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Confessions of a John Edwards Supporter (and What I've Learned)

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You don't hear a lot from former John Edwards supporters these days.

There are a lot of us out here on the innernetz. In fact, the left wing blogosphere was a significant source of the former Senator's support during the last presidential primary. I daresay that without us, he wouldn't have stayed in the game any longer than Chris Dodd did. So let me be among the first to stick my neck out there and freely accept that scarlet "E" on my forehead.

We may all be quiet lately, but as words of cheating and hair fixations and the love child and the sex tape (good god) have come out, we're all thinking the same things all you early Clinton or Obama or Kucinich (or whoever) supporters are thinking; holy crap, what if that guy had actually been elected???

If former Edwards boosters are silent, there are plenty of "I told you so"s to be found -- particularly from early Obama supporters. And why not? We were told so -- most notably by progressive icon and almost-candidate himself, Senator Russ Feingold, but he was hardly the only one.

This is not to say that, given the same circumstances, I wouldn't do it all over again. As a progressive, I liked what Edwards had to say, and we should vote for candidates who say the things we want them to say. That's how it works. Yeah, Dennis Kucinich also said what I wanted someone to say, but somehow the abortion rights flip flop got to me a lot more than Edwards's more numerous flip-flops.

But still, I have learned a lesson in all this.

I'm rather a cynic, and like all cynics, we prefer to consider ourselves realists. As a self-dubbed "realist" I approached my own candidate a lot differently than Clinton or Obama fans approached theirs. While the president and the Secretary of State inspired actual personal followings, I (and I suspect many other Edwards voters) wasn't driven by the personal. In fact, I rejected the personal entirely. When a friend commented to me that she thought Senator Edwards was "a good man," I got all squirmy. How could she know? How could I know?

And in fact, that was the real point of frustration for me regarding Clinton and (particularly) Obama voters. Their followings were so clearly personality-driven, it drove me bananas. They didn't know these candidates. How could they? Why get all goopy over a persona that seemed no less an ungrounded fantasy as, say, leprechauns?

Bottom line for me; I didn't really trust any of 'em. They were working me, that's what they do. Their personas were purely public ones. I started from the proposition that they were all, to an extent, phonies. So when Feingold would suggest that Edwards was a phony, I was all "no freaking kidding -- as opposed to...?"

So given that I trusted none of them, my choice came strictly down to policy -- or rather, policy rhetoric. It was important to me to send a message -- that liberal rhetoric was an election winner. That people who say these things win. And in getting someone elected on such a platform, even if they were a complete phony, those of us who actually sincerely believe that rhetoric would have to have a seat at the table.

And at the end of the day that's all I ever really hoped for -- even from Obama.

But I said there was a lesson for me here, and so there is. Cynicism erases subtlety. There is no nuance in "they're all a bunch of phonies." So whereas they may all actually be a set of phonies, there's a way to look at that reality critically rather than reactively, or perhaps, absolutely.

In short, what I have learned as a former John Edwards supporter - one who even drove to New Hampshire to knock on doors for him and (ugh) watch him shoot hoops in a high school gym -- is the following:

Okay, maybe they're all phonies but the fact is that not all phoniness is created equal. There are many, many degrees of phoniness. Many degrees. Hoo-boy, are there degrees.

Next time I'll try to take that into account.