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Ian Welsh Headshot

The Edwards Imperative: Because The Politics Of Compromise Have Failed

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Edwards should be Democratic nominee because he is the most progressive and electable of the top three candidate and the only one who understands that entrenched interests like the telecoms, banks, credit card issuers, health insurers and oil companies aren't voluntarily going to make some sort of "bipartisan happy consensus" that costs them billions of dollars and a ton of power, whether doing so saves millions of lives, trillions of dollars and makes the country prosperous and safe or not.

Just is not happening.

And anyone who thinks it is (hello, Mr. Obama) is both living in a fantasy land and certainly is suffering from amnesia, because nothing, nothing in the last 30 years, indicates that megacorporations are giving up any power, even a small amount, without a fight to the death.

Strike you as over the top? Why then, for example, did oil companies insist on continued subsidies when they were making record profits? When was the last time health insurance companies were okay with any expansion of universal health care, unless as with the Medicare drug benefit, it was going to make them even more money? And let's all remember the record industry, who think that they own music you bought, and that you're only renting it and can neither give it away, sell it or even, much of the time, copy it for your own use.

The filthy rich haven't become richer than any time in U.S. history because they were willing to give any sucker an even break, and only a sucker would expect folks like Scaife, Mellon and Murdoch to "compromise" when they've been winning by not giving an inch.

We could go through policy positions and compare the candidates, one to an another, and the end result would show that Edwards is slightly more progressive than Clinton and Obama: a slightly better Iraq plan, a health care plan that is about equivalent to Clinton's and better than Obama's, a much better rapport with labor, and so on.

But that's not what this nomination battle is about. All three candidates are offering basically progressive policies, minus the big promise to definitely get out of Iraq post-haste.

And the question isn't even, really, do you believe them, though for the record I have real doubts about Clinton and Obama. However others don't, and that's fine -- in most respects its a gut-check thing, all of them have checkered pasts with some votes that are less than sterling, so in every case each of us has to decide, "Do I really believe this candidate this time?"

Instead we need to ask, while taking them at face value, does their plan to actually push through a progressive plan make sense?

Clinton says that she's got the experience to make it work. Even granting that being the first lady allows her to take credit, the fact is that the Clinton years saw the Democrats lose both the House and the Senate and saw Bill Clinton put through many bills that were, to put it kindly, essentially conservative in nature. And Hillary Clinton's one big moment in the sun, healthcare reform, ended with her being given a resounding drubbing by the health insurance lobby. She was never given such an important policy position again by her husband. Voting for Clinton is taking on an old scarred fighter with a bad win/loss record. And all of this is before we get to Mark Penn, the union-buster, being her chief right hand man.

Then there's Barack "Consensus" Obama. It's hard to even take this seriously. In 2007 the Republicans in Congress killed, through technical filibusters, almost twice as many bills as any Congress ever has. For the last 7 years, George "I won the vote that matters 5-4" Bush has ruled the country by running rough-shod over the opposition party, giving them essentially nothing. There has been no consensus-driven voting or decision-making in the U.S. in 7 years, and there wasn't that much in the '90s, either. Oh, sure, I understand that Obama and many Americans would like to go back to the land of consensus-driven politics, where there's a center and where everyone works for what is best for America by splitting the difference. It's a pretty picture. But there's no middle left.

There's no room for splitting the difference between torturing and not torturing. There's no room for splitting the difference between selling illegal wars based on lies and not selling illegal wars based on lies. There's no room to split the difference between respecting the Constitution and not respecting the Constitution.

There's no middle left and anyone who thinks that the vast majority of Republican Senators will respond to good will is living in a world of denial. Nothing, absolutely nothing, in Republican behaviour in the last 7 years indicates that will happen. Just as nothing in the behaviour of oil companies and health insurers indicates they're interested in "compromise" when not compromising has done so very very well for them and taken them from victory to victory.

Which leaves us with John Edwards: who wants to kick ass, take names, and help the middle class stop getting reamed out by credit card companies, banks, oil companies, Wall Street and all the other invertebrates whose existence is based on sucking blood from ordinary people while denying they have any responsibility for how pale and weak the middle class has become.

Can he do it? Many Democrats, used to having their teeth kicked in for years by Republican bullies, say no. They reason that without 60 votes, they'll still have to compromise with Republicans and so they want a Compromiser-In-Chief sitting in the White House.

But compromise, tried for damn near 20 years, has gotten us nothing but our teeth kicked in, our lunch money stolen and thousands of soldiers and probably a million Iraqis dead. And strangely, despite not having 60 votes at any point during their period of rule, the Republicans got through most of what they wanted.

So perhaps the key to getting Republican votes isn't to come forwards sniveling on ones knees asking what the price for the votes is. I suggest the key is to have a president aggressively make the case that the American people want health care, want lower oil prices, want fairer credit card policies -- a president who is willing to go the wall over it.

That's what John Edwards is offering. What Obama and Clinton are offering is, in effect, nothing more than what has already been tried and failed. Clinton's experience amounted to, at best a tie, and more realistically, to a decade where the right wing got much of what it wanted. Obama's "compromising" is exactly what Daschle, Reid and Pelosi have tried to do, leading to spectacular failure and ending in a Democratic majority Congress which Republicans like more than either Democrats or Independents.

It's time for a new approach, and amongst the three front runners in the Democratic field, that means Edwards. As with FDR, if his approach works, he will be both the most loved and most hated man in America, and some will wring their hands about how divisive that is. But if "unpleasantness" is what is needed to stop going to war illegally, to end the shredding of the Constitution and to stop the destruction of the Middle Class, so be it. An unwillingness to really fight means that those who will, the Republicans, will walk all over those who won't.

The time for the failed politics of compromise is over.

Now it's time for John Edwards.