The Good Fight

We can hardly blame John Edwards for suspending his populist Democratic campaign for president. The former senator from the Carolinas made fighting poverty a priority of his campaign, then he raised millions of dollars and spent them fighting the good progressive fight but he was unable to get traction running against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as well as the national news media. Edwards struggled to keep his support in double figures.

The mainstream media swooned over Obama’s impressive victory in Iowa but pointedly ignored or belittled Edwards’ second-place finish. His criticism of corporate power resonated more on Main Street than on Wall Street, but the signals went out long before the snows fell in Iowa that the broadcast media had no time for Edwards, except to make fun of his expensive haircuts and his big house (as if the other candidates went to SuperCuts and live in bungalows). After third-place finishes in New Hampshire and Nevada, Edwards was all but written out of the script. When he finished third again in his native state of South Carolina, which he had won in 2004, Edwards saw that his contest was drawing to a close.

Both Obama and Clinton have run campaigns that are too centrist for our taste, but now that the race has narrowed, we think Obama, the former community organizer and civil rights lawyer, is the more progressive candidate who also has the best chance to win the general election. We have wondered about his ability to stay on his feet when the going gets rough, as it surely will in the general election race. But in the past few weeks against the formidable Clinton organization he has shown that he has a fighter’s instinct. Obama also has shown he can inspire young people, independent voters and even moderate Republicans who have seen enough of neocon economics and foreign policy that have threatened America’s prosperity at home as well as its good name abroad.

Of course Obama was not our first choice, nor was Edwards the most progressive populist in the Democratic field. Most of our readers probably agreed more with Dennis Kucinich than with Edwards on the issues of single-payer medical care, immediate withdrawal from Iraq and repudiation of “free trade” agreements that have encouraged multinational corporations to move their manufacturing jobs overseas. But while Edwards struggled to stay in double figures, Kucinich was ridiculed by the national media, had to fight to get into debates and had to struggle to stay in single digits before he broke off his presidential campaign to go back to Cleveland to defend his congressional seat.

That does not mean that Kucinich and Edwards were advocating unpopular positions. Clear majorities of the American public support single-payer health coverage, “fair trade” deals that include enforcable labor and health standards, corporate accountability, immediate withdrawal from Iraq and action to reverse climate change, but if you listened to the pundits of the corporate broadcast media you would think that Kucinich and Edwards represented the fringes of American society.

Indeed, if progressives are going to win elections, they aren’t going to get much help from the corporate media that monopolize the public airwaves — and that goes double for populists. Our democracy depends upon a revitalized independent media.

Democracy needs more newspapers like The Progressive Populist (to beat our own drum). We may be a small paper but we put the First Amendment to use and we take seriously our role of getting information out to the hinterlands. If we preach to a relatively small choir, we need to grow the choir!

There’s a lot of misinformation going out daily from gasbags such as Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and the crew at Fox News and others. Setting the record straight is a full-time job for liberal talkers such as Ed Schultz, Randi Rhodes, Thom Hartmann, Stephanie Miller and Air America Radio (which you can find at airamerica.com if you don’t have a local affiliate). But democracy needs a Federal Communications Commission that takes seriously its role to encourage diversity of voices on the public airwaves — and isn’t afraid to reassign licenses of corporations that abuse their privileges.

Finally, democracy needs an open Internet, free of corporate gatekeepers, where citizen activists can find out what is going on around the nation and around the world at websites such as DailyKos.com, CommonDreams.org and TalkingPointsMemo.com (to name just three; see more at populist.com).

Ralph Nader has formed a committee to explore another run for president. While he is our friend, we think another presidential campaign would divert progressive resources from more productive purposes and ultimately would accomplish little. In 2000, as a Green candidate, Nader spent $13.5 million and got 2.88 million votes (2.74% of the total). In 2004, as an independent candidate, he spent $4.6 million and got 465,650 votes (0.38%). We don’t think he handed the election to George W. Bush in either case, Democratic scapegoating notwithstanding, but he certainly alienated a lot of Democrats, including many progressive voters.

On Thom Hartmann’s radio show recently, Nader said he was exploring support. He rejected suggestions that he should either not run or limit his campaign to “safe states.” “To say ‘do not run,” is equivalent to saying ‘do not speak,’” he said, adding, “When you run for president you run in all 50 states. You don’t say we’re not going to let you vote for us in certain states.”

We are not under any illusion that we can talk Nader out of running again, but he offered this good advice for progressive Democrats: “If you don’t want to go to a third party, make demands of the Democrats. Don’t give [the party] a pass because it’s not as bad as the Republican Party.”

Progressives may well wonder what recourse they have when Democratic congressional leaders seem more eager to please the Bush White House than their base. In the latest case, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) enabled Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to knuckle under to the White House on the bill to legalize warrantless spying on telephone calls and emails of Americans and provide retroactive amnesty to lawbreaking telephone companies, “thus forever putting an end to any efforts to investigate and obtain a judicial ruling regarding the Bush administration’s years-long illegal spying programs aimed at Americans,” as Glenn Greenwald lamented at Salon.com Feb. 12.

In key votes, the Dodd/Feingold amendment to remove telecom immunity from the bill failed 31-67, as 18 Democrats joined all Republicans in voting for immunity. [See Dispatches.]

Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)’s amendment merely to provide that the bill they were about to pass would be the “exclusive means” for presidential eavesdropping failed by a vote of 57-41. (It fell 3 votes shy of the 60 votes needed for passage, under the agreement Reid reached with the Republicans, which Greenwald noted requires that every amendment attract the number of votes it cannot get.) “So not only is the Senate enacting a bill granting vast new warrantless eavesdropping powers to the President, they are unwilling even to declare that it is the law of the land and that he is required to abide by it,” Greenwald observed. The White House-enabling bill finally passed on a 68-29 vote.

Our hope is that the House, whose version of the bill keeps court oversight of surveillance and does not include immunity for telecoms that break the law, will stand up to the Senate. For what it’s worth, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) said he sees no justification for telecom amnesty. Let’s hope he can maintain that resolve in the conference committee as it hashes out the differences between the two chambers. Meanwhile, call your rep to put some steel in his or her spine. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2008

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2008 The Progressive Populist.