John Edwards, Man and Message

John Edwards: A Look at the Man and the Message

Published on Political Affairs, by Norman Markowitz, January 17, 2008.

In his bid for the Democratic nomination, John Edwards is campaigning to the left of front-runners Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on general domestic issues. By this, I mean that his most important theme is more than just the necessity for a popular movement for change. Edwards talks about the need to confront large corporations and their influence in society on key issues like health care, the environment and labor’s rights, before the US can become the society that it can and should be. So is Edwards a real anti-monopoly candidate? …

… In an interesting sidelight, Edwards, who has championed restrictions against the loan sharks who have run wild in pushing credit(particularly for the homes) on the poor in recent decades, joined a Wall Street firm, Fortress Investments, as an advisor and consultant in 2005. Actions like this are common among establishment politicians and have been for generations, in effect making them part of interlocking directorates that connect banks and corporations with political leaders and the administrators of universities, charitable institutions, etc. When it was discovered recently that Fortress Investments owned a substantial interest in one of the predatory sub prime loan companies, Edwards ended his involvement with the firm, withdrew his own investment, and has worked with ACORN to establish a Louisiana Home Rescue Fund, for families who have had their mortgages foreclosed by the Fortress affiliate. Edwards, according to press reports, contributed $100,000 to the ACORN directed rescue fund and no one has suggested that he was aware of Fortress ownership of the predatory lender.

Edwards has emphasized an outlook of challenging big business directly. He often says, There are two Americas. One that does the work, and one that reaps the rewards. This is by far his strongest point, since it means that, unlike Carter and Clinton, who sought to compromise with corporate power from the beginning, he would start from a strong position and through the compromises that are built in to the political process in this country, have a much better chance to make significant gains. The fact that Edwards over the last three years has involved himself with trade unions, grassroots, progressive organizations like ACORN, and sought their support on issues rather than having them come to him is also very positive. This type of relationship means that he is more likely to represent the issues that these organizations struggle around rather than simply buying them off with patronage positions. Edwards can work effectively with both people’s movements and the core constituencies of the Democratic Party on policy questions, and this is very important.

Edwards’ foreign policy positions are another story. He argues that the US has a mission to promote democracy in the world, that Iran is a menace (recall he had said the same things about Saddam) and has come forward with few new directions in foreign policy matters. On foreign policy issues, which are issues of US imperialism’s role in the world, I would rank him at this moment alongside Senator Hillary Clinton, but below Senator Barack Obama as much as Senator Obama is below him on domestic issues, and vastly below Representative Dennis Kucinich, who is only candidate to come forward with an unequivocal anti-militarist foreign policy.

In conclusion, John Edwards is a different and much better Southern candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination breaking with the Southern strategy concept and identifying himself with the core constituencies of the Democratic Party, particularly with organized labor. For these reasons, mass media has tended to discount his campaign, even though he is a former vice presidential candidate for the Democratic Party. He has the ability to unite the anti-right-wing Republican majority and win a huge victory. If elected, assuming that he can adopt progressive positions on foreign policy issues (which is a big assumption), he can achieve great things in advancing a people’s agenda and healing the nation from the damage inflicted by right-wing Republican power since the election of Ronald Reagan.

If he fails to develop a progressive foreign policy program, however, Edwards would risk the fate of Lyndon Johnson, who sacrificed a progressive domestic program to his reactionary foreign policy as he lost popular support. The way to prevent that and also strengthen himself in the campaign for the nomination is to begin to stake out antimilitarist positions on foreign policy issues has he has staked out pro-labor progressive positions on domestic ones. Still, his campaign is a positive addition to the discussions and actions around the 2008 election. His candidacy strengthens progressives in the Democratic Party and, whether he wins the nomination or not, helps the party become stronger to defeat the Republican right. (full long text).

(Norman Markowitz is a contributing editor of Political Affairs. Send your comments by mail).

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