August 3, 2007


Dear Friends,

I hope you will read James Ridgeway's article (attached).  I welcome your thoughts on the same  and submit my own for your consideration below.

If Edwards' would disentangle his anti racist populism from his kow towing to the US-Israeli Lobby, his campaign could very well contribute to a electoral re alignment, favorable to the education of our youth, the rebuilding of our cities and bridges, the procurement of health care for all, the eradication of poverty and homelessness, the withdrawal from Iraq, re- industrialization based on sustainable energy and the peaceful dismantling of our military industrial political complex. 

Unfortunately, apart from Edwards' own limitations, this is unlikely in my opinion due to to the blindness and opportunism that currently prevails among  the  predominantly 'white' grassroots leadership of the  labor, anti war and green movements.  We have the leadership we deserve.  But leaders and movements  evolve and  indeed must if  'we the people' are to turn away from the disastrous course America's oligarchy has set the nation on.

Edwards' launched  his campaign from New Orleans, flanked by victims of Katrina. Almost 30 years ago Reagan launched his campaign in the Mississippi town where the Freedom Riders were murdered, flanked by white supremacist. Is Edwards attuned to a rumble of discontent from the Southland that maybe its time the class card  trump the race card?   Can the "Southern Strategy" that has underwritten over 40 years of Republican hegemony be undone? 

Edwards,  fairly described by Ridgeway below as a savvy maverick down in the polls,  gives us a glimpse of what a populist electoral agenda might look like and how far we have to go to get it. 

History shows that the populist agenda is dead in the water as a  "white" populist agenda.  This is the story from Georgia's Tom Watson to Alabama's Big Jim Folsom to Ohio's Dennis Kucinich.  It is reasonable to suggest that in order for a populist movement to achieve its goals, demands for full racial equality and social justice best be raised unequivocally, without apology, front and center from the outset, as the means to the ends.

In addition, basic math tells us that the people's program cannot be implemented without dismantling the Empire, including the billions of dollars in aid to Israel, its biggest client.  The gap between Guns and Butter cannot be breached.  We don't want the government expenditures for war and we won't get the butter without the solidarity.  This is US history 101, not rocket science.  In poker parlance, it's time for "all in";maybe  not in the sense of participation or direct support for Edwards' lagging campaign, but for a concerted challenge by the progressive movements to the systems of white racial privilege at home and US support for Jewish supremacy in the middle east. 

Such an electoral  realignment, with or without Edwards as its spokesperson, now or in the not too distant future  requires an evolution in the thinking of the grass roots leadership, particularly  the predominantly 'white' led labor, peace and green movements. 

The 'white' anti war leaders should sit in  on the House Leadership;  Pelosi, Hoyer, Emmanuel and the US/Israeli Lobby who  jointly  provide the main cover for the occupation of Iraq and Jewish supremacy in Israel, not on Conyers due to his reluctance to lead the charge for impeachment in the House. 

Before McGovern, a former CIA intelligence officer, faults Conyers for not being a Martin Luther King, he would do better to look in his own backyard and focus on the executive branch's role in attacks on King and the African American freedom struggle, up to and including King's assasination and in all the years subsequent. 

Maybe King and many others  would be alive?  Maybe other African American politicians today would be more willing to take the lead if opposition to state sponsored white supremacism and disenfranchisement  figured more prominently on the agenda and consciousness of  so called "white" progressives and whistle blowers?  

"Whites" faulting an African American politician for not being MLKing?  "Whites" bemoaning African American leaders  for not saving a white supremacist society from its own misleaders?  How many more African American leaders, prophets and martyrs do "white" american progressives need?

The Bush/Cheney nightmare began in 2000 with  the seizure of power through racial disenfranchisment.    Maybe it will end with the inquiry into the dismissal of those US Attorneys (Republicans) who wouldn't play along with Rove's scheme.  But the shift of the baton to Democrat neo liberals such as control the House today offers little relief.  Remember the opening of Fahreheit 911 with Gore gaveling the protesting African American House members out of order for protesting the 2000 election fraud? With all that has transpired in the intervening years, Gore has never to my knowledge openly repudiated his decision to preside over this fraud nor have his neo liberal associates.

Oppose the occupation of Iraq?  Tired of the Robber Barons and war profiteers running America?  Like to see a  better deal for the working class and a single payer health plan for all Americans?  Concerned about the degradation of the Earth?  The African American electorate is consistently polled as being the most  anti war constituency in the US, the most pro labor, the most in favor of a single payer health plan.  If you want African American politicians to express the views of their constituents, then demand in the first place  that their constituents' votes be counted. 

Progressive electoral politics, if not the survival of the US Republic, depends on defending the franchise of African American voters. Conyers own district has been hollowed out by the ravages of globalism and white supremacist disinvestment.  He is hanging by a thread that can be cut at any moment by the neo liberal house leadership or his own state legislature that controls redistricting.  That he has stuck to his guns this long is testimony to his grit and skill and defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.  Even in a weakened and compromised condition, Conyers does not even remotely qualify as a target for 'white' progressives. 

Opposition to racial disenfranchisement at home and US underwriting for Jewish supremacy in the middle east  should be at the top of the agenda of every labor organization, every peace group, every tree hugging, creature loving green peace foundation on earth.    Then put Conyers on the spot, if you have to, but chances are he'd be on your side if not ahead of you.  Then Edwards, or some other young ambitious politican, will hear opportunity knock and reach for the leadership ring.  We get the leadership we earn.. Then we will have an  electoral opposition that makes our votes mean something and our children may say of us one day, with fond remembrance,  that we rose to the occasion and did what we could with what we had.


Sean / washington_dispatch / 2007

Is John Edwards' Leftward Turn About Populism or Posturing?

As his poll numbers sag, the presidential candidate has stepped up his populist rhetoric. He often speaks of "the two Americas"—the gap between rich and poor—but there are two sides to John Edwards as well.

James Ridgeway

August 01 , 2007

For primary voters who lean toward the left of the Democratic Party, the candidacy of John Edwards has presented a series of impossible contradictions—the latest being the fact that the further down he dips in polls and in fundraising numbers, the more he starts saying the kinds of things they have been waiting to hear from a mainstream Democrat for twenty years or more. At a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Saturday, Edwards told an overflow crowd:

I think there are powerful interests in Washington DC…. The entire system is rigged, and it's rigged against you…. From insurance companies to drug companies to oil companies, those people run this country now…. And I think you got to take them on and beat them, I don't think you can sit at a table and negotiate with them. The idea that they are going to voluntarily give away their power... that will never happen…. They have billions of dollars invested in making sure there is no change, that the system continues exactly like it's continuing today.

At a stop in Iowa a few days earlier, Edwards took his populist rhetoric a step further, characterizing the attention to "silly frivolous nothing stuff" (presumably including his $400 haircuts and his former hedge fund salary) as a backlash—apparently, with the support of the mainstream media—by the rich and powerful, especially corporations, who are threatened by his campaign:

This stuff's not an accident. Nobody in this room should think this is an accident. You know, I'm out there speaking up for universal healthcare, ending this war in Iraq, speaking up for the poor. They want to shut me up. That's what this is about. Let's distract from people who don't have health care coverage. Let's distract from people who can't feed their children.... Let's talk about this silly frivolous nothing stuff so that America won't pay attention. They will never silence me. Never. If we don't stand up to these people, if we don't fight ‘em, if we don't beat them, they're going to continue to control this country. They're going to control the media. They're going to control what's being said. They do not want to hear us talking about health care for everybody. They don't want to hear us talking about a fair tax system. You think these people who make $100 million a year, you think they want to pay their fair share of taxes? That's what they hire all those lobbyists for in Washington, DC. They hate listening to people like me.

These are words to strike hope in the hearts of progressive Democrats. But are they just words? Beyond the question of whether "they" are attacking Edwards, does his campaign really present a threat to the powerful interests that do indeed, as he says, "run this country now"?

From the start of his campaign, Edwards, considered one of only three viable candidates for the nomination, has positioned himself slightly to the left of frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, especially on questions of economic justice. At the Democratic National Committee's winter meeting in 2007, the first major public forum for 2008 presidential candidates, "Edwards drew a rousing reception," the Washington Post reported, "with a sharp attack on Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq and a populist appeal for Democrats to return to their roots as defenders of the union workers, the poor and struggling middle-class families. 'Brothers and sisters, in times like these, we don't need to redefine the Democratic Party,' he said. 'We need to reclaim the Democratic Party.'"

Five weeks earlier, Edwards had announced his candidacy in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, surrounded by hurricane survivors who had been not only exploited by conservatives, but also largely ignored by most liberals. That day, Edwards finally highlighted poverty—an issue that had been so conspicuously absent from the Democratic Party platform, both in the failed 2004 presidential campaign and the triumphant 2006 mid-term elections.

Progressive voters can also find encouragement in the assessments of the mainstream press, which depict Edwards as the Southern New Democrat who left the fold of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council to take up a populist cause. After a day on the New Hampshire campaign trail with Edwards in February, ABC's Terry Moran declared, "He's different this time around. In 2004, when he was a relative unknown, Edwards was a cheerful moderate populist. Now, in what some critics call a convenient conversion to woo liberal Democrats, Edwards is tougher, staking out positions on health care, national security, and the environment much further to the left than he advocated in 2004."

Convenient or not, the idea of Edwards' "conversion" is buoyed not only by his own rhetoric but also by attacks from conservative critics. "He is a redistributionist, another word for socialist," Cal Thomas wrote recently in USA Today. "His populist jargon is nothing but class warfare, the 2007 version."

And yet this same John Edwards can also come off as a slick lawyer, who has plenty of stories to tell about his legal victories defending Main Street Americans injured by uncaring or nefarious corporations and health care providers, but rarely mentions the fact that these multimillion dollar civil suits also made Edwards himself a very rich man. His assets total some $30 million, and while the senator likes to talk about his days of poverty and hardship, he did not hesitate to build an ostentatious 28,000 square-foot mansion in North Carolina. In between his two presidential campaigns, he also worked for a hedge fund that engaged in the kinds of practices he now decries, and suggested, in an AP interview, that he had done so largely "to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty"—although "making money was a good thing, too."

Most troubling of all is evidence that, during this same period, he used an anti-poverty foundation to fund travel, staff, consultants, and other expenses that advanced his own political career.

It's true that the media seems to have a double standard when it comes to Edwards, largely because of his very willingness to talk about the poor. Jeff Cohen, founder of the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, points out that "we've been shown aerial pictures of Edwards' mansion in North Carolina, but not of the mansions of the other well-off candidates" and "we've heard so much about Edwards' connection to one Wall Street firm, but relatively little about the fact that other candidates, including Democrats, are so heavily funded by Wall Street interests…. You see, those other pols aren't hypocrites: They don't lecture about poverty."

Edwards' wealth alone may not disqualify him as a defender of the poor, any more than it did Franklin Roosevelt or Bobby Kennedy, two of the wealthiest men ever to run for president. But it adds fuel to the essential question: Does Edwards present a real challenge to the system that creates such massive inequities to begin with? Is he willing to help the poor even at the expense of people in his income bracket, and the corporate entities that helped make them rich? Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich told the New York Times: "Rhetorically, if you're calling Edwards an economic populist, it's true he cares a lot about the poor. He evinces a lot of concern for the middle class and middle-class anxieties. But he's not in any way attacking the rich or corporations. He is not explaining one fundamental fact of modern economic life, which is that the very rich have all the money."

During his single term in the Senate, Edwards was less corporate-friendly than the Clinton New Democrats of the Democratic Leadership Council, but not by all that much—and no amount of wishful thinking will produce evidence of a radical transformation on Edwards's part. Still, he has indeed moved to the left on several issues—in some cases, far enough left to distinguish himself from Clinton and Obama, who can also be found playing so-called populist cards when it seems politically expedient to do so.

Edwards' poverty reduction program is a mix of ideas advocated over the years by the party centrists, with a few imaginative touches and some stirring rhetoric. In one way or another, these are all good ideas. They have been tried off and on since the New Deal with varying degrees of success. Edwards currently proposes raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour, along with a somewhat vague sounding jobs program for the unemployed that would create a million "stepping stone jobs for workers who take responsibility"—minimum wage jobs lasting up to 12 months, and in return, "workers must show up and work hard, stay off drugs, not commit any crimes, and pay child support." (Dennis Kucinich, in contrast, wants to put people without jobs to work rebuilding America's crumbling public infrastructure—bridges, tunnels, roads—at a time when many politicians in both parties are desiring to sell them off; his program would put people of New Orleans to work rebuilding their own city and its water defenses.)

Whether Edwards' leftward turn is sincere or merely shrewd—or, as is most likely the case, both—his rhetoric in defense of America's poor nevertheless stands to have a much-needed and long-overdue impact on the presidential race. After accompanying Edwards on one of his many trips to New Orleans, Matt Bai wrote in the New York Times Magazine: "The significance of what Edwards is saying… goes well beyond messaging and tactics. As the first candidate of the post-Bill Clinton, postindustrial era to lay out an ambitious antipoverty plan, he may force Democrats to contemplate difficult questions that they haven't debated in decades—starting with what they've learned about poverty since Johnson and Kennedy's time, and what, exactly, they're willing to do about it."

James Ridgeway is the Washington Senior Correspondent for Mother Jones.