“Angry John” v. KumbayObama


I am surprised at just how angry John (Edwards) has become.


-  Chris Dodd, the leading recipient of campaign dollars from the United States insurance industry, November 12, 2007 (Dodd 2007)


John Edwards was our pick for the 2004 nomination.  But this is a different race, with different candidates.  We too seldom saw the positive, optimistic campaign we found appealing in 2004.  His harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult to work with the business community to forge change.


- The Editorial Board of the Des Moines Register Star, December 15, 2007


Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living in a fantasy world. Which brings me to a big worry about Mr. Obama: in an important sense, he has become the anti-change candidate


-  Paul Krugman, December 17, 2007


The Democratic candidates – with the exception of John Edwards, who opened his campaign in New Orleans and has made addressing poverty central to his campaign – have virtually ignored the plight of African Americans in this country.


- Jesse Jackson, November 27, 2007






For many following the Democratic presidential race in the pivotal early Caucus state of Iowa, there’s a disconcerting disconnect between the reality on the ground and the treatment you see in dominant media.  Watching national television and reading national newspapers over recent months, you’d think the Democratic contest was only between the junior senator from Illinois and the junior senator from New York. As far the lords of the political news and commentary manor have been concerned, it’s been all about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama [1].  The rest of the Democratic presidential hopefuls, including even John Edwards, have hardly existed in the ruling coverage.


This has been the case to a shocking degree even when the talking and writing heads have been specifically discussing Iowa, where Edwards is now running ahead of Clinton and Obama (Insider Advantage 2007) [2].  It continues even as focus groups run by CNN and Fox News during the last Democratic presidential debate in Iowa declared Edwards “the clear winner” (Krugman 2007b).





There’s nothing mysterious about the fact that Edwards was eclipsed by the BaRockstar as the media’s official anti-Hillary. Part of the spectacularly favorable media attention Obama has gotten throughout the campaign is about race: the “first black president” story is irresistible to reigning news and community authorities. But another and bigger part is about those authorities’ preference for centrist politics over anything that hints of popular struggle against concentrated business power.



“HOPE” as Selling Out


Obama and his vapid staffers prattle on (in the name of “hope”) about and finding (for reasons that are never fully explained) “common ground” with (of all people) Republicans. The senator says he’s against past generations’ terrible legacy of “bitter,” “partisan” and “ideological” dispute (conflict is scary and bad) and that he represents a “different kind of politics” seeking “to get things done” across nasty divisions of culture, region, and party. He claims to represent the glories of an America where hard work is rewarded and anyone who applies themselves and plays by the rules can rise from the bottom (where he supposedly originated) to the top. To reassure white voters and campaign investors that he (like the war criminals Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice) is safe for existing hierarchies of class and (skin) color, the “deeply conservative” [3] Obama brings in the racially accommodationist, mass-consumerist self-help icon and New Age media and marketing mogul Oprah Winfrey to tour with him [4]. “Don’t worry white folks,” Obama and his mass-cultural cross-racial kissing cousin Oprah tell 95 percent Caucasian Iowa. “Barack will help you feel good about your superficial [state-of-mind] non-racism while doing nothing to substantive challenge existing [state-of-being] white-supremacist structures and racial disparities” (See Street 2007a and Street 2007c)


A different “healing” message goes out to the business elite that watches and shapes the campaigns from afar. “Don’t worry, rich folks,” the corporate “player” Obama (Silverstein 2006 and Street 2007b) tells his powerful investor class sponsors behind the scenes, “I will bedazzle and confuse the progressive base, throwing out a few populace-pleasing lines about fighting injustice while advancing the corporate-neoliberal agenda you guys vetted me on before you made me an overnight rock star. You guys can play me and I’ll play the people” (Silverstein 2006 and Street 2007b).


Obama subtly blames ordinary working people and their purported Democratic Party representatives for not mimicking young Oliver Twist by courteously requesting that America’s globally connected economic aristocracy act more responsibly towards its subject homeland citizenry. This is an actual quotation from a speech Obama gave to the masters of “American” (really global) finance capitalism at the Wall Street headquarters of NASDAQ last September: “I believe all of you are as open and willing to listen as anyone else in America. I believe you care about this country and the future we are leaving to the next generation. I believe your work to be a part of building a stronger, more vibrant, and more just America. I think the problem is that no one has asked you to play a part in the project of American renewal” [5].


By contrast, Edwards has been delivering a steady diet of classic, red-hot “populist” orations against business rule. Praising unions and denouncing the grotesque mal-distribution of American wealth and income to an extent that is exceptional among mainstream politicians, Edwards is willing to lose significant corporate sponsorship and media love in his determination to push the “populist” angle.  He has made “ending poverty” and fighting economic inequality and corporate domination the cornerstones of his campaign.


 “The Choice Between Corporate Power [and Mass Poverty] and Democracy”


“The choice we must make,” Edwards says, “is as important as it is clear. It is a choice between corporate power and the power of democracy. It is a choice between corporate power and the power of democracy. It is caution versus courage. Calculation versus principle. It is the establishment elites versus the American people.” Edwards insists that “big” democratic and progressive change will “never” be attained by “negotiating” with the privileged few and their gigantic corporations. Such change cannot be meaningfully achieved, Edwards argues, by exchanging “corporate Democrats” for “corporate Republicans.” It will only come, Edwards says, by “relentlessly fighting and beating” the big corporations, who have “rigged the game” of U.S. politics and policy across partisan lines (Edwards 2007). 


In the place of Obama’s tiresome homilies to shared “empathy” and togetherness across class, party, regional, and other lines, Edwards declares that his mission as president would be to give corporate power “Hell.” He wants to “stand up” to business elites to make policy in accord with a popular consensus that already exists for things like universal health care and “fair trade.” He says it’s a “lie” that “any Democrat is better than any Republican,” arguing that replacing big money “corporate Republicans” with “corporate Democrats” is “just a game of musical chairs.”


His generational narrative is that the next generation of Americans is about to be the first one in American history to be worse off than the previous one.  Edwards tells passive Democrats who refuse to struggle against big corporations to “reclaim our democracy” should look their children in the eyes to admit that “you did nothing to stop that.”


Edwards’ autobiographical narrative is that he comes from a rural working-class household and that he’s running for the people who lost their jobs when his father’s textile mill closed.  He’s scrapping for working families and the poor against the power the privileged and wealthy few. According to Time Magazine reporter Karen Tumulty (Tumulty 2007):


“Not since Lyndon Johnson and Bobby Kennedy in the 1960s had any Democrat of national stature addressed the subject [of poverty] with the focus that Edwards gave it. He helped start a poverty center at the University of North Carolina, wrote a book about it and, when the time came to launch his next presidential campaign, chose hurricane-ravaged New Orleans as the place to do so. There are differences in style and substance this time around. In his newer, more populist incarnation, Edwards 2.0 has hammered away not only at President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney and the special interests that he says call the shots in Washington but also at front runner Hillary Clinton. At one point, he even refused to say whether he would endorse her if she won the Democratic nomination. ‘I am surprised at just how angry John has become,’ said his former Senate colleague Chris Dodd, another presidential contender.”


According to Jesse Jackson, Sr., “The Democratic candidates – with the exception of John Edwards, who opened his campaign in New Orleans and has made addressing poverty central to his campaign – have virtually ignored the plight of African Americans in this country” (Jackson 2007).



“Kumbaya, My Lord[s]”


The only genuinely Left progressive “in” the race is Kucinich.  But for whatever reasons – maybe it really is his working-class upbringing in a rural North Carolina textile mill town – Edwards is noticeably less willing than the famously power-hungry Obama to sell his soul for the presidency (unlike Hillary, Obama may still have one to sell).


On at least one occasion, Edwards has criticized Obama’s bi-/anti-partisan harmony, “consensus,” and compromise themes as singing “Kumbaya.” According to liberal journalist Ryan Lizza late last summer, “Edwards dismisses Obama’s argument that more consensus is needed in Washington. The difference between them, Edwards told me, is the difference between ‘Kumbaya’ and saying, ‘This is a battle. It’s a fight’” (Lizza 2007).


During the final Iowa debate, hosted by the Des Moines Register, Edwards criticized “some people” for “argu[ing] that we’re going to sit at a table with these people” – corporate executives and their top managers – “and they’re going to voluntarily give their power away.  I think it is a complete fantasy.” Activists and insiders knew exactly who he meant when he said “some people.” As Paul Krugman notes, “this was pretty clearly a swipe at Mr. Obama, who has repeatedly said that health reform should be negotiated at a ‘big table’ that would include insurance and drug companies” (Krugman 2007b).


“Getting Things Done…With the Business Community"


But corporate media loves “Kumbaya” and hates any remotely honest discussion of class (or race) divisions.  It dislikes the labor movement and works to marginalize any political tendencies with the slightest hint of populism. It prefers Obama’s soothing promises to heal America’s supposedly terrible and crippling cultural and partisan (Red v. Blue) divisions over Edwards’ “angry” pledge to do “battle” for the poor and the working-class majority against the wealthy masters of the class-divided (Wealthy v. The People) “two Americas.”  


As Krugman (one of the few reasons left to purchase the New York Times anymore) notes, “the news media recoil from populist appeals.” The “mainstream” (corporate) media warms, however, to the “message of reconciliation” peddled and packaged as “HOPE’ by Obama, whose coverage has been considerably “more favorable than that of any other candidate” (Krugman 2007b). 


The Des Moines Register, which endorsed Edwards in the 2004 Caucus, has just rejected him for 2008 time on revealing grounds.  According to the paper’s editorial board, Edwards’ “harsh anti-corporate rhetoric would make it difficult [for him] to work with the business community to forge change.” 


And what sort of “change” does “the business community” wish to “forge?” During the last debate prior to the Iowa Caucus, the Register’s editor Carolyn Washburn suggested that Edwards should be less strident in criticizing big business since wealthy and special interests “are often responsible for getting things done in Washington” (Krugman 2007b).  


They most certainly are! Their history of “things” accomplished includes a remarkable and ongoing record of richly government assisted assault on social and environmental health at home and abroad.  It includes the construction of a historically unmatched military-industrial complex that starves social expenditures at home and encourages and feeds off recurrent bloody and imperial adventures abroad.  It includes the blocking of universal health insurance so that the United States remains what Hendrick Hertzberg calls “the only advanced capitalist democracy on earth that does not guarantee health care to its citizens. We spend twice as much [on health care, P.S.] as the [single-payer] French and Germans and two and a half times as much as the [single-payer] British,” Hertzberg notes, “yet we die sooner [despite greater per capita national wealth, P.S.] and our babies die in greater numbers.  Thirty-eight million Americans were uninsured in 2000; now its forty-seven million.  Employer-based health insurance is increasingly expensive, stingy, and iffy” (Hertzberg 2007, pp. 37-38).       


Dominant U.S. media is not simply beholden to the business establishment, it should always be remembered. It is a critical component – possibly even the single more powerful part – of that establishment. Meanwhile, the business-sponsored authoritarian drift of U.S. political culture has gone so far that even an Edwards – not just a Nader or a Kucinich – is too left to receive respectful treatment from the “mainstream” (corporate) media Gods.


 “The Anti-Change Candidate”


Last Saturday, Obama weighed in on the “seat at the table” debate. He curried the favor of big business allies and his corporate media benefactors by declaring that Edwards is “just not realistic” in saying that “drug companies and insurance companies and so forth” will have “no say-so at all” in the making of health care reform. But the real fantasy belongs to Obama, with his claim to believe “that” – in Krugman’s dead-on words – “the insurance and drug industries – which are, in large part, the causes of our health care problems – will be willing to play a constructive role in health reform.  The fact,” Krugman says, “is that there’s no way to reduce the gross wastefulness of our health system without also reducing the profits of the industries that generate the waste. As a result, drug and insurance industries – backed by the conservative movement as a whole – will be implacably opposed to any significant reforms.”


“Anyone who thinks that the next president can achieve real change without bitter confrontation is living,” Krugman writes, “in a fantasy world” [6].


“Which brings me,” Krugman adds, “to a big worry about Mr. Obama: in an important sense, he has become the anti-change candidate” (Krugman 2007).




The Most Electable of the Big Democratic Three…


Edwards’ comparative invisibility on the national media stage is the major reason he trails Hillary and the BaRockstar by significant margins in the national horse race numbers.  Interestingly enough, his official media marginalization continues even as he beats both Hillary and Obama in simulated general election match-up polls against the most likely Republican opponents.   According to a recent social-scientific telephone survey of 1,092 adults Americans conducted for CNN by the Opinion Research Corporation (ORC), “Edwards performs the best” of all the top three Democratic candidates “against each of the leading Republicans.”  Besides being the only Democratic candidate to defeat all Republicans, Edwards’ margins over the Republicans the other Democrats beat are considerably higher [7]. 


Here are the CNN/ORC findings: 



- beats Guliani by 9 points (53% to 44%)

- beats Romney by 22 points (59 to 37)

- beats McCain by 8 points (52 to 44)

- beats Huckabee by 25 (60 to 35)



- beats Guliani by 7 points (52 to 45)

- beats Romney by 13 (54 to 41)

- DOES NOT BEAT McCain (48 to 48)

- beats Huckabee by 15 (55 to 40)



- beats Guliani by 6 (51 to 45)

- beats Romney by 11 (54 to 43)

- LOSES to McCain (48 to 50)

- beats Huckabee by just 10 (54 to 44)


The Democratic margins of victory break down like this:


Over Guliani: Edwards by 9; Obama by 7; Hillary by 6.

Over Romney: Edwards (22); Obama (13); Hillary (11)

Over McCain: Edwards (8); Obama (none: TIED); Hillary (none: LOSES)

Over Huckabee: Edwards (25); Obama (15); Hillary (10).


CNN/ORC’s numbers understate the Edwards elect-ability advantage since they are aggregate national statistics.  They do not reflect Edwards’ especially superior performance over Hillary and Obama in pivotal battleground and swing states and in the disproportionately rural “red” states that are over-represented in the United States’ anachronistic Electoral College tally.


It is characteristic of dominant media’s distaste for Edwards’ “populism” that the online CNN story in which the above (remarkable) data appears is titled “Poll: Huckabee Would Lose to Top Democrats by Double Digits” instead of, say, “Poll: Edwards the Most Electable of All Presidential Candidates.”  


Some of Edwards’ silently superior electability may reflect the fact that he’s white, male, and from a “red state.” Another and more relevant part reflects the fact that “there’s a strong populist tides running in America today.” As Krugman notes, a recent poll by Democracy Corps finds that most commonly held reason for mass America voter discontent is the perception that “big businesses get whatever they want in America.” (Krugman 2007b).



…is the Least Well- (Corporate-) Financed of the Big Three


Recently in Z Magazine (the print version available on newsstands) and prior to the CNN-ORC survey, I noted the interesting disconnect between (i) the Democratic presidential candidates’ comparative likelihoods of defeating the Republicans and (ii) the comparative distribution among those candidates of the new corporate fundraising advantage enjoyed by the Democratic Party in the wake of the Bush II fiasco (Street 2007). 

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