The Edwards Difference, Part II
by david mizner, Tue Oct 09, 2007 at 08:08:28 AM EDT
Hillary Clinton is simply not more tied to the establishment in any profound way than other major candidates.
I don't mean to pick on Bowers. Okay, maybe I do, but aside from the increasingly incoherent Taylor Marsh, he's probably done more than any other blogger to help Hillary blur the differences between her and the more progressive candidates, including and especially the one I support, John Edwards. The statement above is demonstrably inaccurate. It's hard to understand how a good healthy brain could produce such a steaming pile of crap. The difference between Clinton and Edwards in this area is nothing if not "profound."
I suppose it would be helpful if we had a working definition of "establishment." Howzabout: "the established centers of powers." Will that do? In the case of politics, we're talking about the mainstream media, K-Street, Wall Street, DC thinktanks, DC-based consultants, Congress, and the political parties themselves. It's perhaps too easy to demonize the establishment--there are some good people and good groups inside the establishment--but as a general rule, the more anti-establishment, the better. Put another way, the more entrenched you are in the established order, the less likely you are to change it: common sense.
It's hard to imagine a more establishment candidate than Hillary. A few google searches give you pages upon pages documenting her ties to Wall Street, Corporate Power, media moguls like Rupert Murdoch, and establishment "thinkers" like surge architect Jack Keane and surge apologist Michael O'Hanlon. She's tied via her closest advisor, Mark Penn, to notoriously criminal corporations and notoriously awful members of the GOP establishment.
She may be doing well among unmarried women, but her real base is composed of wealthy Washintonians:
The level of support here for the junior New York Senator approaches what an incumbent president seeking re-election might expect.
The people and organizations run the gamut: Togo West, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs and CEO of The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the nation's premier black think tank; Elizabeth Bagley, former US Ambassador to Portugal whose Georgetown home has been the gathering place for countless fundraisers; Elizabeth Birch, former head of the Human Rights Campaign, and her former partner, MSNBC and CNBC commentator Hilary Rosen and, of course, former DNC chair and money-man extraordinaire Terry McAuliffe.
Those names only touch the surface of Clinton's support among the Democratic establishment.
Take Matthew Bernstein, a prominent Hillary-backer. He is a classic Washington success story. Once a lowly legislative assistant to former Senator Howard Metzenbaum, he is now a lobbyist whose clients paid his law firm $1.98 million during just the first half of 2006, according to reports filed with the Senate. Among those clients is the Estate Tax Coalition seeking permanent elimination of the burdensome levy placed on the nation's wealthiest citizens.
And then there is Vernon Jordan, one of this city's highest-profile wheeler-dealers, who is now a Clinton $100,000-plus bundler. And Vernon is not the only major bundler in the Jordan family. His wife, Ann Dibble Jordan is also a $100,000-plus bundler whose credentials as a player in Washington include past or present board memberships at Johnson & Johnson, Automatic Data Processing, Citigroup, and Catalyst; service as a trustee at The Brookings Institution, the University of Chicago, WETA (Washington's PBS affiliate), and the Phillips Collection; and chair of the Board of Directors at the National Symphony Orchestra.
You could argue that the Clintons used to stand somewhat outside the establishment, back when the atrocious Sally Quinn was chastising them for soiling her lovely town. But they are now the quintessential insiders, linked socially, financially, and politically to every important pocket of power. This is a fact, one that Bowers would have to concede. His claim, in any case, is not that Clinton isn't part of the establishment but that Edwards is just as much part of the establishment. It's an absurd claim, one that makes you wonder which presidential race Bowers is watching.
It's not that Edwards doesn't have connections to the establishment. Of course he does. He raises money from Wall Street execs and rich DC lawyers. Some of his advisors are establishment figures. But his connections aren't defining, unless you consider Big Labor and Trial Lawyers part of the establishment. In any case, both unions and trial lawyers generally advocate policies that benefit people outside the establishment. The same goes for JRE's campaign manager, David Bonior, a longtime Congressman who championed proworker policies.
What's amazing, in fact, is the extent to which a former senator and vice presidential candidate has broken free from--and run against--the traditional power centers. Considering our political system, ruled as it is by money and access, Edwards is about as anti-establishment as a viable presidential candidate could be.
Even as a senator, Edwards wasn't popular among the establishment. Maybe it was his refusal to play the game, or his anticorporate lawyering, or his populist bent, or his working class background, or the way he wore his ambition and his money or his sleeve, but Beltway elites never considered him one of their own, and the wariness was mutual. His distance from the establishment only grew when he spent the years after his 2004 campaign working with labor unions and grassroots antipoverty organizations like ACORN. It was clear that he was running for president, so why he wasn't spending his time raising money and courting elites? That's what you're supposed to do. Said the National Journal (subs only):
Perhaps most bewildering to some inside-the-Beltway Democrats is that Edwards doesn't seem to care whether they think he's making all the wrong moves.
Speaking to Ezra Klein, Chuck Todd, himself a DC insider, marveled at the mutual dislike of Edwards and DC elites. If this doesn't make you like Edwards more, then I'm not sure the sphere is the place for you.
...[F]or some reason he's pissed off half of DC. I can't tell you why, I don't know. But half of the Democratic elite here in DC just hate John Edwards. It's amazing, some of it's irrational, and the Edwards people know it and see it as a badge of honor, somewhat. Maybe they feel like it's because he didn't play ball, maybe they feel like he forced himself onto the ticket, that he was too brazen in how he campaigned for that second slot. There's no one rational reason, but there's a not insignificant clique of elites in DC who are not Edwards fans, and who are borderline irrational about it. It's not unlike that sort of clique of Republicans and John McCain.
But it's his distance from one particular part of DC that is particularly exciting: that redlight district known as K-Street. According to an article in the Hill several months ago, he has "little discernible support" on K-Street, and his moves in recents months have done nothing to change that. Edwards has never taken money from federal lobbyists, and this summer he went one better, calling on all Democrats, including Hillary, the national party, and the Congressional committees to join him in rejecting K-Street cash. If you're trying to anger the establishment, this is a good way to do it.
And here's another: you go around the country describing the choice facing the country as "the establishment elites versus the American people," pointing out that the system is:
controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it's perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed.
Hillary couldn't credibly give that speech even if she wanted to. Note in particular his appropriately harsh words for the elite media. He may not have been planning to run against the press, but once it tried (and failed) to bury him, it made sense for him to blast the corporate media, and blast them he has. At the You Tube Debate, he used his video to condemn their obscenely skewed priorities, and later, opposing media consolidation, he called on Hillary and all Dems to refuse contributions from Rupert and other Newscorps execs. Edwards doesn't like the mainstream media, and as Jeff Cohen discusses here, they don't like him.
So if you're keeping track at home, Edwards is opposed, both in rhetoric and reality, to the elite Dems of DC, K-Street, and the corporate media. You should also know that Wall Street pimp Jim Cramer calls him Public Enemy Number One," and that the netroots are one his important constituencies, and that in addition to Bonior and Elizabeth Edwards, other important players on his campaign are two anti-Walmart activists and the most antiestablishment of the big name consulants, Joe Trippi.
In terms of antiestablishment cred, Edwards may not be say, Zack de la Rocha--he's a mainstream pol, after all--but he puts Hillary Clinton to shame. Note to big bloggers: it's fine if you don't want to support Edwards (or Obama.) Really, it is. Many good progressive aren't. But please please please don't rationalize the decision with bullshit.