12/20/2007 11:32 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Democrats Need John Edwards to be Their Mike Huckabee: Part 2

In Part 1 of this article, I argued that John Edwards is the most electable of the leading Democratic candidates and the one most likely to carry large Democratic Senate and House majorities on his coattails, thus having the best chance to enact major reform after the '08 elections. Clinton's negatives make her nomination a game of Russian Roulette for Democrats and risks losing both the Presidency and key House and Senate seats in red and purple states. Obama's relative inexperience makes his candidacy unpredictable over the long haul. Edwards electability is reason enough that he should be the Democratic nominee. We just can't take the chance of another 4 years of a Republican President.

In this Part 2, I explain why John Edwards is likely to make the best President of the leading Democratic contenders:

America needs big and sweeping changes--economic policies that will help the poor and middle classes obtain more economic security, access to better education, a more progressive tax structure, and universal health care; environmental policies that will lead towards energy independence and make America a leader in combating global warming; and a new foreign policy that will forsake unilateralism, renounce military preemption, get us out of Iraq, and take major strides to fight global poverty.

All of these measures will be fought by entrenched corporate interests who buy politicians with campaign contributions and stand in the way of fundamental change. Energy companies will fight large scale measures to develop alternative energy sources, combat global warming, and revoke tax subsidies to multi-billion dollar oil companies. Insurance companies and drug companies will fight true universal health care plans which would reduce their profits. Hedge fund managers (who are major contributors to both Clinton and Obama) and wealthy corporate interests will fight a more progressive tax structure. The military industrial complex and the Haliburtons and Blackwaters of the world will try to frighten the American people away from a more progressive foreign policy. Ultimately, progressive change requires an end to the revolving door between Congress and lobbying and public financing of elections so that even well-meaning politicians do not rely on corporate money to win elections.

Fundamental change demands a President who is willing to rally the American people against these rich and powerful corporate interests and use the bully pulpit to force Congress to vote in the general interest and not for the special interests who lobby them and contribute to their campaigns. It's not that legislative compromises won't be necessary to pass new laws. Another Southern populist, Lyndon B. Johnson, used his legislative prowess to pass Medicare and the Civil Rights Acts. But significant change won't come from a President who has already compromised his/her soul for campaign cash from PACs, lobbyists and Wall Street power brokers.

Hillary Clinton is too much the captive of her corporate contributors and her ideological supporters in the business oriented Democratic Leadership Council to bring fundamental change. The essence of Clintonism as a political strategy is triangulation, playing progressivism off against conservatism to effect small-bore change that doesn't challenge powerful special interest. In foreign policy, Hillary is the most hawkish Democrat. She still refuses to apologize for voting for the Iraq war resolution, despite her having failed to read the National Intelligence Estimate. She won't promise to get all American combat troops out of Iraq before the end of 2012. She voted for the Kyle-Lieberman resolution on Iran which gave encouragement to Bush and Cheney's aggressive military stance towards Iran. Rather than seeking ways to reduce military spending and cut-back on America's over 700 foreign military bases around the world (which will be necessary to pay for such things as universal health care, middle class tax cuts, and investment in energy independence without increasing the deficit). Hillary supports increasing the size of the army by 100,000. Hillary's overly strong support for a balanced budget will also interfere with meaningful domestic programs. While it is important in the long-run to bring down the Bush deficits, the principal role of Democrats can't be to run around cleaning up the deficits caused by the Reagans and Bushes of the world. Particularly with a recession likely, a certain amount of deficit spending may still be necessary to prime the economy and pay for social programs.

There is much that can be inspiring about Obama and his message of hope and change. Certainly a black American with an African father reaching out to the world would send a powerful message that America is a different nation than the one led by George Bush. But it's not enough to elect a President based on symbolism. Too often, Obama seems to be a symbol of change, but lacks the substance of change.

Obama's political strategy often shows a paucity of courage as much as an audacity of hope. He seems by nature to be a conciliator, constantly trying to forge compromise with his adversaries. One of his big applause lines is "The insurance and drug companies can have a seat at the table in our health-care debate--they just can't buy all the chairs". The fact is though, once you grant them an important role in the process, they won't just buy all the chairs--they'll own the whole table.

The problem with Obama's vision of change is the idea that it's a matter of forging compromises between people of equally good will, all of whom are trying to advance the public good, even if they disagree. If all he's trying to say is that he can find a way to convince former Republican voters of the need for progressive change--that in a sense he can be the Democratic equivalent of Ronald Reagan--then he could be a change agent. But he seems to go farther in imputing good will to corporate special interests. "My argument is not that they (the insurance and drug companies) are the source of all evil. My argument is that things are out of balance in Washington and their influence is disproportionate."

Edwards responds that "some people argue that we're going to sit at the table with these people and they're going to voluntarily give their power away. I think it's a complete fantasy; it will never happen." The goals of the insurance companies, drug companies, energy companies and military contractors have nothing to do with advancing the public good. Their sole purpose is to increase the bottom lines of their shareholders and the compensation of their CEOs. Their campaign cash and paid lobbying are about swaying lawmakers to support their special interests.

One cannot sit down with insurance companies and drug companies with the idea that their goal is to guarantee the health of the American people. One cannot sit down with the energy companies with the idea that their goal is a cleaner environment and a cap on greenhouse gases. In the end, we live in a capitalist society and accommodations must be made with business to spur economic growth. But the government and a mobilized citizenry must, in John Kenneth Galbraith's phraseology, be a countervailing power to corporate power and greed. Advancing progressive change and reigning in corporate power will mean mobilizing the American people against what FDR called the "economic royalists". It's questionable whether Obama sees the need to take on these special interests.

Edwards commitment to fight for the lower and middle classes seems to be in his blood, a product of his own lower class upbringing and his having had to fight his way to an education and economic success. He devoted his law practice to helping the underdog who had been injured by corporate greed. After the 2004 election, he formed a poverty center, even though poor people do no vote in great numbers. He's hardly perfect. I'm disappointed that he chose to support individual insurance mandates instead of single payer health care. He was wrong to vote for the Iraq War resolution in 2003, but unlike Hillary, he has had the courage to admit he was wrong and apologize for his mistake.

His taking an advisory job with a hedge fund showed bad political judgment for a politician planning to run against the special interests; but he's also called for taking away special tax breaks for hedge fund managers while the Democratic Congress has failed to act.

But, still, he's the most progressive major candidate since Bobby Kennedy, perhaps since FDR. RFK and FDR were also wealthy men who fought for the poor and middle class. (Moreoever, while RFK and FDR inherited their wealth, Edwards started from the bottom and earned it the old fashioned way--by hard work in a law practice fighting for the underdog.) An Edwards presidency would shake up the Washington and Wall Street establishment, and usher in an era of far reaching social reform. And most of all, Edwards stands the best chance of any of the Democratic frontrunners to win the White House and bring a large Democratic majority with him to Congress.

Democratic voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have the chance to break through the mainstream media's story of a two-way race between Clinton and Obama by catapulting Edwards to front runner status, shaking up the Democratic primary process, and ultimately helping to nominate the most electable and progressive major Democratic candidate and ushering in an era of progressive political change.