Jan 31, 2008

January 30, 2008: Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, A Lonely Voice, A Poorer Nation

After finishing a distant 3rd in what amounted to a ‘beauty contest’ on the Democratic side of the Florida Primary, former Senator John Edwards announced that he was bowing out of the presidential contest. His time upon the national stage was altogether too brief. Many, with far less justification, have been given greater roles in our national pageant; but few, in our time, have touched our soul as has the Senator from North Carolina. John Edwards became our conscience; a voice we can ill afford to lose.

He came out of nowhere in 2004, talking about poverty in America. He talked about two Americas, the wealthy and the rest of us, and the growing polarization of this country as the middle class shrinks back into poverty. He captured the imagination of those who had grown weary of pseudo-Democratic administrations serially ratifying the slow dismantling of the New Deal. He was the first candidate for president to take his campaign into the ghettoes since Bill Bradley, and the first since Robert Kennedy to “dream of things that never were and ask, why not?”

He rose to prominence by capturing the imagination and breathing new life into what remained of the Robert Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party. Latching on to John Kerry’s rising star as the Vice Presidential nominee in 2004, he unfortunately could not bring his home states into the Democratic column. Moreover, he did not frontally challenge Cheney over secrecy, torture, or energy policies in his debates with the Vice President. While an able advocate for social justice, John Edwards has not proven himself to be adept at the rough and tumble of politics necessary to give life to change. Nevertheless his was a lonely voice for social justice, in a country where there have been too few such voices, inspiring us to reach out to what Michael Harrington called “The Other America” and to once again seek a newer world. His departure diminishes our public discourse, and leaves us a poorer nation.

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