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Thomas de Zengotita Headshot

It Seems I Should Be For John Edwards -- So Why Am I For Obama?

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I'm what they call a "left conservative." That means someone who remembers when progressives were united around a vision of global economic justice, someone who cautioned against the displacement of that vision during the rise of an otherwise completely righteous identity politics in the '70s.

In a nutshell, it means someone who realizes that, while it is a sign of progress when Richard Parsons and Carly Fiorina can become CEOs of major corporations--it is not fundamental progress, it does not change the nature of institutions.

Apart from good ole' Dennis, hapless as he is, John Edwards is the candidate who comes closest to reviving that old vision. And yet, somehow, I just can't be for the guy. I'm a bit embarrassed about my reasons, they are so superficial--his naked ambition, his smoothness and, yes, his hair: it adds up to a package I just don't trust. His commitment is palpable, but it feels like a lawyer's commitment, a professional commitment, a determination to win whatever case he has.

But with Obama? Well, it is passing strange. With the exception of Iraq, his positions are as centrist and vague as his rhetoric. His ties to big money are established. But he's got something else--no, he is something else.

Bill Clinton said it best, actually--while he was slicing and dicing Barack on the Charlie Rose show. Just a Symbol of Change, he opined, not an Agent of Change. Like Hillary (say what?).

As an old-fashioned leftie I should be skeptical of a mere symbol, shouldn't I? Well, it depends. Obama is a very special symbol. He transcends the culture wars and identity politics simply in virtue of who he is. Andrew Sullivan gets it right in a recent piece called--Goodbye To All That. Exactly. Enough with us boomers and our ancient grievances.

Sullivan also emphasizes the impact of an Obama presidency on a world that now fears and despises us. Just the fact of it. Just the face. Just the name. At a stroke, America secures a new beginning--in its own eyes as well. Nothing else could do it so decisively. So what if he's inexperienced? He's smart. He's a quick study. He'll listen to Dick Holbrooke and Joe Biden and he'll make those sensible, centrist decisions. He's no radical, he's shown that, Lord knows--he'll be as deliberate and pragmatic in office as he's been in the campaign.

It's not the policy, stupid, it's the symbolism. Obama actually embodies what he represents. That means he doesn't just represent change. He is change.