Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Opinion Pieces I Love. These Make It Almost Bearable.

I can't imagine anything that makes me less hopeful for our country than the exit from the race of the best presidential candidate I've ever seen in my life and the Democratic Party's rush to embrace a Reagan-loving Bush-Cheney Lite trojan horse.

Does the Democratic Party have Stockholm syndrome? Have we been held captive by the right wing for so long that we have become sympathetic to our captors? Depressing thoughts abound in the days since my progressive hero John Edwards "suspended" his campaign.

I want to share some opinion pieces that made me smile a little, because they helped me to know that my work for the Edwards campaign was worthwhile and that the fight really does go on.

The first is by the lovely and wonderful Madeleine Stowe. Madeleine, who you may know from films like Last of the Mohicans and Twelve Monkeys, is one of Edwards' celebrity supporters, who went on the campaign trail with him. I met her in Iowa, and when I call her lovely and wonderful, I am not referring merely to her physical beauty or her talent as an actress. She is also a kind and thoughtful human being.

I particularly like Madeleine's portrait of John Edwards for her insights about his character. She writes:

But John Edwards is tough. Perhaps this is what the pundits have either failed to understand or willfully neglected to point out. His campaign has faced challenge after challenge and his personal life has been struck by tragedy, yet he remained in the race long past the media's expectations, unbowed. Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, understand what the passage of time means in a life, and they've made hard and clear decisions about how they're going to live.

I observed the candidate on the campaign trail when reporters weren't around during each of the four primaries and found that he was always strikingly calm in spite of the whirl around him. Edwards, I've been told, is guided by a faith that runs deep but which he refuses to unleash on the general public. During his tenure as a senator from North Carolina, at a prayer breakfast in D.C. where he was said to have given a moving speech, he was advised to bring up his faith again and again as a political tool. Edwards said, "No," and has been intractable on the matter ever since.

In the month before the Iowa caucuses and just before the start of a town-hall meeting of more than 300 people, an aide took me backstage to say hello. Edwards was standing alone in a large, dark room. He smiled brightly, manners impeccable, but there was a slight vulnerability emanating from him. While he's been described by those close to him as supremely confident, in that moment I felt something else. He reminded me of the "good son," the man who still wore the aura of wanting to please his father, to give the task at hand his best. It was an oddly touching quality, and something told me to politely leave him be. He was gracious to a fault, hands in his pockets. Before leaving, I muttered, "You're on the right side of things," and he nodded with a certainty that was not at all cocky, but instead youthful in its hopefulness, replying, "Yes. I think I am."

Thank you, Madeleine.

The second opinion piece that has made this loss more bearable, is Paul Krugman's. Not surprisingly given his track record, Krugman gets it right.

At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.

Krugman has reminded me that if the Democrats succeed in providing universal health care during the next administration, every single person who worked on the Edwards campaign will be able to consider it a personal achievement. Unfortunately, we are still a long way from there.

John Nichols of The Nation also reminds us that Edwards was and remains the true leader on the issues:

Edwards shaped the 2008 race, offering the first universal healthcare plan from a major contender, proposing the first economic stimulus package, making an issue of war profiteering. And he was heard. Obama's rhetoric has grown more powerful and effective as he has borrowed Edwards's policies as well as his populist phrasing. And when Clinton tells urban audiences she is campaigning to help Americans "lift yourself and your family out of poverty," it is impossible to miss the Edwards echo. Even Republicans like Mike Huckabee sounded like they'd been reading Edwards's position papers on trade policy. Now, as a noncandidate, Edwards can and should continue to shape the race. The desire of Clinton and Obama for his endorsement will get his phone calls answered. But perhaps an Edwards endorsement is of less consequence than his continuing presence. Forget the empty speculation about him as a vice presidential prospect; Edwards's best role will be as the voice of conscience for a party that has yet to recognize that its historic commitment to economic justice must be renewed in a time of recession.

One thing I will always be proud of and count as an accomplishment in my life, is that I stood with John Edwards when it mattered.

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