I wanted to add some more thoughts to Sam’s excellent estimation of the end of John Edwards’ campaign. I’ve pretty much been deep in the tank for Edwards since his awe-inspiring “Two Americas” speech in 2004, so to see and hear him bow out today was a grand disappointment. But even as he did so, I looked back and considered what brought him–and those of us who stood with him–to this point.
Edwards did not fit the assumed narrative the media wanted to run with in this campaign–he was the outsider, the guy who wasn’t campaigning on experience or the audacity of hope. Moreover, he was speaking painful truths about class, corporatism, and how our lives are dictated and controlled by the power elite. So the media machine cranked up the distortion and tried to smear him into oblivion with stupid trivialities. Yet, through all that, his message perservered.
But his campaign did not. I honestly think it was because he focused so much on the dark, broken side of American life that people were frightened away. As I said to a friend of mine yesterday, the difference between Edwards and Obama is that the former inspires you to fight, while the latter inspires you to hope. And people would much rather hope than fight. This is not to say that hope is bad, but merely that Obama’s tremendous success has come from merging much of Edwards’ populist message with his own, more positive rhetoric. In fact, everyone from Clinton to Romney has tried to appeal to the little guy as a result of how sharply and starkly Edwards brought populist issues into the debate. Their results have been, shall we say, mixed at best.
He wasn’t a perfect candidate–indeed, he was wrong on a great many things, from Iraq to the bankruptcy bill to his lack of clear support for gay rights. As Denny astutely noted, he is just as good at playing the money game as anyone else, and his rhetorical flourishes about helping people out of poverty didn’t always have substance. But seriously–can you remember ANY other candidate even mentioning the devastation from Katrina that still plagues the Gulf Coast today? Or any of the so-called “leading” candidates promising to get us out of Iraq as soon as possible? Edwards made people stand up and remember that we owe it to ourselves to help our fellow man–our fellow American–make this country great again, in every way.
The value of John Edwards to the 2008 election was about more than simply reducing him to the surface values, as people have tried to do with Obama and Clinton. John Edwards was the messenger, the Cassandra, the man who would say the things others wouldn’t, and would speak painful truths, even when it meant admitting his own failures. John Edwards may not have been able to translate his message into votes, but his message DID reach those who wanted to listen, and in turn, those who needed to hear.
As Edwards himself reminds us today:
I began my presidential campaign here to remind the country that we, as citizens and as a government, have a moral responsibility to each other, and what we do together matters. We must do better, if we want to live up to the great promise of this country that we all love so much.
It is appropriate that I come here today. It’s time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path. We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what we do know is that our Democratic Party will make history. We will be strong, we will be unified, and with our convictions and a little backbone we will take back the White House in November and we’ll create hope and opportunity for this country.
Indeed we will. And we will owe much of our success to John Edwards, who may not have made it to the Promised Land, but assured through his efforts that we will get there.