The Edwards Difference, Part I

[Note: I'm one of MyDD's pro-Edwards bloggers. I'm also a novelist. This book will not change your life, but it'll probably entertain you.]

Several people have asked me, both in person and in emails, what I mean when I say that Edwards is running the most progressive campaign among the top-tier. The differences aren't self-evident to casual observers, and they're subtle enough, apparently, to elude even an intense observer like Chris Bowers, who uses the alleged sameness of the candidates to explain his decision not to endorse one of Clinton's opponents.

You can't compare candidates by merely reviewing their positions at this relatively late stage in the race. By the fall of 2003, all the leading candidates were sounding pretty much the same notes on Iraq, thanks to Howard Dean. To the extent that the top-tier campaigns are similar this time around, it's partly because Obama and Clinton had no political choice but to at least hedge toward Edwards.

While it's true, for example, that Clinton ended up with a health care plan similar to JRE's, it's also true that about a year ago, her ideas for health care reform were "tempered and incremental," according to the New York Times. And at the beginning of the race, in February, she said she wanted to pass health care reform by the end of her second term--a position that Edwards has helped to make unviable.

It's impossible to say what the race would look like without Edwards; safe to say, though, that it would be much less pleasing to progressives. Not for nothing did Obama make poverty a focus and begin to speak like a populist for the first time in his career. Clinton couldn't support the South Korean Free Trade Deal after Edwards refused to. You the get the picture. JRE has pushed the entire race to the left--a development discussed and/or celebrated by Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Dean Baker, Robert Bosorage, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Jonathan Tasini, Jonathan Singer, Matt Ygelsias, The Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Rolling Stone, and I'm sure many others. It's one of the big stories of the race.

(On a related note, Clinton and Obama has each gotten attention recently for taking a position Edwards had already taken with little fanfare, Clinton for supporting the Webb Amendment, which would make it a crime for the president to attack Iran without Congressional authorization, Obama for pledging to lead an effort to reduce the world's nuclear arsenal. While the unequal reaction is to be expected given the media fixation on Obama and Clinton, the Edwards campaign seems not always to know when it's holding a winning hand. Whether it's his support for Murtha's antiwar bill last year, his unconditional opposition to torture (which stood in contrast to Clinton's recently recounced support for torture), his desire to close down Gitmo, his support for the Webb Amendment, or his anti-nuclear weapon abolitionism, Edwards has taken an excellent position but failed to sufficiently highlight it. He needs to do a better job of owning issues.)

Even with the leftward thrust (both genuine and illusory) of Obama and Clinton, important differences remain. The one I'll discuss here is bigger than any single position or set of positions: it's a matter of fundamental ideology. Edwards rejects--transcends--the budget hawkishness that has defined the Democratic Party since for the last fiteen years. Along with the "free" trade regime, which Edwards has also rejected, budget hawkishness defines New Liberalism. Call it Clintonomics, or Rubinomics, or DLCism. I call it wrong and stupid. Bipartisan budget austerity was Clinton's gift to Newt Gingrich. It denies people important programs and the Democrats the benefits of delivering them. It also precludes the kind of economic growth that would reduce deficits in the long term. It's a trap for the Democratic Party, a trap from which Edwards escapes.

Edwards stresses that we can't have it all, that we need to make a choice. His choice is clear: time and again throughout this campaign he has said that public investment and social programs are more important to the country than a balanced budget. After such one instance last winter, Ezra Klein aptly discussed its significance:

That's a genuinely important admission, and one that very, very few Democrats are willing to make. It's the opposite of Clintonomics, which took deficit reduction as the transcendent priority and, as Robert Reich long regretted, forsook most investment spending. It's different than most campaigners, who both promise deficit elimination and heightened spending, and so offer no real clue of how they'll conduct themselves in office. Indeed, it's a relatively rare progressive moment in national politics: A forthright argument for the importance of, and an increase in, public spending, one not shackled by a desire to drive the deficit into nothingness just so the politician can say it's been done.

Edwards isn't fiscally irresponsible; on the contrary, he would offset the costs of his programs by rolling back Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy and raising capital gains taxes for people making at least $250,000 a year. He would also consider taxing the windfall profits of oil companies and further raising marginal rates on the rich, making them higher than they were when Bush came into office. But Edwards is willing to admit that the revenue raised by these moved would not be enough to pay for universal health care, middle class tax relief, poverty reduction, action on climate change, and deficit reduction. In this sense, Edwards is running an unusually honest campaign, the sort that the Russertian smart set always claims to want.

Clinton still subscribes to the economic philosophy named after her husband: she talks longingly of the nineties and frequently says things like "Let's get back to balanced budgets," a nice idea that ignores the hard choices. Obama, by contrast, has shown signs that he's willing to break with new liberalism. I had hope for him last winter when he said, "I don't think that we should be obsessed with having a balanced budget given all of the needs that we have right now. But like Clinton, he supports pay-go and has more than a passing association with the Church of Rubin.  And unlike Edwards, Obama hasn't made clear his preference for investment over a balanced budget.

At the same time, Obama and Clinton seem to advocate social spending large enough to make budget hawkishness impossible. (I say "seem" because often the depth and cost of their proposals aren't clear.) In other words, they want to have it both ways. They champion social programs, which impress the Democratic base, as well as balanced budgets, which impress the guardians of conventional opinion.

Some Democrats are unbothered by a candidate who claims to be a budget hawk as long as she or he also supports the kind of programs that the country needs. But there are two major problems with this approach. One, it's dishonest, the "progressive" counterpart to voodoo economics. Two, it won't work: when President Hillary Clinton proposes programs, the GOP would use her own paeans to balanced budgets against her. At that point she would have to make the choice she's refusing to make now, and I see no reason to believe she would make the right one. President Edwards, by contrast, having run a forthright campaign, would have a mandate for his ambitious proposals.

This is not the kind of difference that gets headlines. It's not sexy. It may seem esoteric. But it's defining. It speaks to priorities, philosophy, values. Do you want the country to balance its checkbook or fix its infrastructure and fight climate change? It's the difference between liberalism and new liberalism, between Robert Rubin and Robert Reich, bewteen progressives and the Progressive Policy Institute.

John Edwards has made his choice. And so have I.

NEXT WEEK: More differences!

Tags: balanced budget, Barack Obama, budget hawk, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, progressive, Robert Reich, Robert Rubin (all tags)



Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

A related piece that I forgot to mention. EJ Dionne wrote it in February but it's still valid. tent/article/2007/01/18/AR2007011801510. html

by david mizner 2007-10-02 10:48AM | 0 recs
thanks for this piece, David

You mentioned a lot of the differences that are important to me as well.

by desmoinesdem 2007-10-02 11:01AM | 0 recs
And just imagine the additional scrambling... other candidates toward Edwards' strong progressive positions after he wins in Iowa.

That's a winning scenario for Democrats, because if our nominee doesn't have the courage to run as a strong progressive, why in the world would we expect them to then have the guts to govern as a strong progressive.

by MeanBoneII 2007-10-02 11:07AM | 0 recs

Businesses are willing to go into debt if they see opportunities for profit that exceed their debt service costs.  I don't see why our government should operate any differently.  If we see ways of spending $10 today to do $20 worth of good next year, we should borrow money to do it.  

by Neil the Ethical Werewolf 2007-10-02 11:09AM | 0 recs
Re: investment

The dollar amount of the deficit is the least telling aspect.  Both its percentage of the GDP, and what it's being spent on are much more important.

At a certain % of GDP the deficit becomes dangerous in and of itself.  And if it's being spent on things like a debacle in the Middle East, it's much more worrisome than infrastructure and spending on human capital.

by MassEyesandEars 2007-10-02 11:38AM | 0 recs
Re: investment

That's a wise observation.  However, it's not clear to me that our elected officials are actually doing much in the way of calculating a return on investment for our deficit spending policies.  They're not analyzing the issue in the serious way that a business would do it if they were contemplating taking on additional debt.

One of the reason for this is that the calculation is quite murky and virtually impossible to quantify.  Let's say, hypothetically, that we're contemplating an extra investment into post-secondary education, to be paid for via deficit spending.  Obviously a better-educated populace is an investment in human capital, and it's going to pay dividends down the road in terms of economic growth.  But how do you measure the outcome?  How do you know it's a profitable investment?  We just don't have the analytical tools to tell us "if we invest X dollars today, we can expect economic growth of Y ten years from now."

Finally, even for businesses, there comes a point in which you can't take on any more debt, even if profitable opportunities are out there, because you can't afford to risk your creditworthiness by creating the appearance that you're over-leveraged.  There's an analogous concern with respect to borrowing at the national level, clearly.

by Steve M 2007-10-02 12:43PM | 0 recs
It's so frustrating... see Clinton--seemingly--running away with this thing, when we have somebody like Edwards running too, and he gets mostly ignored in the news.
For the life of me I can't see why people like her so much; to me she seems to be the kind of candidate who can't even tell me why she's running or why she wants to be president.  Why IS she running--aside from that she can and wants to?
We saw in 1988 and 2004 what can happen when we nominate somebody with no real reason to be president.  They didn't work out so well.
I think Biden had it right a week or so ago when he said that if Democrats think that 2008 will be so good for us that we can choose anybody and still win, we're taking an awful risk.  If anybody can end up losing next year, it's Clinton.  I'm not a huge fan of Biden's, and I wouldn't choose him as my nominee, but he sure got that right...
by Mumphrey 2007-10-02 11:09AM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

Very good diary.

by Steve M 2007-10-02 11:11AM | 0 recs
Essential differences nicely encapsulated

in one diary which gives a terrific explanation for why most self identified progressives (those willing to identify that way in the blogosphere) choose Edwards

I count myself among them

by merbex 2007-10-02 11:24AM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I
It is clearly the most progressive, including the choice to take public financing.  
by TomP 2007-10-02 11:31AM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

Oh please.  It was desperation, not principle.  His challenge to Sen. Clinton to do the same was exceedingly transparent.

by realistic democrat 2007-10-02 12:17PM | 0 recs
How silly.

Hillary the Hawk hearts big money lobbyists.

by TomP 2007-10-02 12:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

I think the decision was actually a combination of principle and desperation.  It is obvious that Edwards did not have the level of funds to compete as effectively as he wants to so he needed to do something to become more financially competitive during the primary season.  However, I am very concerned about what is going to happen next Spring/Summer if Edwards wins the nomination and cannot fight back against the republican noise machine as strongly as he will need to do until the convention in August 2008.

Please keep in mind that I am a supporter and monthly contributor to the John Edwards campaign.


by derekcbart 2007-10-02 01:08PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

Desperation is too strong a word, but I basically agree: it was part pragmatism and part principle, and I think it's silly, this demand that JRE say it was move of necessity. Do people really expect to say, yes, our fundraising sucks, so we're doing this...Give him some space to be a pol.

by david mizner 2007-10-02 01:44PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

I agree with this point that it was both practical and principle.

I actually don't think the fundraising sucked as such.  I think what Edwards found was what he suspected,
that it is soul-sucking to have to keep trying to raise such ungodly amount.  
I think he is willing to raise funds with individuals but is not willing to owe any one special interest for the money.

This was the time to highlight that issue

In a Democratic primary, there was no reason for all of the candidates to not choose public financing if they believed in it.  
Hillary reveals her willingness to talk out of both sides of her mouth on the issue.

Edwards is willing to demonstrate the contrast.  This was the perfect time to do it.
Clinton can crow over her bigger numbers than Obama.
However the big numbers now look just as gross as the Bush numbers did.
Of course with Clinton it is some of the same people donating as for Bush.

by pioneer111 2007-10-03 05:26AM | 0 recs
A WOW diary!

This is one of those rare diaries that I read and go "wow!"

Nice work at getting to the root of why I support Edwards so much.

by funphil 2007-10-02 11:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

"by the end of her second term?"

There is no way that will happen!  You have to do it immediately, with a democratic wave congress... by her 7th year, the republican forces will have regrouped...

I like Edwards, but the fact that he is essentially capitulating the election by accepting public funding makes it almost impossible to vote for him in the primary...  Without the big money that we can raise to fight the right ming media empire... we have no chance...



by lordmikethegreat 2007-10-02 12:30PM | 0 recs
sad commentary

You like Edwards, but you are going to go where the big money dictates?

If Edwards wins the nomination, money will flow to the DNC and other groups supporting him.

by desmoinesdem 2007-10-02 01:11PM | 0 recs
Thank you

great diary. I always hope to have time to write a diary in between campaigning 24/7 for JRE but I don't. So I am always happy to see a submitted diary so well written.Thank you.

by yann123 2007-10-02 01:11PM | 0 recs
You should cross post this to DKos

by Chaoslillith 2007-10-02 01:31PM | 0 recs
Re: You should cross post this to DKos

Yeah, I think I will, but probably not today. Thanks.

by david mizner 2007-10-02 01:41PM | 0 recs
Excellent Diary David.

You hit on many of the reasons I will be voting for Edwards in the primaries.

by cosbo 2007-10-02 01:41PM | 0 recs
The difference

You can't compare candidates by merely reviewing their positions at this relatively late stage in the race. By the fall of 2003, all the leading candidates were sounding pretty much the same notes on Iraq, thanks to Howard Dean. To the extent that the top-tier campaigns are similar this time around, it's partly because Obama and Clinton had no political choice but to at least hedge toward Edwards.

In some respects you're right. Senators Clinton, Obama and Edwards are all sounding the same notes on Iraq. None would commit in the debate last week to getting all the troops out of Iraq before the end of their first term in 2013. All would leave residual troops in Iraq.

That's five more years of stay the course. John Edwards muddies the waters by saying he'll get the combat troops out of Iraq, but makes no mention of the non-combat support troops that he'll leave behind. But not everyone is marching lockstep with the war machine.

Of the top four candidates, only Governor Bill Richardson will get all of the troops out of Iraq within his first term as President.

On Iraq, there is a difference. Don't be fooled by the kabuki dance and rhetorical gymnastics of the other candidates. Residual troops equals stay the course and it's simply unacceptable.

by Ken Camp 2007-10-02 02:08PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference

Does Richardson want to do away with the embassy? If not, how many troops would he have guard it?


by david mizner 2007-10-02 03:07PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference

Guarding the embassy isn't in question, that is done at all our embassies.  It is just a red herring thrown up by those who know Richardson has the better position on Iraq.

by liberaltruthsayer 2007-10-02 03:11PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference

Wrong. The embassy in Iraq is the largest in the world, amounting to a military base. It amounts to a continued occupation and would require thousands of troops to guard it. If Richardson claims that he wants all troops out of Iraq yet refuses to oppose the embassy, he's not telling the truth.

So if you're keeping track at home, Edwards would leave troops at the embassy and maybe--maybe--some more to protect humanitarian workers. Richardson would leave troops at the embassy.

Not a big difference, and in light of Richardson's overall conservative corporatism record, he's hardly an option for progressives. But thanks for playing.

by david mizner 2007-10-02 03:17PM | 0 recs
Re: The difference

you claim he has a conservative, corporatist record...why don't you back that up with some facts?

by liberaltruthsayer 2007-10-02 04:05PM | 0 recs
Governor Richardson on Guarding the Iraq Embassy
[Salon Interviewer]But Joe Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has said that he has talked to people who say that it will take as many as 5,000 to 10,000 Marines to protect the embassy.

[Governor Richardson] No, I think that's excessive. I would listen to a military argument. But where I object to the Biden and Clinton and other positions is that if you look at the Reid-Feingold [redeployment] legislation [currently before the Senate], it does not specify how many [troops would remain]. In fact, there is a [potential] number that is close to 50,000. And it says for the following purposes -- which I believe leaves a huge, gaping hole in the residual forces issue. It talks about to train Iraqis. To protect against terrorism. That's the same mission. You're either in or you're out.

But if it said 1,000 [troops] to protect the American embassy, that's fine with me. It's a Marine detachment. It's part of our diplomatic corps. I wouldn't even consider that a residual force. Of course I would permit that. But residual forces -- 5,000 to guard an embassy -- that means that the embassy is not safe. I would pull the embassy if it is not safe.
That's from a Salon Interview on July 20, 2007: 007/07/20/richardson_interview/ ml Pretty clear: Maximum of 1000 troops to guard the embassy. Not performing counter-terrorist activities (which by the way, is the province of the Department of State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, not the military), and for God's sake, not protecting "humanitarian workers". 3500 to 5000 troops to protect workers? You might as well order the letters of condolence and flags for those funerals now.

Get them all out, and get them all out now.

2013??? WTF?
by VeniceDave 2007-10-02 03:34PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

I keep hearing from Edwards's people that he is the most progressive candidate, but I am not seeing any real evidence to support this.  Oh he puts on a work shirt and holds a shovel and tries to look like he actually does something, but I can't help but be reminded of George Bush talking about armadillos and cuttin' brush.

Give me a candidate who has actually done work, who has balanced budgets, created jobs, brokered cease fires and peace accords, and made tangible strides toward energy independence.  I support Bill Richardson, someone who has actually accomplished something.

by liberaltruthsayer 2007-10-02 02:37PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

Richardson supports a balanced budget amendment, which is a terrible idea.

He also blasts those craxy tax-and-spend Dems, pushing one of the worst rightwing frames, and calls his pushing NAFTA through the House one of his proudest moments.

He's a conservative corporate Dem. But hey, he might get the NRA's support!

by david mizner 2007-10-02 03:11PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I
So, let me get this straight...It is a tenet of being a progressive to live outside of your means? It's a tenet of being a progressive to fail to have a policy that says, "if you want a new program, you have to figure out how to fund it"? Progressives don't believe in a balanced budget (except in times of major economic downturn or a declared war)?

Who made that rule? Remember, it was Bill Clinton who balanced our budgets, and it was George Bush who bloated that same budget to record deficits.

As for me, I want in my presidential candidate what I have to do in my own business and my family. I can't spend more than I make, or more than I have in reserve. Why is that so difficult to comprehend? Why is that an impediment to being a Progressive? I would think that planning for the future of this country, and protecting my children from having their lives mortgaged would be the most progressive of all thought.

Silly me.
by VeniceDave 2007-10-02 03:43PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

Hey, you are the one embracing those don't hand me that.  Bill Richardson has balanced budgets, bringing the state's coffers into the black for the first time in ages.  He has also been good for business growth, that is true.  But until democrats learn that fiscal responsibility isn't a republican frame, it is an ideal we should all be striving for, then democrats will continue to lose.  Bill Clinton got it.  Bill Richardson gets it.  Why don't you?

Oh and if you want to tag him as a conservative, you better look at his energy independence record, his job growth record, his teachers pay record, his minimum wage record and his environmental record.  This is a true progressive.

by liberaltruthsayer 2007-10-02 04:00PM | 0 recs
Occupy Iraq until 2013

Is that the voice of a progressive? ml

"WHEN PUSH CAME to shove on Wednesday night at the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire, none of the major candidates would guarantee that combat troops would be out of Iraq by the end of their first term. Oh, by the way, that would be in the year 2013.
Asked if they would guarantee the removal of troops, here were the replies:

"I think it's hard to project four years from now," said Sen. Barack Obama.

"It is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting," replied Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"I cannot make that commitment," noted former Sen. John Edwards.

This is a far, far departure from the candidates' stump speeches. Clinton, for example, is fond of saying that if George W. Bush won't end the war in Iraq, "I will."

Edwards has thrashed his opponents still in the Senate for not doing enough to get troops out of Iraq.

And Obama repeatedly points out that he is the only major candidate who opposed the war from the start, and that he's the only one with the clarity of judgment to get the U.S. out of Iraq.

It's tough to tell by the candidates' comments whether they suddenly had a moment when they decided to match rhetoric to reality, or whether it was a politically fueled move to seem more "centrist," with an eye toward the general election."

by Stephen Cassidy 2007-10-02 02:45PM | 0 recs
Re: Occupy Iraq until 2013

Does Richardson want to do away with the embassy? If not, how many troops would he have guard it?


by david mizner 2007-10-02 03:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Occupy Iraq until 2013
??? That's the second time you have asked the same question, which has been answered. Scroll above. No more than 1000 troops to guard the embassy, if that's not enough, shut it down. Pretty straightforward, which is usual for Bill Richardson, but unusual for some other candidates in this campaign.
by VeniceDave 2007-10-02 03:58PM | 0 recs


by liberaltruthsayer 2007-10-02 04:07PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

I trend toward being a deficit hawk myself, both in the public arena and in my private life.  However, I see a big difference between borrowing for the insanity of the Iraq war and borrowing to finance the start-up of a national health care system, a renewable energy program, or education improvements.  Steve M is absolutely correct when he point out the need to invest in long-term growth generators, which in turn make it easier, not harder, to balance future budgets.

That said, the late '90s proved that balanced budgets themselves facilitate economic growth, while paying down the debt reduces the percentage of the budget taken up by interest payments.  These are two perfectly valid schools of thought at work in this discussion, and I'm not sure where the ideal balance point is.  My big problem with the deficit-hawk Democrats is that they tend to be the most supportive of the free trade paradigm; on that point we promptly and firmly part ways.

To be honest, I was a Bill Richardson supporter when the year began.  I liked the resume (still do) and knew that his credentials on fiscal responsibility and renewable energy were sound.  Then came his dreadfully legendary, or legendarily dreadful performance on Meet the Press.  Richardson was TERRIBLE....and I started looking.  As a working-class citizen, it wasn't long before John Edwards made the sale with me.  He is the best candidate on balance, taking into account ALL factors, including viability, electability, temperment, ideology, emphasis, presentation, and both personal and political experience.

by CLLGADEM 2007-10-02 04:58PM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

We can't afford to direct all excess funds freed up by getting out of Iraq and repealing Bush's tax cuts to paying down the debt. Critical time senseative investments are needed to deal with global climate change, infurstructure, health care and education for just a start. These things can't wait, they should have already been well under way. To my mind investing in these things of critical importance, while also being responsable with spending overall is of much more importance than paying down the debt.

Bill paid down the debt, but underinvested in critical areas (blame also lies with the republican congress) and then Bush came in and spent the surplus and has ran up huge amounts of debt again. Why leave all that money on the table to be mispent as badly as it has been?

by Quinton 2007-10-03 09:40AM | 0 recs
Re: The Edwards Difference, Part I

I think we agree 90% of the way, Quinton.  I might invest a little more than you in debt reduction, but you're on point with the time-sensitive investments, renewable energy in particular.  There are MANY deficits to deal with, not just budgetary.  

There's the trade deficit, best dealt with by renegotiation or termination of current STDs, or Stupid Trade Deals. The capital flow deficit is best reduced by dramatically shifting our energy policy to domestic renewables and away from IMPORTED oil.  The individual savings deficit can be addressed by increasing wages and legislative protections against predatory lending practices.  Dealing with those three will inevitably lead to reducing the budget deficit, by increasing economic growth, and thus tax revenue.  

Further, there's no reason why, once Medicare returns its focus to genuine health care rather than the subsidizing of Big Pharma, Big Insurance, and HMOs, that at least some of those cost savings go toward deficit/debt reduction.  I suppose it's a question of degrees rather than ultimate goal.

I'll still rate your comment 'mojo'.  Have a good night.  

by CLLGADEM 2007-10-03 05:49PM | 0 recs


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