It makes me feel like an indecisive mugwump, but in the wake of the Iowa caucuses, I've sent money to both Edwards and Obama. In a month, I'll have to choose, but as long as they're backing each other up more than sniping, I want them both in the race.
But why not just support Obama? He's got the charisma and momentum. He's bringing in new voters, particularly young voters and independents, who could dramatically broaden the Democrats' reach. He's worked and lived in an amazingly broad range of challenging contexts. I like how he raises hopes and expectations, and therefore what voters may demand. If we back him now, he can build on Iowa's momentum, beat Hillary Clinton and have a strong chance at defeating the Republicans.
But there are also real arguments to continue supporting John Edwards. Of the three major Democratic candidates, he's taken the most forceful specific stands on poverty, health care and America's economic divides. He's spoken out the most forcefully on the war--and used scarce campaign dollars to run ads trying to pressure congress when Iraq appropriations were up for a vote. He was the first to come up with a comprehensive global warming plan. He's been the most consistent in articulating how the domination of our politics by those Teddy Roosevelt called "the malefactors of great wealth" affects every other issue that we face. Despite being vastly outspent and dismissed by the major media, he's brought these issues into the common discussion in a powerful way. I loved Obama's post-caucus sermon of hope, but Edwards gave a talk that was even stronger, as he asked what it means for a country as rich as America to leave so many people without health care, decent jobs, and a future. It's no coincidence that the parents of the young woman who died when CIGNA refused to cover her liver transplant are now joining Edwards on the campaign trail.
If all those wary of Clinton coalesce around Obama, he really would become the odds-on favorite to defeat her as the Democratic standard-bearer. That would be a fine result because both Obama and Edwards poll considerably better against the leading Republicans than does Clinton, although Edwards is the only one who beats all the Republican candidates. And because Clinton was willing to help lead us into war with Iraq, helped increase the risk of war in Iran, and hoarded so many scarce campaign dollars in 2006 that it probably cost the Democrats an even larger victory. Despite her newfound scramble to claim the mantle of "change agent," she did little or nothing to challenge Bush's destructive agenda when he was riding high in the polls, and has cozied up to problematic corporate power from her first days serving on the board of WalMart. Even if she did get in, she has the potential to radically split the Democratic Party.
So I was delighted when Obama and Edwards beat her in the Iowa caucuses. But that doesn't mean Edwards should necessarily drop out. His presence pushes Obama to deal with the hard issues of power and wealth in America--ones that, to be honest, Obama has too often skated over in recent years. If voters do develop reservations about Obama, Edwards offers a strong alternative. While Edwards obviously remains a distinct longshot, his numbers are strong enough that voters deserve at least a chance to further weigh his promise--he's more than just a symbolic candidate. And I do want to see Obama tested just at least a bit more before we hand him the nomination.
As long as Obama and Edwards don't rip each other apart (and this week they feel enough like allies for me to dream of the promise of a joint ticket), I'm continuing to donate to both of them, doing my small part to help both offer their visions to America. If I had to vote today, it would be a hard call, but I'd probably still go for Edwards, though in a few weeks I might choose differently. But for now, I'd like to see both these strong voices continue to have a shot at leading America.
Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, and Soul of a Citizen. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email email@example.com with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles