressives should vote for him in all remaining primaries. With Dean in meltdown, Clark without traction and the rest of the Democratic field still invisible to voters, this race has effectively narrowed to Kerry versus Edwards. And Edwards is our better shot at getting progressive values stamped clearly on the national ticket.
Come November, of course, I’ll happily vote for whomever the Democrats finally nominate. That includes John Kerry–a fine social and free-trade liberal with the courage of his convictions. In truth (no comparison to Kerry implied) I’d vote for Homer Simpson if the Democrats nominated him, so badly do I want Bush gone. But in the meantime I’m for Edwards, who matches Kerry on mainstream Democratic issues but goes beyond them, in a clear progressive direction.
To begin with what they hold in common, Edwards and Kerry have similar views, all pretty good, on healthcare, women’s rights, Medicare and Society Security privatization, and the environment–including the idea, recently revived by the Apollo Alliance, of an aggressive national project to achieve energy independence within a decade. Of course, they also share the baggage or ignominy of having voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq. This was at least stupid; they should never have trusted Bush’s word on anything, especially matters about life and death. But I think with most voters that it’s time to move on. They were lied to. And there’s a big difference between a senator authorizing the potential use of force, based on misinformation, and a President fabricating that information and actually starting a war. Bush’s contempt for truth and disregard for life are the real sins on Iraq, and Kerry and Edwards committed neither. I’m close to certain we wouldn’t be in Iraq if either were in the White House.
Where Edwards diverges from Kerry is in addressing a series of issues of distinctive concern to progressives–inequalities of race and class, abusive corporate power, neoliberal globalization, ghetto poverty and prison, and the importance of worker and community organization outside the state. And what makes him distinctive is not just that he regularly touches these third-rail issues but is effectively running on them.
He is unabashedly pro-union. He regularly challenges white audiences to confront “the white problem” of continued racial injustice. His “two Americas” stump speech is all about class. He appreciates and notes the sheer pervasiveness of corporate crime–from tax evasion to union avoidance, predatory lending to environmental degradation, unsafe working conditions to subsidy abuse. He is sharply critical of the “Washington Consensus” on international trade and finance. He talks about the growth of poverty and dead-end jobs. And he’s the only candidate who does this in engaging language ordinary voters understand.