Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Will Populism still play in Peoria?

[The piece below made me decide to run a back-to-back on "Horserace '08." It was penned by Jack McEnany, editor of Lost Nation.TV, a solid political site. Plus, anyone who drops a Fightin' Bob LaFollette reference is ok in my book.-JB]

It’s impossible for a true progressive not to be moved by John Edwards’ new stump speech. We’re suckers for that Fightin’ Bob LaFollette, eat-the-rich, take back the country, kick some corporate ass oratory.

LaFollette, a Wisconsin congressman, governor, and senator once said:

“Every nation has its war party. It is not the party of democracy. It is the party of autocracy. It seeks to dominate absolutely. It is commercial, imperialistic, ruthless. It tolerates no opposition. It is just as arrogant, just as despotic, in London, or in Washington, as in Berlin. The American Jingo is twin to the German Junker…If there is no sufficient reason for war, the war party will make war on one pretext, then invent another.”

He died months after losing his presidential bid as the Progressive Party candidate in 1924. Some things never change.

My wife once said to me, Can you change the baby? And I replied, only if the baby wants to change. As much as Edwards’s extols us to change, Hillary’s popularity among Democrats indicates a strong sense of what he calls “nostalgia” for a time that never was. And he’s right. American politics, especially the presidential variety, lists hard toward the cult of personality – we’re always looking for the Kennedy, the Nixon, the Reagan, the Clinton who will fix what we don’t like about modern America. But genuine, fundamental change will take an active movement of free thinkers, not just a president friendly to the cause. A progressive leader as president would help, of course, as would a responsive congress and a media that isn’t owned and operated by the same gits we have in our cross hairs. Currently, none of these situations exists. Our best shot at any of them is electing a progressive president, if only because Bush has screwed the pooch so arrogantly and so thoroughly that the Democratic nominee has a huge advantage in this cycle. From Adlai Stevenson to George McGovern to Mike Dukakis, progressives have proven that they can deliver when the passion moves them. This time it might work in November.

There are those who will make a case of Edwards’s recent corporate dalliances (but as a trial attorney he stuck it to them good and often), he opposes gay marriage (he has a pro-choice-to-be-gay position, which misses the point), and he voted for the goddamn war (which he now freely admits was a mistake). So as Hillary’s husband used to say – don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Edwards’s domestic agenda is ambitious and necessary, and while social and economic justice issues are at the heart of left-leaning populism, so is peace. Health care is key, ending the Bush-Cheney tax cuts for the rich is duh for everyone except the top 1% and a few self-hating, middle-class Republicans, but the organizing issue of the day is Iraq. Morning in America is always a powerful trope; this time sunrise comes when the war ends.

If Edwards bangs hard on bringing the troops home now, and raises hope by offering ways to improve the deteriorating conditions of the middle and working classes, he’ll steadily pick up support. But enough to catch Hillary? Not going to be easy.

Whether Edwards can get the disaffected to vote at all, much less for him, is the question. That there are a lot more us now than there used to be works in his favor – but it’s also the subtext of Hillary’s Clinton II gambit.

Edwards needs a creative and very active voter registration drive with plenty of follow-up field and telephone contact; a fearless and aggressive GOTV team willing to drag what’s theirs to the polls, and; and an inhuman amount of retail vote trolling by Edwards between now and primary day. It’s all uphill, but as things stand, given Clinton’s commanding lead in the polls, if Obama can still win it, so can Edwards.

[Reposted from Lost Nation. TV, 2007]

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