US Elections 2008: Support John Edwards!

December 30, 2007 at 10:10 am (Democratic Party, Democrats, elections, United States, voltairespriest)

As the more sane and literate amongst you will know, the US Presidential election season is about to begin, with the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd. I am in favour of arguing for a vote for the Democrat candidate in US elections under some circumstances, including this time around. Here is an article that I recently wrote giving some reasons why.

Why I’m supporting John Edwards – an appeal to the Left

At both of the last US Presidential elections, I took a stance that is not popular on the UK left – one of support for a crtical Democratic vote. For those of you who are unaware of my political heritage and who may be surprised that such an apparently uncontroversial stance would excite any kind of debate at all on the liberal-left, allow me to explain. The political background from which I come is one of the left in union and wider labour movement politics, where Trotskyist groups, all of which have a visceral loathing for the Democrats, have loomed large. Indeed, they were only ever really willing to call for a vote for the Labour Party in the UK based on a combination of recruitment raiding, and Byzantine theorising that attached an almost religious significance to the never-exercised trade union link with Labour. Both of these factors having withered on the vine over the past ten years, most of the left (barring a few real no-hopers) have pulled back from automatic support for Labour, and indeed have ended up in many cases in something of a state of confused hopelessness as a consequence. Some indeed have ended up wandering down blind alleys such as the laughably misnamed “Respect” coalition, following quixotic figures such as George Galloway in the desperate hope of being led to a new dawn. Of course, that dawn will transpire to be a mirage, and most have already seen it. But such is the myopic faith even of ex-trotskyists in their will to follow a “line” that some will continue to do so – even as they spend every passing day tearing each other to pieces and opening themselves up for widespread mockery on this blog amongst others. It’s hardly an edifying spectacle.

So in light of such an extraordinary fiasco, what on earth could a refugee from such a risible political community possibly have to contribute to a debate being held on a far larger arena, in the USA? One of the reasons is because I like to think that people can and do learn lessons, and that therefore they are not doomed to carry on repeating the mistakes of the past.

The classic leftist arguments against voting for Democrat candidates surround the fact that the Democratic Party has no organic link to the US working class, and further that it does not represent a movement of that class either. The first argument is not in dispute – many US trades unions do fund the Democratic Party, but they have no constitutional link into that party in the way that the old trades union link technically worked (or could work) in the Labour Party. The second is also not disputed, at least in the sense that the Democrats are not and do not pretend to be a left-socialist or Marxist group in the sense that Marxist-educated European left-wingers would understand one.

That having been said, I do not believe that either of those two points in and of itself gives anyone a reason not to advocate for a Democratic vote, if it is even temporarily in the interests of working people to do so. In fact, in the grand traditions of the left, both points are in fact tangential to that central question. The reality is that this Presidential election is one where principled fence-sitting will not do.

I advocated a vote for the Democrats in 2004, not because I held any great (or indeed any) faith in John Kerry’s ability to make or stick to a principled statement, but because I believed that in the midst of the Iraq war and in an atmosphere of whipped-up racial hatred towards Arabs and Muslims across the West, there was a need to put a brake on an administration increasingly blind to anything beyond overseas objectives directed by political fanatics, and domestic policies directed by religious fanatics. As flawed and weak as Kerry was, he represented the opportunity to put a brake on those political directions, and I still believe that the world would have been a better place if he had won. The left who refused to take that stance were left with the choice of supporting a far-left wacko from a selection of Stalinists (Workers World Party) and Barnesites (US-SWP), supporting little-guy-populist-without-the-popularity Ralph Nader, or abstaining. Most chose Nader or abstention. Kerry lost, and the rest is history.

This time, I am advocating for the same position, but for a different reason. 2008 I believe will be the first “post-war” election, in the sense that there is no longer the paranoid sense of post-9/11 siege that still dominated in 2004. National security is still an issue, but the Bush administration’s foreign adventures are now widely despised, and social libertarians are beginning to boil with resentment at the administration’s domestic security policies. Beneath those, the population continues as it always has to favour Democratic positions on welfare, healthcare, and sexual freedoms.

The precursor to the conditions in which we see the 2008 elections shaping up, was the 2006 congressional elections, which saw Democrats swept to power in the House of Representatives and eking a majority in the senate – both of which majorities are likely to rise in November of next year. The elections in the senate (which the Democrats were not expected to win, even by many of the DLC types involved in running the campaign) were particularly interesting. I was struck by Montana, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Minnesota and Ohio. Three of these (Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Ohio) are bellweather states in Presidential elections, whereas the other two have historically been Republican. All of them elected Democrats, and all of them are now trending Democrat in other match-ups.

They were marked by a different kind of campaigning to the tacking, slick ad-driven machinery that usually characterises Democratic efforts in recent years. All of them were marked by a renewed populist style, that was not too much concerned with what had played well with DC focus groups prior to the campaign. In particular Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Bob Casey Junior in Pennsylvania (both of whom won with huge majorities over hapless right-wing incumbents Mike DeWine and Rick Santorum) do not fit the Democratic stereotypes. Casey is pro-life and therefore would be automatically unlikely to pass muster at any North-Eastern Democratic gathering, ironically often composed of people who are broadly speaking more right-wing than he is. If that example leaves progressives a little queasy then let us move on to Brown, who had one of the most left-wing records in the Ohio congressional delegation, and who was swept along as a Senatorial candidate on a tidal wave of cheers and applause from the left-wing “netroots” of the Democrats such as those at the famous Daily Kos. The same flavour could be seen to Jon Tester’s campaign in Montana and Jim Webb’s in Virginia, alongside other factors (both had opponents with serious credibility problems, and both states were already beginning to trend Democratic, having elected Democratic governors within recent years).

Further, there is an increasingly evident fissure in the GOP vote between classic Reaganite minimal-state libertarians in the West, and the Christian, conservative, partly old Southern Democratic vote in the former confederacy. The current of opinion in parts of the west to oppose government intrusions in private life never did sit well with the Bush administration’s imposition of the Patriot Act, and their disinterest in overseas adventures (not to mention lack of outright hatred for Muslims) never left them quite as gung-ho for the Iraq War as other parts of the Republican coalition. However whilst they were faced with a Democratic “opposition” in congress that agreed with more or less everything the GOP said about these issues, and differed from them on the issue of taxes (the one issue were the libertarians did endorse the GOP), they remained as part of the Republican coalition, albeit a disaffected one. The 2006 elections marked an ongoing shift in that stance. From New Mexico to Colorado, to Montana to Washington State, rural western state have begun to trend Democratic. That trend has been sped up by the GOP’s alienation of Hispanic voters via its anti-immigrant stances on issues concerning non-certified workers in the USA. The Hispanic vote, of which 40% had gone to Bush in 2004, split over 70%-30% for the Democrats in 2006. For the first time in some time, an overall majority of electors in fact voted Democratic.

So… what to do in 2008? We are faced with a US electorate that is trending away from the GOP, and which is willing to listen to liberal social policies. We are faced with a working class who do turn out to vote, as in Ohio – when they think there’s something worth turning out for. And we are faced with the opportunity to break and destroy the Republican hegemony over US politics for a generation, in a way that Bill Clinton (who won with less than 50% of the vote in 3-way presidential elections, and who never won a congressional election as president) never could. I believe for that reason a Democratic vote is justified – it is a proven political fact of the past 20 years, certainly in the US and UK since the 1990s, that political space to the left only opens up when the right is not in power. This election gives us an opportunity to ensure that the right is not in power for a very long time.

Which moves me on to the question, what sort of Democrat? The old DLC tendency is represented in this election, quite clearly, by Hillary Clinton. No amount of waffle about the political significance of a female candidate for President can seriously make Clinton look like anything other than the right-wing machine politician that she is. Her right-wing record on foreign policy, even at times trying to come at Bush from the right, her track record of accepting corporate donations, or indeed her ridiculous claim to be the candidate of “experience” (due to having been married to Bill Clinton, presumably), all should leave progressive voters cold.

For some time, I felt that progressives should support Barack Obama, the Illinois senator who swept into office in 2004 on the back of an electrifying speech to the 2004 Democratic Convention. The only Black American in the US Senate, and with a proud record of having opposed the Iraq war from its inception, as well as a record of accomplishment in the state senate in Illinois, and with a talent for oratory that invited favourable comparisons with Jack Kennedy, Obama seemed like the ideal antidote to Clinton’s stale brand of “DINO” (Democrat In Name Only) politics. And yet, since initially blasting into the race, Obama has always seemed unsure of himself, and at times has made peculiar statements seeming to suggest that he would engage in pre-emptive military action against perceived security threats, even if they were to come from with countries that are technically US allies, such as Pakistan. On the other side, he seems to some degree to have lost his populist touch, instead beginning to play the game of celebrity endorsements and thin politics that lead one to wonder just how deep his commitment to progressivism really runs.

That of course leaves John Edwards. Edwards does not have an untarnished record – he was Kerry’s running mate during the failed election campaign of 2004, he was a one term senator from North Carolina who did not actually carry his home state in that election. He also voted to authorise the Iraq War.

However, he has, unlike Clinton, fully recanted that vote. Further, during the 2004 campaign, he consistently outpolled Kerry in terms of popularity. He faced the Republican spin machine down and came out unscathed. Since 2004 he has elaborated upon his theme of “two Americas”, which he has developed into a genuinely populist challenge to corporate power. Adding a second theme, “America Rising”, he has spoken out with clarity, fiery passion and consistency against a system which he himself says is governed by “corporate power”. He makes calls to fight that corporate power, and for people to “rise” by fighting to change a system that leaves 47 million people with no healthcare insurance, 37 million in poverty, 200,000 military veterans homeless on the streets, and 35 million people going hungry in any given year. He wants to reverse tax cuts for the rich, and to break the influence of drugs industry lobbyists over health policy. Again in a marked departure from normal Democratic politics, Edwards makes a big play out of “never having taken a dime” from any lobbyist during his time in Washington DC. Perhaps the most poignant story he tells is a single anecdote about a man named James Lowe, who could not speak until he had an operation for a cleft palate. He had no health insurance, but still had the operation. At the age of 50. It is staggering that a man in a western nation should go without a voice for half a century for want of a simple operation. Edwards thinks so too, and so supports universal health care.

Furthermore, it is worth pointing out that (contra DLC wisdom) Edwards outpolls most Republican candidates by margins significantly larger than Clinton’s and on a par with Obama’s.

It may be that Edwards will not win the Democratic nomination, still less the presidency. He is currently running third nation-wide, and is in a three-way battle in Iowa that he absolutely has to win to remain in the race. But I for one hope he does stay in. Because sometimes someone comes along and refreshes a debate by doing something very simple. And he’s done that. By doing what? By telling the truth.

Sometimes we on the left would do well to remember just how big changes arise from such small beginnings. That’s why I hope Edwards wins the election, and that’s why you should as well.

23 Comments

  1. twp77 said,

    Volty – First thanks for writing this article, it was very interesting to hear your perspective on this.

    However I do have to address a few of the points that you make with regards to US politics that lead to your support for Edwards which I simply do not agree with. The first is that contention that the Democractic Party in the United States somehow is better for working people. This is a patently false lie spun by Democratic Party shysters. Under Bill Clinton, though many in the US now look back with rose coloured glasses, you saw a complete erosion of social security. You saw an administration that carried out bombing raids in Somalia, Iraq and Yugoslavia and continued unhelpful sabre rattling against North Korea. This was the administration that pushed through the North American Free Trade Agreement (better for some US workers but a very raw deal for the international class) and attacked immigrant workers, who came out into the streets in unprecedented numbers in the mid-90s (until the most recent demos last year that is).

    There is a false perception that things were “better” under the Clinton administration. The major reason for this perception was the economy. Clinton was president through a period of massive domestic economic boom. This had little to do with his policies and much to do with the “.dot com” boom that happened in the mid to late 90s.

    Secondly, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to believe that a Democratic president would not have reacted in a very similar manner to Bush in the wake of 9-11. In fact, the Democratic Party has given full support to the Patriot Act, the invasion of Iraq and quickly falls into line whenever there is a vote to be had that actually counts for something (see the latest capitulation with regards to additional funding for the Iraq war). There is a reason for this – and that is that the Democratic Party is and always has been a capitalist party. It was set up in the interest of the capitalist class, not the working class. You do try to address this by comparing it to the LP in Britain but there is simply no comparison. The Democratic Party supported Jim Crow. It supported slavery. Its history is littered with examples like this. At no point has it ever broken from the ruling class and it certainly seems very far from doing so now. The LP in Britain was a conscious break from capitalist parties which attempted to give a voice for working people in Britain (and the debate continues as to whether it truly accomplishes this in any form any longer).

    I believe that socialists should not call for a vote for the Democratic Party as it merely gives support to the lie that this is an organisation that supports working people, domestically and internationally, when its track record, recently and in the past, shows that it does anything but.

    Finally, I must take issue with your contention that having a Democratic administration in power increases space for political activity in the US. This is simply not the case. The biggest protests I had been to were after the Bush administration was in office.

    John Edwards was complicit in Kerry’s flip-flopping nonsense and pro-war stance along with the belittling of his anti-war activity during Vietnam at a time when the US cried out for an alternative to Bush. Instead of drawing in the disaffected voters by taking a clear anti-war stance, they used crass opportunism to pull in the “centre” and lost.

    It is only now, after they believe that US working class people oppose the war, that some of the Democrats have distanced themselves from it. After years of anti-war activists like myself being called “traitors” by Republicans and Democrats alike, suddenly some strategist thinks playing at being “anti-war” will be a good way for their candidates to get into office. I’m not falling for it and I’d encourage anyone considering voting for this spineless, capitalist party to think again.

  2. entdinglichung said,

    why not supporting Brian Moore?

  3. voltairespriest said,

    TWP: at the risk of batting this first point back and forth a bit, which party passed Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the Civil Rights Act (all flawed, but massive improvements on what went before) in the first place? Yes, the Democrats also have a history of having supported bad things too – although in point of fact you’d have to go a very, very long way back to actually find a national Democratic platform including support for Jim Crow. So do all political parties, including the one whose membership card you and I still carry at present. That isn’t really an argument for or against tactical support for any party in 2008.

    Do you really believe that the 90s anti-globalisation protests would have been able to build into an actual movement if we were into a second Bush (1) term? I don’t think so – just like I don’t think any much constructive politics on the left can flourish under a Tory government. Opposing things (the Miners’ Strike, the Iraq War protests etc) is a different matter.

    The Labour Party is a capitalist party now (I think Bournemouth sealed the deal), and never was a full-heartedly anti-capitalist one in the first place; hence Lenin’s slightly strangulated formulation of “bourgeois workers’ party”. This is the party that invaded Iraq, cut social security, introduced student tuition fees, etc. I’d be interested to know why you still think calling for a Labour vote here is qualitatively different from calling for a vote for Edwards. The main difference I see is that Edwards has apologised for and recanted his previous pro-war positions, and now talks about fighting corporate power in a way that would make Gordon Brown faint.

    Finally, there’s really only so many times that lofty abstention from a political process that has (for better or worse) shifted leftwards with this election, can produce anything other than glorious isolation.

    Thus again, I’d urge people to vote, and vote for the most progressive candidate who has any chance of winning – John Edwards.

  4. O. said,

    Hello, what a nice surprise to have found your blog. Our views seem to me be very similar when it comes to politics and, as I’m currently blogging from Tehran, we may have more in common than even that. I too am someone who has been both outspoken against the Democratic Party, and also active in trying to push it towards more progressive politics. Having said that, I sincerely believe that Obama is the better candidate than Edwards in terms of changing the mold. I have three posts on my blog that I’ve written in this regard that I suggest you look at (1- Why We Must Be Suspicious of John Edwards, 2- Top Ten Reasons I Support Obama 3- Some Thoughts). But perhaps more important than all the concrete reasons (as I believe that both Edwards and Obama are significantly more likely to bring about change the Clinton) is that an Edwards win in Iowa will likely secure Clinton the nomination. He simply does not have enough money/support to challenge Clinton in the other states. On the contrary, an Obama victory would likely be seen by successive victories in South Carolina and New Hampshire as well, where he is currently polling leaps and bounds ahead of Edwards, and also marginally ahead of Clinton. I am confident that this momentum would propel him to the win. An Edwards win however, which I predict will happen, will likely split the anti-Clinton vote and cause her to take New Hampshire.

    Anyways, it’s again nice to have found your blog. And do take the moment to read the posts I suggested as I’d like to hear your opinion. All the best….

    O.
    contrapuntalnews.blogspot.com

  5. drew3000 said,

    Very interesting perspective on Edwards. As a US citizen living in UK and wrapping my head around the politics here as I continue to decide what to do with the election back home, it’s neat to see an opinion from this side of the Atlantic that reflects what I’ve been pondering. I’m leaning toward Edwards as the best choice among the Dems, and it wouldn’t be a first for someone in that party to jump ahead late in the game.

  6. voltaires_priest said,

    O.

    Thanks for reading and I shall have a look at your posts. On the money issue, my guess would be that Obama’s money breaks for Edwards if he pulls out of the race (say if Edwards wins Iowa, comes second in NH and SC on the back of it)?

  7. twp77 said,

    Volty – I suspect we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

    A few points to add to the general discussion. It was long believed to be the case that Democrats from the South (complete with Southern accents) were more likely to be elected than Democrats from the North. If this logic still holds true it could work in Edwards’ favour.

    In addition, if Clinton and Giuliani end up the respective candidates then you would have an East Coast v. East Coast election – something which I don’t believe has been seen in the US for a very long time.

  8. voltaires_priest said,

    Funnily enough, Giuliani is probably one of the few candidates who I’d be reasonably confident of Clinton beating – for precisely the reasons that you mention. The blue states in the North East would vote for a polecat with a Democrat badge, so Clinton has them safe, whereas Rudi would really struggle in the Republican heartlands of the South. Therefore I suppose it would depend only on Clinton carrying the rust belt and some of the west to win. Not certain but better than her odds against some of the others.

    Although mind you, the GOP candidates are broadly all just totally crap this year – not even for their reactionary politics but because they’re just a comical shower of shite that they really would struggle to get their acts together against either Obama or Edwards. Even against Clinton they’d be relying on half of the country hating her so much that they’d vote for any fool rather than her, rather than on any innate talent of their own.

  9. Right Democrat said,

    In the corporate financed environment of American politics, John Edwards is calling for economic justice for workers and challenging the rule of big business. During the Clinton years, the Democrats moved toward Republican lite on economics which left social issues as the primary distinction between the two major parties. Edwards would revitalize the Democratic Party’s labor wing, win the election with strong working class support and reverse the “trickle down” economic policies in place since Reagan.

  10. johng said,

    whatever happened to third campism?

    (not entirely jesting).

  11. voltaires_priest said,

    Well, I’m not suggesting we all join Democrats Abroad, refuse to criticise the Democrat candidates, and accuse anyone who does criticise them of being a bigot. See, critical voice still maintained.

    One of the big differences between myself and some of (far from all) of my ex-comrades in the AWL is that I think they all too often equate third-campism with automatic abstention and lofty refusal to acknowledge the realities of a situation. This would be one of those cases: I think in this set of circumstances it is important to take a position on the US elections, and the fact is that there is no chance whatsoever of a progressive third party making any positive impact at all. In fact, I would argue that no genuinely progressive national third force will even exist in that election.

    Umm… and what Right Democrat said. Remember, my support is conditional; Edwards (and, to an extent, Obama) ticks the boxes in terms of the impact and political significance of his candidacy. If Clinton with all her corporate funding and right-wing record is the candidate (especially against, say, Giuliani) then I think there’s a much stronger case for abstention in the final poll. This time.

  12. johng said,

    But many socialists might recall the way in which prioritising the elections last time round effectively demobilised the anti-war movement.

    And for what?

  13. Jules said,

    He get’s my vote for what he says here from 4:20 onwards:

    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=JgHT4cj0tF4

    However, this thread lacks the vitriol, venom and personal abuse that so often characterises the comments boxes so I would like to add the following:

    vp how do you square your opportunist vote calling for Edwards with your previous ultra leftist refusal to call a vote for John Cruddas in the Labour deputy leadership elections? Clearly you’re a vacillating centrist as well as a liberal.

    And what’s the deal with liberal conspiracy’s insistence on patronising it’s readers with the first person singulars in the titles “Why *I’m* backing Edwards” “Why *I* feel this” “why *I* think that”. The reader already knows that they are opinion pieces not binding decrees for fucks sake! I feel very strongly about this.

  14. voltaires_priest said,

    You’re quite right. We should all be shot. ;)

    As for Cruddas vs Edwards, in my view Edwards’ election as President of the USA would be of national (and international significance) and would signal a desire for real change in US politics. Cruddas being elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party just doesn’t quite measure up.

  15. voltaires_priest said,

    John;

    I’m not suggesting “demobilising the anti-war movement” (although it’s not exactly moving the masses at the moment anyway). I think we all have enough room in our diaries to walk and chew gum at the same time.

  16. Jason said,

    Those wishing to understand the Democratic Party — and why party politics in the U.S. is very, very unlike European party politics — should read this:

    http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/townsend240807p.html

  17. twp77 said,

    Votly – Why not support Cynthia McKinney?

  18. Jules said,

    Vippy,

    Of course John Edward’s election would be more significant than Cruddas’s but its also far less likely and something that you have far less control over. Given that you’re a British citizen and a card carrying Labour party member your involvement with the Cruddas campiagn could have contributed something meaningful. The issues were similar – the two candidates have both recanted their support for the Iraq war, became disillusioned with the dominant discourses in their parties and made class based appeals against inequalities (and it has to be said that Cruddas was more explicit in doing so).

    Anyway, I agree with your Edwards stance, just noting the inconsistancy – I’m sure you’re man enough to admit you were wrong about Cruddas (and you definitely were totally and utterly wrong 100% with your petit bourgeois concerns about “insincereity” and other such crap).

  19. voltaires_priest said,

    Is sincerity a petit bourgeois concept then?

    Cruddas didn’t, and doesn’t, represent a serious shift from the status quo, that’s the difference.

  20. voltaires_priest said,

    T;

    McKinney’s not in the race, which is part of the reason?

  21. The US Democrats: A Dead End For Working People « Shiraz Socialist said,

    [...] and is why Volty’s attempts to garner support for the Democratic Party by claiming that one must “if it is even temporarily in the interests of working people to do so” are utterly false. It has proven time and again to be in no way in the interest of working people [...]

  22. What’s wrong with Hillary Clinton? « Shiraz Socialist said,

    [...] at 9:28 am (Democratic Party, Democrats, United States, elections, voltairespriest) Since writing my recent article supporting John Edwards in the Democratic primary race, a number of people have asked me why my arguments (which centre [...]

  23. SEIU Endorses Obama « Shiraz Socialist said,

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