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Peter Clothier Headshot

Up Close and Personal: John Edwards

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They say he's angry. John Edwards, I mean. And I say, well, why not? So am I. Aren't you? I like that bumper sticker that reads: "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

And now, having successfully and unceremoniously booted Dennis Kucinich from the presidential race, how long will it be before the media try the same exclusionary tactic with Edwards? This white male provides them with less fodder than a Hillary or an Obama, woman and black -- the drama that they thrive on and that boosts their ratings. It's an uphill battle for him in the media, against those "front-runners."

I heard Edwards speak in downtown Los Angeles yesterday. I'm sure it was just the standard Edwards stump speech -- I had heard most of the sound bites before, but there was a definite thrill to hearing it delivered in person, in a crowd of cheering supporters.

I had driven downtown to hear the speech at a Service Employees International Union event, and I was glad I'd taken the time and the trouble to go. More than ever, I conclude that he's the right man for America at this critical moment in our history, that he has the passion, the fortitude and the kind of training that's much needed in facing down the powerful special interests that control the political direction of the country. He sees it like I do: that the poor, the working people and yes, now even the middle class need a President who not only understands their predicament but will stand up for their interests.

Don't get me wrong. I think that both Clinton and Obama are good choices. It's great to have an embarrassment of riches amongst the Democrats. And compared to what's being offered on the other side -- by way of both candidates and ideas -- these people are models of democratic principle. What I'm hearing on the other side is nothing but the attempt to out-Bush Bush or, just as bad in my book, out-Reagan Reagan. That we have reached the sorry state in which we find ourselves as a nation today, I attribute in good part to the sway of supply-side economics, false patriotism, and the pathetic, self-first mantra of tax cuts we have heard since Reagan's day.

John Edwards promises to end Bush's war and to attend to such matters as the minimum wage, health care for all, a fair tax code, improved education and employment opportunity for those who have been sidelined by the system, and resistance to the influence of profiteers and lobbyists. I believe him. You get a sense of the man when he walks by, within a couple of yards of you, even if you don't quite get to shake his hand. The French call it a frisson. You catch a whiff of the humanity, the personal power he projects. To actually hear him speak without the mediation of the television screen is to catch some of the genuine passion in which his words originate, some of the personal outrage that fires them, some of the gut-level strength it will take to make the changes that so many of our politicians like to talk about, but on whose lips sound like nothing more than words.

To stand in the crowd as he speaks is also to be infected by the passion and drive of his supporters, to feel a need for change that comes out of deeply felt frustration, even desperation. It's not just seven years of Bush. Those years simply brought matters to a head: the cracks in the dike have burst, like those all too literally in New Orleans, leaving swaths of chaos and despair in every direction that you care to look: the absurd, unnecessary and disastrously-conducted war; a health care system that enriches the insurance companies even as it leaves millions un- or underinsured; a shredded social safety net; an economy in disarray and, surely, entering recession; a rising unemployment rate; schools that fail to provide even the most rudimentary basics of education for too many of our children, especially the children of the poor; a for-sale electoral system that makes a mockery of democracy, rather than a model; a shattered reputation and widespread mistrust abroad... the litany is endless and all too familiar.

As I see it, Edwards is right. This is no time for timid half measures, for accommodation of the interests of the very wealthy. This is not hat-in-hand time any more. This is a job for the ruthless trial attorney who's neither afraid nor ashamed to go for the jugular, and who has the skills and the experience to do it. This is the time to stop pandering to the basest interests of the voters and to make some significant demands of Americans. It's time to demand the sacrifice of just the smallest piece of the comfort and convenience to which we have all grown accustomed, in order to grow in strength as a society and, indeed, as a model to the world.

If not now, when...? If not I, then who? I myself think that John Edwards has it right. The worse things get--and they seem to get worse by the day--the more right he seems to me. He'll need every ounce of energy and enormous popular support to overcome the bias of the media, but I persist in thinking that it can be done.