Friday, February 01, 2008

Why Edwards Went

John Edwards has thrown in the towel in the Democratic primary race. Now it's time to dissect all the reasons for his not doing better. A common argument seems to be that both Clinton and Obama adopted those policies from Edwards which really did well in opinion polls (universal health care, say) which left Edwards without that crucial selling point he needed.

A different argument states that Edwards' "two Americas" concept did not appeal to voters who mostly think of the poor as "others". This is spelled out in a recent Reuters article:

Given that 47 million U.S. citizens lack health insurance and there is a vast gulf in incomes between the richest and poorest Americans one might expect social equality would be a priority for many voters.

But a Pew Research Center survey this month showed "dealing with the problems of the poor" ranks 13th on a list of domestic priorities for voters, a position that has held steady for years and did not change much even in the wake of Katrina.

People express their concern about poverty through voluntary giving and remain suspicious about the effectiveness of government programs, said Michael Dimmock, the Pew Center's associate director.

And a stark difference of opinion remains on the causes of poverty. Many say that America's offer of opportunity allows anyone with a strong work ethic to climb out of poverty. Government therefore should not redress problems caused by irresponsible behavior.

As he bowed out, Edwards said Obama and Clinton had pledged to put ending poverty central to their campaigns. Yet in his speech he chastised the party for its failure on the issue.

"I don't know when our party began to turn away from the cause of working people," said Edwards. "In this campaign we ... looked them square in the eye and we said: 'We see you, we hear you and we will never forget you.'"

Some commentators dismissed the electoral viability of the campaign message as out of step with the educated, middle class voters at the core of the Democratic party.

Ya think? Could it be that Edwards was just a little bit too early with this campaign? Wait until the "Bush boom" has really worked itself through this country, and lots of middle class people will be much more familiar with the lives of the poor. I would have thought that the capricious god of health insurance might have told some of those educated, middle class voters that they themselves might be just a paycheck or two from poverty. Add to that the way your house is no longer a good investment to keep you from sliding into the group of the Unwashed, and I think that the view of the poor as others is rapidly fading.

But Edwards was against something more powerful than those perceptions: The press took him down quite early in his campaign:

Critics called the former senator a hypocrite last summer for getting a $400 haircut and building a large house, but by the end of his campaign many advocates for the poor praised his dedication to the issue.

I'm sure the term "Breck girl" strikes a bell in your brain. My guess is that the conservatives deemed him as the early front-runner among the Democrats and decided to squash him. So we were left with the articles about the expensive haircut and the large house and after those? Crickets.

A politician who can't get the media to report his ideas doesn't bring those ideas to our attention. Of course one might argue that this is the failure of the media more than the failure of the politician.