By Martin Bosworth
If the saying that a man is judged by the enemies he makes is true, then John Edwards is a helluva man indeed. Yesterday Sam led an excellent counterattack against the typical media narratives being spun about Edwards. Today, the shank comes from the left, in the form of Garance Franke-Ruta’s look at his poverty tour:
But offered a choice between the promise of new programs and political candidates who might enhance their social standing and political power, many poor people are choosing the promise of social change. They understand intuitively that social equality and increased political power for the disenfranchised leads inexorably to greater economic equality and opportunities for all. Edwards’ promise of anti-poverty government action, in this calculus, holds less appeal than the transformative potential of electing the first African-American or first woman president in the nation’s history.
In other words, blacks will vote for a black guy because he’s black, and women will vote for a woman because she’s a woman, and that means more to them than what they’re saying. Damn, that is cynical as all hell.
Now, I’m not naive enough to think that Edwards will convince people solely on the strength of his positions. Hell, if I were a guy that Edwards met on his tour and saw him coming, I’d be skeptical. But Garance does the audience she’s writing for a disservice by blanket assuming that women will gravitate to Hillary, blacks to Obama, etc. Hell, Hillary is a polarizing figure among women as much as men–at least in my experience. I’ve had women tell me that they despise her so much they’d vote Republican if she got the nomination. This is completely anecdotal, but then again, so is much of Garance’s essay.
America is ready for a black president, or a woman president. No doubt we are long past due. But what America is really ready for is a president with real concerns for and ideas to help our country. I think all three of the candidates have that power, but their ideas are what count–and Edwards’ ideas are still the sharpest and strongest when it comes to issues of poverty, economics, and the widening gap between have and have-not in America.
Not to mention that I think it does Obama AND Clinton an insult to reduce their transformative potential to “Because he’s black” and “Because she’s got tits.” I give Obama credit–the man has done more to make his ethnicity a non-issue than anyone’s attempts to bring it up through sheer charisma and star power. And Clinton is running as Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Senator, not simply Hillary the first woman candidate. She’s too smart and too experienced to play that card, and her candidacy reflects that.
Most of all, Americans, for all of our quirks, biases, tics, and problems, are becoming much less naive about politics and much less easily defined. In other words, we’re smartening up and breaking out of labels, boxes, and categories. Black Republicans, hawkish Democrats, secular progressives, atheist conservatives, religious liberals–you name it, it’s in the mix. That means it’s not so easy to assume that we will cleave to obvious divisions and trend where we’re supposed to. Jenifer Fernandez Ancona touched off a great discussion on OpenLeft of how complex a task it is to define a movement, and many of the posts touch on breaking away from assumptions as to who will do what and support why.
I normally enjoy Garance’s work, as she is extremely measured and insightful in her views and refrains from hothead rhetoric–I can get plenty of that from my own writing. But in this case, her reductionist views of Obama and Clinton combined with her dismissal of Edwards’ ability to communicate betray her own biases more than they do the weaknesses of the candidates.
I would vote for all of these candidates, which is a credit to how strong the Dems are coming in this time and how absolutely atrocious the GOP candidate array is. But I won’t vote against or for them simply because of how much they look like me–I’ll make that decision based on the issues. I would like to think I’m not alone in that regard, and if I am, that’s a damn shame.