They all can win in the general election; therefore, the question is which will be best for our nation? Consider:
The Survivor: Hilary Clinton has a record of change. She also has a record of failure, a record of compromise, and a record of working with corporatists who have corrupted our system and turned it against the American people. Clinton, in short, has the record of a survivor.
She aspired to heroism in attempting to overhaul our health care system in ’92, but the abuse she suffered taught her to be more calculating. Her husband had the strength and intelligence to balance the budget, but this achievement was a matter of fiscal common sense; it was not a demonstration of a moral commitment to justice and liberty for all.
If our country was a corporation, Bill Clinton might be regarded as the best leader we ever had, but our country is much more than a corporation. If our political system wasn’t corrupt, if we weren’t fighting an unprovoked, unjustifiable war, if the debt and financial peril the American people are currently shouldering did not exist, Hillary might be the perfect candidate for “getting things done,” but we need much more than a government that just gets down to “business.”
We need a government that is principled, a government that will stand up to the corrupt and anti-democratic powers that are purposely using all their resources to render our democratic system dysfunctional.
We need a leader that is more than a survivor. We need a leader who will admit to the people the hard truths we already know and bind herself by solemn oath not to have commerce with the lies we are sick of hearing. Clinton’s campaign speeches this far have not contained hard truths and have not been free of easy lies. Her speeches have been the speeches of a political survivor. Our nation can do better.
The Meteor: So many people say they are deeply inspired by Barack Obama. Then I listen to Obama and he tells me his campaign is not about him, but about the people who want change. Thus, it seems, the people Obama inspires are inspired by their own desire for change, not by any actual identification of a corrupt and oppressive reigning order or any principled call to overthrow it.
The circular logic of the Obama campaign, in which people are inspired by a candidate who is inspired by the people who are inspired by the candidate who inspired by the people, … is the telltale sign of a political meteor. This logic is like the meteor’s tail, trailing behind him as he skirts across the upper atmosphere of the American political debate.
So long as he successfully asserts his inspiring ability to reflect back to the people our wish for change as the most important qualification for the president’s office, he can claim to be the brightest star in the sky. The problem is that after we have made our wish and Obama begins to get down to earth where the real change must take place, his candidacy begins to disintegrate. His flame expires.
The real question of the Obama candidacy is whether he has what it takes to take on the rich and powerful interests currently controlling our political system. Obama is arguing that the people’s support will enable him to take on these powers-that-be better than his rivals. But again, the people’s support is for a candidate who does not talk about his vision, but about the people’s desire for a vision. In short, a fad, a phenom, a political debutante is not what we ought to want in a candidate. We need much more than that right now.
Obama may be talented, but his campaign is not based on a principled vision. It is based on a popularity wave that diminishes the value of our public debate and demonstrates that his ambitions are more for his own power than for the welfare of our nation. This is not a good indication he has what we need.
The Champion: John Edwards, by contrast, has thrown down the gauntlet to the powers-that-be, declaring that the conduct of big corporations is indefensible, that our political process is profoundly corrupt, and that the gap between the haves and have-nots in our society threatens the future of our democracy.
Unlike Clinton and Obama, Edwards has accepted caps on his campaign spending and refused to accept money from political action committees.
Edwards is not a battle scarred politico masking a cynical worldview with weak platitudes. Nor is he a candidate opportunistically claiming the mantle of America’s chosen son whose main purpose is to avoid any action that will disrupt the momentum of his popularity.
Edwards is making choices and speaking words that matter and he is speaking them with intelligence, heart, long though and deep commitment. His roots, his career, his ever apparent talent, his service, and his vision all are signs of the authentic leadership we need in this time in our history when we have strayed so far from the principles and promise we once represented to all humanity. Edwards is by far the best of the choices available to us, a real champion of the people.
The primary is upon us. Let’s use this opportunity to help the Democratic Party and our democracy get back on track. Don’t vote for the one you think will win. They all can win. Vote for the best so that the one who does win is the one who will actually do some meaningful good.
[Hank Edson is an author, activist and attorney based in San Francisco. His blog, “MP3—My Politics and Political Perspective,” can be found at: hankedson.squarespace.com.]