Establishment Politics in “Rebel’s Clothing:” Corporate Power, Populist Pandering, and the Ironies of Identity in the Democratic Presidential Race



She’s my girl; I want a woman in the White House.


- Iowa voter, August 2007


Hillary Clinton would not be as well-positioned to save the Democratic Party from its base if women in the United States had fewer reasons to be infuriated.


- Laura Flanders, 2007


Iowa Campaign Report



Business Hostility


John Edwards’ “left-leaning” (Nagourney 2007) attempt to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in the name of ordinary working people and against corporate rule and “the privileged few” faces three interrelated obstacles.   His first and most obvious challenge is the defensive instincts of the powerful corporate plutocracy, including the owners and managers of the nation’s dominant (so-called “mainstream”) media. There are numerous indications that the “populist” Edwards may be the most elect-able of the Democrats’ top three presidential hopefuls in a contest with the Republicans.  But the United States’ “business community” can hardly be expected to embrace Edwards’ insistent rhetoric about “fighting and beating” corporate power, attacking poverty and economic inequality, supporting the labor movement (which he repeatedly calls “the greatest anti-poverty program in American history”), and “ending” a “rigged game” of business-dominated special interest politics that creates “corporate Democrats” as well as “corporate Republicans.”


There’s a certain amount of populist pandering that is understood to be part of the Democrats’ quadrennial game and Edwards’ populace-pleasing rhetoric considerably outruns the substantive egalitarian content of his policy agenda.  That agenda is closer to the mainstream Democratic Party than it is to the social democracy and anti-militarism of the inherently (under the rules of American “dollar democracy) “unviable” (because too actually left) Dennis Kucinich (1).  Still, Edwards’ willingness to embrace unions and the nearly forgotten languages of class and labor certainly bothers politically attentive members of the nation’s ruling investor class.  The former North Carolina Senator’s  “working class hero” campaign gives corporate America reasons to think he would be considerably harder to control  – and more likely to encourage popular challenge to business domination – than Hillary and/or Obama. The supposedly overly “angry” (says Chris Dodd) advocate of “class war” (according to Bill Richardson in the most recent Democratic presidential candidates’ debate) John Edwards has a considerably less advantageous campaign finance and media profile as a result. 



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