John Edwards, We Hardly Knew Ye

by Jeff Siegel

For years, the Democratic Party desperately wanted to run a white male from the South for president. Party leaders saw the strategy as a chance to cut into the Republicans' post-Civil Rights era stranglehold on the region.

And, in fact, the only two Democrats to live in the White House since Lyndon Johnson have been white Southern men – Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. (Though whether that helped them get elected is problematical – Carter carried most of the South, but Clinton only a couple of key states.)

So why didn't the Democrats take to John Edwards this year? He's a white male Southerner who was the party's nominee for vice president in 2004. He's an articulate example of the party's working-class roots, someone whose father was a mill worker and whose mother delivered mail.

Yet his primary performance has been woeful, never getting more than 18 percent of the vote. He did better in Iowa, finishing second ahead of Hillary Clinton with a 30 percent caucus performance, but the media were so busy crowning Barack Obama that hardly anyone noticed. The latest disappointment? Saturday in South Carolina, where former Senator Edwards was third in a state that should have done him better.

In this, we can see the continuing transformation of the Democratic Party of the New Deal and the Fair Deal to its post-modern persona as the party of Let's Make a Deal, and especially with anyone who will contribute to the party's candidates. Edwards, though not a liberal in the classic Democratic Party sense, at least understands that the party must represent working people, minorities, and women – in other words, everyone who doesn't benefit from a George Bush tax cut. Here's what Edwards said in a speech from the fall of 2007:

Here's the truth: the system in Washington is broken. Money is corrupting our democracy. Lobbyists and the special interests they represent are pouring millions of dollars into the system, and stopping the change we need dead in its tracks.
Somehow, I can't see Sen. Clinton (D-NY) saying that. Not even she is that much of a hypocrite.

Edwards' third place in South Carolina dooms his campaign, if only because it will give the media an excuse to ignore him. It also means that the Democrats will probably nominate Clinton – as much as it pains me to write those words. Sen. Obama (D-IL), for all his success (which isn't as much as Jesse Jackson had in 1988, not that anyone in the media knows this), remains a black man in a country where that is still a severe handicap. Just ask Tennessee's Harold Ford. The New York Times and The Washington Post can write as much as they want about how race doesn't matter in 2008, but they're not kidding anyone who lives outside the Beltway.

Edwards was the last best hope for what was left of the old Democratic Party. Those of us who still believe in those values will have to find another home. There is no room for us in Clinton's party, with its sweetheart deals with lobbyists, its wink, wink, nudge, nudge with robber barons like Rupert Murdoch, and its decision by focus group.

And, to be honest, they don't want us anyway. We remind them too much of what they used to be, and how they have betrayed that legacy.

For those who want more background on the campaign, please check these archival posts:
(Photo of former Senator John Edwards at an appearance in Miami, FL in June of 2007 by Alex de Carvalho of Miami via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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John Charles said...

Finally signed up to this blog...! Can't hide behind anonymous posts any more.....

I'm not convinced Obama's race is going to be an insurmountable obstacle. That stated, I do find it astonishing that apparently Bill and Hillary felt that race baiting was somehow a winning tactic. Toni Morrison must have been shocked to see "America's first black President" out there trying to pull a Harold Ford on ole Obama. Speaking of Harold, the GOP ad against Harold JR worked as much as anything because of the baggage the Ford family carries in Tennessee. Barack has no where near that kind of problem.

The Kennedy endorsement today at American University is very big news. Ted Kennedy's support means instant access to logistical and financial support and assure that Obama can now go the distance.

Jeff Siegel said...

I'll say the same thing here I say everywhere -- I hope you're right about the color of Obama's skin not being a factor. I don't think you are, but I hope you are.

That said, Obama has other problems that will show up if he gets the nomination -- his inexperience, his waffling on the war, and his membership in the Republican Lite Club.

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