October 08, 2007

EDWARDS-OBAMA, GO EDWAMA

By Paul Rogat Loeb

Barack Obama and John Edwards are competing against each other, including some recent sniping. But more than anything, both are trying to stop Hillary Clinton's momentum, and erode her lead in the polls. Suppose each pledged to focus between now and the primaries on their commonalities, and on their real differences with Clinton's priorities and stands. Even more audaciously, what if each pledged to offer the Vice Presidency to the other if they won? This just might be enough to shift the election.

Personally, I'm backing Edwards because of all the leading candidates, I think he's taken the most courageous recent stands on issues from trade and the Iraq war to global warming and domestic and global poverty. But when young voters get excited about Obama, or I see his vast numbers of grassroots donors, I get excited about the possibility that he might bring a new generation into politics, and combine his undeniable charisma with a vision of justice. When I see someone wearing an Obama T-shirt, my spirits lift. Even though I'm backing Edwards, I feel a sense of kindred cause. I've actually gotten a similar sense of shared hopes in conversations with supporters of both Obama and Edwards. And when I suggest the two running as a team, people respond with excitement. They see them together as powerful standard-bearers.

But for now at least, Obama and Edwards are dividing the bulk of the opposition to Clinton, which makes it far more likely that she'll become the nominee. That's a bad outcome for two key reasons: Clinton is likely to so mobilize the Republican base and demoralize many Democrats (particularly that broad section of the base that's angry about the war) as to jeopardize not only her election, but also other Democrats running for state and federal offices throughout the country. In a recent Pew poll, she had both higher unfavorable and lower favorable ratings than either Obama or Edwards. In a July Fox poll (of citizens, not Fox viewers), 29% of voters (including 27% of Independents and 5% of Democrats) said they would "never vote for her under any circumstances," compared to just 6% overall saying the same about Obama, and less than 1% about Edwards.

Yet even if Clinton does prevail, there's a good chance that she'll be led less by principle than by her own desire for power, as witnessed by her refusal to apologize for her Iraq War vote (and her resistance of any withdrawal timeline until just recently), her support of the recent Kyl-Lieberman amendment that opens a door to war with Iran, and an initial health care proposal so cumbersome and compromised it collapsed of its own weight (with a little help from the insurance and drug companies). Not to mention her mixed record of votes on the highly regressive bankruptcy bill, her cozying up to Rupert Murdoch, and her sitting on the Wal-Mart board for years. Clinton also spent $36 million last November, the most in the country, on a Senate campaign she could have won in her pajamas, while Democratic candidates were desperately scrambling for cash that she could have transferred, and while both Edwards and Obama were pointedly not raising money for their own campaigns, just for others.

But the reasons to choose Edwards/Obama or Obama/Edwards aren't just about an aversion to Clinton, but about the possibilities of shifting American politics. Both campaigns are anchored in genuine grassroots energy, as opposed to wealthy donors and Beltway consultants. Both offer the chance to draw new citizens into politics, for a vision that breaks from the automatic deferral to corporate interests characteristic not only of the Bush and Reagan administrations, but of many of Bill Clinton's policies as well. Where Hillary Clinton abdicated chance after chance to lead the opposition to Bush's destructive initiatives (especially before Bush's polls began to plummet), both Edwards and Obama have repeatedly spoken out (though I wish Obama had more so of late) and worked to rally citizens against them.

Edwards/Obama or Obama/Edwards would draw--in the campaign, and, I believe, in the White House--on Obama's years as a community organizer and experience living abroad and crossing every conceivable cultural line. And on Edwards's gut knowledge of what it means to grow up poor, his willingness to successfully take on some of the biggest corporations in America, and his years since 2004 in traveling the country and listening on issues of poverty. Plus they have eight years of combined Senate experience, most importantly in the degree to which both of them have traveled across the country and genuinely listened to the concerns and struggles of ordinary Americans. Compared to the Republican field, their combined strengths will represent a powerful and hopeful choice.

Clinton is leading right now, through name recognition, sympathetic national media, and nostalgia for the years when we didn't have Bush in the White House, not to mention a tightly controlled campaign that avoids controversial stands. Most Democrats still favor other candidates, but that majority is fragmented, making it hard for any individual candidate to get traction.

For Edwards and Obama to join together would radically change that dynamic. It would let them speak in a common voice, and talk about how much Clinton's vision has been shaped by the pay-to-play nature of Washington's conventional politics. It would allow them to raise the real issues that we face, more fiercely than before. It would let them talk about the kind of administration they could create together.

How could this ticket come to pass? By their talking with each other, to be sure, but also maybe by enough ordinary citizens embracing the idea. I think it's time to initiate a Draft Edwama online petition to begin a groundswell. Perhaps local activists in both their campaigns need to start a dialogue with each other. And maybe, just maybe, the two candidates will sense the potential, begin the conversations themselves, and in the process change the dynamics of this election.
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Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, named the #3 political book of 2004 by the History Channel and the American Book Association. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time. See www.paulloeb.org To receive his articles directly email sympa@lists.onenw.org with the subject line: subscribe paulloeb-articles

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