Today John Edwards officially dropped out of the Democratic presidential race, giving his concession speech in a New Orleans neighborhood destroyed by Katrina. Behind him they were fixing houses, or constructing new ones from scratch. For awhile, New Orleans had been the perfect backdrop for Edwards’ hopeful message–that we are now or will soon be recovering from what was lost on Bush’s watch. But like most poetic political landscapes, it’s spirit eventually was betrayed by the words spoken in the foreground.
I wasn’t upset at Edwards for dropping out. But his reluctance to endorse either of his Democratic opponents implied that, as he sees it, Obama and Clinton are interchangeable.
Am I missing something, or is Edwards? Edwards is familiar with Hillary Clinton’s style, her voting record, her ties to Wall Street wealth and other moneyed interests. Barack Obama after all received support from labor unions, and from organizations mobilizing in defense of the middle-class. Many such endorsements went to Obama not because he was more committed than Edwards to their plights, but because Obama posed a legitimate challenge to the woman who is indifferent to them.
What are we to make of Edwards’ non-endorsement as we close in on Super Tuesday? Senators Obama and Clinton both assured Edwards that poverty will be a focal point in their campaigns. But so what? Since when do enlightened people take Hillary-lip-service at face value?
What else did he expect her to say? “No thanks, John. Please tell your supporters they should all vote for Barack. As an honest, ethical human being, I can’t in good conscience ask those hardworking voters to cast their ballots in my favor, knowing that my plan is to continue the Bush doctrine of fucking them over.”?
Hillary didn’t get to where she is today by being forthright, why would she try sincerity now? The more politically savvy maneuver is to continue doing what she’s always done. Edwards must have noticed, over nearly a decade of working with Mrs. Clinton, that she will do or say whatever she gets votes–cry, flipflop, you name it. With a former top-tier candidate exiting the race, and 15% of Democratic votes now up for grabs, it’s a political no-brainer for his opponents: for Obama and Clinton, pandering to poverty and the middle-class obviously become the new order of the day. Clinton’s corporate sponsors might even give their blessings: “Say what you need to say, Hillary, whatever rounds up those middle-class votes. Just promise us you have no intentions to keep your promises.”
Chris Matthews was right today, anticipating the “Edwards primary” we’ll be treated to over the next few days. Obama and Clinton will be falling over each other to see who can sound more like Edwards. The former Senator, for his part, should understand the responsibility that comes with his sudden political relevance. Depending on how tight he is with with ex-supporters, Edwards may be in a unique position to steer the race in favor of one candidate or the other. If he truly cared about his supporters, he would shoot straight with them, at least offer some opinion regarding which of the two remaining candidates gives less of a fuck about them. These next few days will be crucial, as Edwards backers’ decide who is their second choice. Why wouldn’t he put in his $.02 on their behalves?
The immediate answers come from questions I didn’t want to ask. Did Edwards really care about ordinary Americans, or was he bullshitting us all along? Was it simply that “we the people” occupied a niche that remained unspoken for after the establishment had divvied up the influential donors amongst the frontrunners, and Edwards thus settled for ordinary Americans, influential solely in our voting power?
Obviously, both Democratic candidates will be kissing the middle-classes’ asses for the next few days. But what should that matter? All of it will be fake. Edwards knows this; many voters do not. And so ultimately their support will lean toward whichever candidate busts out the more creative populist song-and-dance this week.
He knows where Hillary’s loyalties ultimately reside. What is Edwards waiting for? A V.P. invite? Attorney General, maybe? I can’t think of any other reason for his tacit support of her.
Using his trademark rhetoric, Edwards ended today’s concession speech with a series of real-life anecdotes–shout outs to the homeless people he met under the nearby bridge, and to the working class lady who feeds them everyday; to the veterans whose arms get blown off in wars and whose stingy government refuses to replace it; to the clef-lipped guy who waited fifty years to speak; to people with ambition and sporadic potential who can’t quite make the pieces fit, people like me.
“I will not forget you. I will make sure that your voice is heard. I will never stop fighting for you.”
And then he exited the stage, this candidate I had trusted for awhile, presumably to hammer nails inside those hopeful houses over his shoulder.
Maybe it was part of the Hollywood set; the houses, props to be disassembled shortly; the guys who looked like local carpenters, campaign interns who boarded buses to Clinton headquarters as soon as the cameras cut away. Or maybe the entire scene was genuine, everything but the politician’s heart.
It hardly matters I suppose. There are no top-tier candidates for me now, and as Edwards cozies up to Hillary I’m doubting there ever were. How different am I, really, from the heartlanders who vote religiously against their futures? Where they bend over for malevolent dictators holding bibles, I fall for extravagant lawyers with gourmet haircuts and populist accents. It’s a humbling revelation, and it begs a big question, one I’ll ponder while choosing between voting for the eloquent Obama and moving to Canada: is it wrong to feel inspired by empty charisma?