First let me say what this essay is not: it's neither some desperate idealistic lunge at lost hope, nor is it sour grapes. Ironically, my stubbornly lingering support for Senator John Edwards is oddly pragmatic: it's the only way I can think to register support for progressive ideas in the Super Tuesday sweepstakes, thus presenting a principled obstacle to messrs Obama and Clinton. Sound funky? Read on.
Politics is about negotiation, leverage, power - and, yes, ideas. In my estimation, Senators Obama and Clinton have failed to exhibit a strong consistent commitment to progressive ideas, and need to be pressured and held as accountable as possible to ideas such as universal healthcare, strong sturdy anti-war policies, and economic justice. The only sensible way to express that sentiment on Super Tuesday is to vote for Senator Edwards -- and make the two would-be nominees fight harder for his endorsement and delegates. A vote for Edwards will also remind them that even if his candidacy is dead, the principles - and constituencies - his campaign represented are not.
Neither candidate has been clear and consistent on the war and when/how to end it (not even Obama, who has since voted for war payments). Both candidates' Iraq pull-out statements remain fuzzy and ultimately non-committal. Neither candidate has taken a strong clear stand on a universal healthcare plan that truly breaks the insurance industry's hold over America's healthcare system. (Check out Paul Krugman's astute critique of Obama's healthcare plan versus that of Clinton, in which he points out: "the big difference is mandates: the Clinton plan requires that everyone have insurance; the Obama plan doesn't." Not exactly what I'd call "progressive.") To the extent that either has mentioned issues of poverty and workers' rights, and corporate greed/power (which is to say hardly at all), it has been by virtue of pressure from Edwards' candidacy.
This is not an anti-Obama or anti-Clinton appeal; ultimately I'll line up like a good soldier behind either nominee to bring an end to this particularly vicious and damaging era of Republican executive power. Rather, I encourage voting for Edwards tomorrow on the basis of representing progressive ideas in the electorate, and sending as many delegates his way as possible, in the hopes that he will be that much more empowered to exact some pledges for his endorsement of either candidate. Otherwise, progessives who wanted a candidate who stands strongly on a range of key domestic and international issues will have no electoral means of registering their opinion.
Politics is largely about the bargaining and wielding of power and ideas; you don't start the negotiation by bargaining away your ideals, you start with your ideals and work back as little as possible.
Progressive ideas win only when they are strongly represented -- not when they are tucked in the back pocket and slipped in on the margins later, if at all. As Adolph Reed astutely pointed out in The Progressive magazine recently, we saw how well such hopefulness worked out in the first Clinton era (witness the "end of welfare," early erosions of civil liberties under his counter-terrorism bills, rampant media consolidation, among other progressive fatalities). So-called "unifying" centrism - ably represented by both Clinton and Obama - never begets liberalism or progressivism.
It may seem that the pragmatic thing to do on Super Tuesday is to support Obama or Clinton and rally the party toward a quick nomination of one or the other; but if we want progressive policies to be promoted by either of these two, they need to hear from us -- and we can speak through our votes by telling both of them that they need to be more accountable to the ideas promoted by Senator Edwards.
Ultimately Democrats will rally behind whoever takes the nomination -- but right now, the primaries offer a critical moment to impact not only who gains that nomination, but what they say they stand for, and to whom they are accountable. So let's bring a little pressure on these two and vote for Edwards tomorrow -- and as his pile of delegates continues to accrue, even at small levels, so will at least some small measure of pressure for more progressive policies in the party platform. So, oddly, the best way to make your vote count tomorrow is to vote for the leading drop-out candidate, John Edwards, and send a message that both would-be nominees will have to hear.
Christopher D. Cook is an author and award-winning journalist who has written for Harper's, The Economist, The Christian Science Monitor, Mother Jones, The Nation and The Progressive. He is the author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis (New Press). His website is: www.christopherdcook.com