Making Change

The verdict from the first two states in the Democratic nominating process is in: Barack Obama is for real; Hillary Clinton is not inevitable but won’t give up; and John Edwards is the progressive populist in the race.

Now that the Democratic presidential race has practically narrowed to those three candidates, Edwards remains the progressive populist choice for change. Many progressive voters would be proud to vote for a black candidate or a female candidate with a solid chance to occupy the Oval Office, but while Obama and Clinton have been occupying the middle of the road, Edwards, a former North Carolina senator who comes from a working-class background and made his bones as a trial lawyer challenging reckless and abusive corporations, has been challenging the status quo. Although he has been derided by some for his wealth, he made his fortune by winning verdicts for his working-class clients who were injured by those corporations that are unregulated by the Republicans and lightly regulated by the D.C. Dems.

Obama’s credibility was established in Iowa when his organization turned out a stunning and broad-based plurality of support. Edwards and Clinton actually did a pretty good job of turning out their own supporters in the Tall Corn State but Obama brought out not only his share of party hacks who usually run the caucuses but also lured a large number of newcomers who were willing to put up with the arcane caucus rituals. Obama did well not only in the few cities where Iowa’s limited supply of black voters mainly reside; he also carried counties in rural northwest Iowa (including our home base of Buena Vista County) and eight of the 10 Mississippi River counties, some of which have a history of antipathy towards blacks.

Some Obama supporters may have been Republicans wishing to promote a Democrat who they believed they might be able to beat in the fall. If so, they’d better be careful what they wish for. Because Obama has been drawing thousands of young people and independent voters as well as disaffected and/or crafty Republicans. Entry polls in Iowa showed that only 3% of Democratic caucus participants were Republicans (Obama claimed 44% of them) while 76% were Dems (Obama got 32%) and 20% were indies (Obama got 41%). Of the 6% who were self-identified conservatives, Edwards got the most support, with 42%. Of young caucusgoers (17-29 years), 74% self-identified as Democrats and 73% self-identified is liberals. Those newcomers are learning about the nitty gritty of the political process, getting a taste for organizing and fieldwork and God only knows what impact they will have on the Democratic Party and progressive politics for years to come.

Add the fact that the GOP is stumbling over a weak field — one that is afraid to distance itself from the worst presidential administration in the nation’s history — and this looks like as good a year as any for the Democrats to take a chance on nominating a smart, charismatic, progressive black man for president — if the Dems aren’t going to nominate a smart, charismatic, progressive populist trial lawyer for president. Or a smart, capable, moderately progressive former First Lady.

Clinton found her voice and got back in the race with a come-from-behind victory in New Hampshire on Jan. 8 but Obama’s strong showing keeps him in good position heading into primaries in Nevada Jan. 19, South Carolina Jan. 26, Florida Jan. 29 (not approved by the Democratic National Committee) and “Super Tuesday” on Feb. 5. That’s when 22 states will select 50.9% of the delegates to the national convention.

We hope, probably in vain, that there will still be a contest by the time the Texas primary comes around on March 4. But by then 70% of the delegates already will have been selected.

Even before the New Hampshire primary, Obama had overtaken Clinton in South Carolina polls, going from 2 points behind Clinton in December to a 20-point lead in a SurveyUSA poll conducted Jan. 4-6 and showing a 12-point lead in a Rasmussen poll conducted Jan. 6 after being tied at 33% Dec. 16.

SurveyUSA noted across-the-board movement in South Carolina away from Clinton to Obama. Among voters who made up their mind after the Iowa caucuses, Obama led Clinton 63% to 13%. But Obama was leading in New Hampshire polls by an average of 8 points the day before that primary, when Clinton turned things around. Turns out polls don’t determine delegates.

Democrats should be under no illusions about the obstacles to the election of a black president. We already have received emails claiming that Obama is a closet Muslim, despite his secular upbringing and his 20-plus-years membership in Chicago’s Trinity Church of Christ. Republicans are fond of calling him by his full name — Barack Hussein Obama (he was named after his father), as if that signifies sympathy with Islamic fundamentalism. Right-wingers at Insight Magazine and Fox News last year advanced the canard that Obama attended a Muslim school when he was a youngster in Indonesia. (CNN found that he actually attended Catholic and public schools in Indonesia before his mother returned to Hawaii.)

But Republicans are prepared to slander whoever ends up with the nomination, be it Obama, Clinton or Edwards. We just hope the race lasts long enough to thoroughly test the eventual nominee. If there is muck to be raked about the Democratic frontrunners, we’d rather see the Democrats slinging it in February so it can be settled now rather than wait for Republicans to stir it up it in October.

Edwards has all the right enemies, including the corporate media, which is why he got little credit for beating the establishment candidate, Hillary Clinton, in Iowa. Meanwhile, Obama got full credit for bringing young and independent voters to the caucuses. He is an appealing candidate with progressive instincts but for all his rhetoric about change we don’t hear him taking on the vested interests that control both the major parties the way Edwards has.

Edwards has described the choice facing the country as “the establishment elites versus the American people.” He points out that the system is “controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it’s perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed.”

Edwards is the candidate speaking truth to power. His populist voice is needed in the campaign, even if the corporate media won’t cut a break for the man Jim Cramer calls Wall Street’s “Public Enemy No. 1.”

Don’t wait for November to complain about the lack of choices. Do something now by supporting John Edwards.

The Fun Part

It was fun to watch the Republican establishment react with horror when Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses. His focus on economic inequality and his appeal to class-based populism departed from the GOP playbook, but the former Baptist preacher and Arkansas governor is no friend of workers, as he showed Jan. 2 when he crossed a Writers Guild union picket line to appear on NBC’s Tonight Show on the eve of the caucuses. Huckabee dropped to third in New Hampshire as John McCain earned a victory that revived his flagging hopes, which likely will be dashed again in South Carolina. Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor, couldn’t win in his backyard. Perhaps best of all, blowhard Rudy Giuliani was stuck in the single digits again with Ron Paul, who was judged too marginal to participate in the Fox News debate. And 1-percenter Fred Thompson must be wishing he hadn’t given up his Law and Order gig. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, February 1, 2008

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