John Edwards exits the presidential race having done the right thing -- the right thing in having run the way he did and the right thing in leaving when he does.
The Democratic race has been, for better or for worse, a two candidate race since New Hampshire primarily because the voters so deemed it. As we go into Tsunami Tuesday, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are locked in a death struggle to redefine the past and the future, respectively, of American politics and the debilitated Edwards would enter the fray only as unpredictable wild card -- if not a spoiler.
His decision to exit comes, therefore, at the precise moment that demands absolute clarity among Democratic voters. The stakes are stark and so must be the choices. Kudos to Edwards for getting out of the way as that moment arrives.
Kudos also to Jon Edwards for the worthy campaign he ran and for the positive effect it had on all the other campaigns. We can speculate all we want -- and really to no end -- how and why the multi-millionaire one-time moderate Southern Democrat somehow transformed himself into a firebrand populist. But examining motivation in politics is usually a pretty worthless exercise.
More importantly, Edwards' boldly stated and sharply argued positions helped drive and shape the entire Democratic presidential race, exercising a significant gravitational pull on all of the campaigns. It was crucial that for a solid year Edwards was up there unabashedly apologizing for his vote to authorize the war in Iraq, that he was the first -- and very early -- to put forward a comprehensive health care program, that from the presidential stump he raised the profile and celebrated the role of organized labor, that he fearlessly and more relentlessly than any other major presidential candidate in recent history denounced the corporate stranglehold on both our economic and political life. Most importantly, Edwards showed no hesitation in highlighting the otherwise unspeakable in American politics -- the forgotten poor.
The positions taken by Edwards forced all of the candidates to at least recognize these issues and better address them and for that he deserves a special place in the history of the already remarkable Campaign 08.
As to what effect his exit will have is anybody's guess -- at least until next Tuesday. The Conventional Wisdom is that Edwards staying in would have siphoned off white voters from Clinton and would have helped Obama -- that dropping out now indirectly aids Hilary.
This could be the case, but frankly I doubt it. The pollsters have gotten much of this contest wrong and this perhaps is one more stumble. I have no numbers, no surveys no stats to prove my hunch. I only have my experience as a reporter attending myriad Edwards rallies and events starting back more than a year again. And all I can say is that I don't have the impression that these voters somehow belong to Clinton as a second choice. The message of promise change, of a change-over of a historic transition in American politics as now embodied in Obama resonates much deeper among them then the conventional frame of the Clinton campaign.
Nor do I believe that there is much goodwill inside the Edwards campaign to give any support to Clinton. As I write this, I hear Edwards' top rural advisor, Dave "Mudcat" Saunders saying on MSNBC: "I will do everything in my power so he doesn't endorse Hillary Clinton."
John Edwards leave the race in the same noble posture with which he entered it thirteen months ago.