I gave John Edwards more money than I've given to any candidate in my life, and I'm glad I did. He raised critical issues about America's economic divides, and got them on the Democratic agenda. He was the first major candidate to stake out strong comprehensive platforms on global warming and health care. He hammered away on the Iraq war, even using scarce campaign resources to run ads during recent key Senate votes. He'd have made a powerful nominee -- and president.
I've been going through my mourning for a while for his campaign not getting more traction, so his withdrawal announcement didn't shock me. But sad as I am about his departure, I feel good about being able to switch my support to Barack Obama, and will do all I can to help him win.
I've actually been giving small donations to both since Iowa, while hoping that the Edwards campaign would belatedly catch fire, and exploring ways the two campaigns could work together. With Edwards gone, I think Obama is the natural choice for his supporters, and that Edwards should step up and endorse him as his preferred nominee. All three major Democratic candidates have their flaws and strengths--they all have excellent global warming plans, for instance. But Edwards wasn't just being rhetorical when he said that both he and Obama represent voices for change, versus Clinton's embodiment of a Washington status quo joining money and power.
Here are a dozen reasons why I feel proud to have my energy, dollars and vote now go to Obama:
1. The Iraq War: Obviously, invading Iraq remains the most damaging single action of the Bush era. Obama spoke out against it at a public rally while Clinton was echoing Bush's talking points and voting for it. Obama's current advisors also consistently opposed the war, while Clinton's consistently supported it. It's appropriate that Clinton jumped to her feet to clap when Bush said in his recent State of the Union address that there was "no doubt" that "the surge is working."
2. Clinton's Iran vote: The Kyl-Lieberman bill gave the Bush administration so wide an opening for war that Jim Webb called it "Dick Cheney's fondest pipe dream." Hillary voted for it. Obama and Edwards opposed it.
3. The youth vote: If a Party attracts new voters for their first few elections, they tend to stick for the rest of their lives. Obama is doing this on a level unseen in decades. By tearing down the candidate who inspires them, Clinton will so embitter many young voters they'll stay home.
4. Hope matters: When people join movements to realize raised hopes, our nation has a chance of changing. When they damp their hopes, as Clinton suggests, it doesn't. Like Edwards, Obama has helped people feel they can participate in a powerful transformative narrative. That's something to embrace, not mock.
5. Follow the money: All the candidates have some problematic donors -- it's the system -- but Hillary's the only one with money from Rupert Murdoch. Edwards and Obama refused money from lobbyists. Clinton claimed they were just citizens speaking out, and held a massive fundraising dinner with homeland security lobbyists. Obama spearheaded a public financing bill in the Illinois legislature, while Clinton had to be shamed by a full-page Common Cause ad in the Des Moines Register to join Obama and Edwards in taking that stand.
6. John McCain: If McCain is indeed the Republican nominee, than as Frank Rich brilliantly points out, he's perfectly primed to run as the war hero with independence, maturity and integrity, against the reckless, corrupt and utterly polarizing Clintons. Never mind that McCain's integrity and independence is largely a media myth (think the Charles Keating scandal and his craven embrace of Bush in 2004), but Bill and Hillary heralding their two-for-one White House return will energize and unite an otherwise ambivalent and fractured Republican base.
7. Mark Penn: Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn, runs a PR firm that prepped the Blackwater CEO for his recent congressional testimony, is aggressively involved in anti-union efforts, and has represented villains from the Argentine military junta and Philip Morris to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster.
8. Sleazy campaigning: Hillary stayed on the ballot in Michigan after Edwards and Obama pulled their names, then audaciously said the delegates she won unopposed should count retroactively. She, Bill and their surrogates have conducted a politics of personal attack that begins to echo Karl Rove, from distorting Obama's position on Iraq and abortion choice, to dancing out surrogates to imply that the Republicans will tar him as a drug user.
9. NAFTA: Hillary can't have it both ways in stoking nostalgia for Bill. NAFTA damaged lives and communities and widened America's economic divides. Edwards spoke out powerfully against it. Clinton now claims the agreement needs to be modified, but her husband staked all his political capital in ramming it through, helping to hollow out America's economy and split the Democratic Party for the 1994 Gingrich sweep.
10. Widening the circle: Obviously Obama spurs massive enthusiasm in the young and in the African-American community. I'm also impressed at the range of people turning out to support his campaign. At a Seattle rally I attended, the volunteer state campaign chair had started as Perot activist. The founding coordinator in the state's second-largest county, a white female Iraq war vet, voted for Bush in 2000 and written in Colin Powell in 2004 before becoming outraged about Iraq "I've always leaned conservative," she said, "but Obama's announcement speech moved me to tears. The Audacity of Hope made me rethink my beliefs. He inspires me with his honesty and integrity." As well as inspiring plenty of progressive activists, Obama is engaging people who haven't come near progressive electoral politics in years.
11. The story we tell: Obama captures people with a narrative about where he wants to take America. His personal story is powerful, but he keeps the emphasis on the ordinary citizens who need to take action to make change. Clinton, in contrast, focuses largely on her personal story, her presumed strengths and travails. Except for the symbolism of having a woman president, it's a recipe that downplays the possibility of common action for change.
12. Citizen movements matter: Edwards not only ran for president, but worked to build a citizen movement capable of working for change whatever his candidacy's outcome. Obama has taken a similar approach, beginning when he first organized low-income Chicago communities and coordinated a still-legendary voter registration drive. His speeches consciously encourage his supporters to join together and constitute a force equivalent to the abolitionist, union, suffrage, and civil rights movements. Like Edwards, he's working to build a movement capable of pushing his policies through the political resistance he will face (and probably of pushing him too if he fails to lead with enough courage). In this context, Clinton's LBJ/Martin Luther King comparison, and her dismissal of the power of words to inspire people, is all too revealing. She really does believe change comes from knowing how to work the insider levers of power. Edwards and Obama know it takes more.
That's why this Edwards supporter is proud to do all I can to make Barack Obama the Democratic nominee and president.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles