Having announced my selection in the upcoming Missouri Democratic primary (part of Super Tuesday, Inc.), it occurred to me that perhaps as many as two or three people might be curious as to how John Edwards earned the Waveflux seal of approval. The answer in one word: class, the manifestations and disparities of which give rise, Hydralike, to aspects of American society as varied as race, health care, education, taxation, housing, even environmental issues. The reality of class, the prevalence of poverty, is something that few care to contemplate. Poverty is decidedly unglamorous, after all, so much so that people avoid even acknowledging it, as if doing so meant risking contamination. It is, for many, evidence of moral failing - thus the emphasis in some quarters on helping the "deserving" poor. In a culture where the virtues of wealth, attainment, and upward striving are extolled from cradle to grave, going so far as to identify oneself as a member of a lower economic class is, well, a political clunker. To say nothing of being, in the age of The Apprentice, Paris Hilton, ad nauseum, a real media downer.
A presidential candidate with the courage to push class front and center, given the culture's hostility to the concept, was an easy pick for me.
Of course, Edwards' campaign was doomed from the start for that very reasons. Other circumstances (like being a plain old white-guy-running who lacks the compelling historical/rockstar interest of a Clinton or Obama) seem incidental in comparison. The sad fact is that forty-four years after the declaration of the War on Poverty - and incredibly, two years after Hurricane Katrina - this society simply isn't ready for the core message Edwards brought in his two White House campaigns: that policy, not charity, is the path to helping the poor.
So far as the 2008 presidential campaign is concerned, Edwards' chief role has been that of progressive conscience/gadfly to the two frontrunners. His presence in the race has served to prompt Clinton and Obama into making, at the very least, supportive noises on poverty issues. That's the best Edwards can hope for - and that alone justifies voting for him. What interests me, though, is what happens after the lights go dark and Edwards shuts down his campaign.
Edwards may be invited to play a role in a Clinton or Obama administration. If I could gain his attention for three minutes, I would implore him to decline such an invitation. I would recommend that he take a month off following the campaign, and then spend a long time in conversation with his fellow Southerners Jimmy Carter and Al Gore...after which he should go right back to his Center on Poverty in Chapel Hill. Edwards should return to what he has described as the work of his life, aware that there is much to do on a cultural and societal level before the nation can face up to the manifold issues of poverty. He should return to this work, confident in the knowledge that there is more than one form of public service.
Life is generous in that it often provides us with second opportunities, new venues for action and contribution. We have seen grand examples of political figures rising from defeat to accomplish more for the public good in private life than they ever accomplished while in office. I think John Edwards has the opportunity for just such a second act, if he chooses to accept the challenge of moving a culture toward the recognition of inconvenient truths.
(Cross-posted...and apologies for the wacky layout weirdness in the post which I hope no one saw.)