Thursday, January 24, 2008

Incredible Shrinking John Edwards


Y'all know I think John Edwards is real nice and well brought up. It's no surprise to those who follow our weekly Left Ahead! podcast that one of our number loves him and the other likes him politically.

So, how is it that this guy whose positions and record are at least as strong as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton's dwells increasingly on the margins of this Presidential race? How it it that he has almost disappeared from the polls (15% to 45%/31% Obama/Clinton) in his native South Carolina's primary in two days?

I can't count the number of people I know, read about or hear of who say they like him. Yet most add that he's probably unelectable...now.

Here, he doesn't seem a factor at all. It seems Clinton is losing a bit to Obama, but looks headed to win our delegates. Over at the Phoenix, David Bernstein hedges this with the possibility that saturation campaigning by Obama might, maybe, perhaps win Massachusetts.

Our state though has a poor record of electing non-whites and non-men to big offices. Much like our citizens were the colonial, then national, chief slave traders into the Civil War, our actions often don't coincide with the perception of us. We have to look hard to find the few Black, female or ethnic minorities we elect. We can kick the can of how racist and sexist we may be up and down Beacon Street without answering any of those questions.

Down in South Carolina, it seems easier and more direct. Even former President Bill Clinton said there that Black voters will go for Obama and women for his wife. Race and gender voting "is understandable because people are proud when someone who they identify with emerges for the first time."

Of course, in the simplest numeric terms, South Carolina should belong to the Black voters and the whole nation to women. Traditionally, the votes have gone to white men, which we may notice fits Edwards here and now.

Yet, to take women voters as examples, they have not been ready and willing over the centuries. (This may be history that Bill hasn't studied.) They did not advance women candidates and weren't even ready in 1984 for Geraldine Ferraro.

I find the Edwards' shrinking far more fascinating than straight gender/race voting. In some ways, he is spot on for an America sick of war and of economic failures from the new version of supply side economics. He is liberal LITE on many issues, precisely where massive Pew and other studies place the majority of Americans.

At least one smart guy has analyzed this dwindling. Head over to The Black Commentator for a piece by Executive Editor Bill Fletcher, who is a senior scholar at the social-action oriented Institute for Policy Studies.

In Edwards' Strategic Mistake, Fletcher bemoans that Edwards was the only candidate "discussing the plight of the working class and the non-working class poor." The true reformer, in Fletcher's view, fell afoul of that race or gender identification in some ways, but doomed his candidacy with his own big mistake.

It is the white populist error repeating yet again. He writes, "Simply put, it is the idea that unity will magically appear by building a campaign that attacks poverty and corporate abuse, supports unions and focuses on the challenges facing the working class, BUT IGNORES RACE AND GENDER."

He figures Edwards had a good shot at a campaign "based upon th enotion of social/economic justice and inclusion, rather than restricting himself to economic justice and 'change.'" That would have required more than diversity — instead conscious and real inclusion and a broad tent.

To attract more than Danny Glover as high-profile supporters he would have needed to wade right into how current problems and injustices affect people by race and color. Fletcher writes, "we needed Edwards to be an advocate for racial justice and gender justice. He should not have assumed that he could use issues of class to subsume other forms of injustice."

Another related failing was not following through on positioning. He started his campaign where Katrina's effects illustrated his points, but did not continue to show up where the poor and disadvantaged are.

Finally, he seems to have called for fighting for his causes, but never tried to create a movement to do so. As Fletcher put it, "But to fight, one must have organization. It cannot be that the candidate is the only one or the main one doing the fighting."

Perhaps we shall end up saying that Edwards suffered from a passive naïveté. He seemed to believe that if he built it, they would come.

Maybe he didn't build enough. Regardless, he's still waiting for the voters to come.

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3 comments:

Ryan Adams said...

I think that's too analytical. The problem John Edwards has had, so far in this campaign, is the fact that he lost his big gambit: Iowa. Had he won, it would at least truly be a three person race.

Still, though, this question of electability is silly. People are more worried about picking the candidate they think will win than the candidate who actually polls better against the Republicans. Edwards, in that respect, polls the best of all.

massmarrier said...

Don't know, Ryan. I fear Fletcher got to the marrow here. Edwards was the progressive hope, offering more precise answers involving social action. None of the other candidates in either party seems to grasp the realities, much less the nuances of class. Edwards, as Southerners are wont to say, tore the rag off the bush. His inability to rally people to correct the problems he saw is tragic and doomed his candidacy.

laurel said...

concerning 'race/gender voters' - these are not two distinct groups. half of black voters are also women. so identity politics is not so cut and dry for them as is implied by the terms thrown around in this election. not to mention all the die-hard anti-racist non-black women out there. i have no brilliant conclusion to make with this. just an observation that the situation is much more complex than terminology indicates

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