For all the bullshit in politics, truth matters. Voters know it when they hear it. Politicians look different when they speak it. Packaged the right way by the right person, truth prevails. Sometimes.
John Edwards is basing his campaign on a two-part truth: Big Business has too much power, and it won't give it away without a fight. The first part is self-evident. You can, like Obama, argue against the second, but to do so requires you to ignore history, common sense, and core tenets of capitalism.
Edwards is riding this truth to stay competitive in a race against two mega-celebrities. At every stop, he persuasively argues that he, and he alone, is capable of fighting the requisite "epic battle." It's the People v. Corporate Power, whose influence on our government he doesn't even bother to present as anything but malign. This is hardly a departure for Johnny Populist, but his message has sharpened; it's shed all rhetorical fat. His speeches contain no conditionals or qualifications. He's the anti-Kerry.
There's a word that's increasingly popping up in his speeches, a word with decisively Christian overtones that helps to explain why his political appeal is often lost on elites. The word is greed. Edwards is crusading against not only oil companies and HMOs but one of the seven deadly sins. There are different ways to preach values. Watch out, Gordon Gecko.
Corporate greed and the very powerful use their money to control Washington and this corrupting influence is destroying the middle class.
He has, as John Nichols says, the right message at the right time. According to Gallup, the least popular institutions in the country are HMOs, Big Business, and Congess. Or consider this, from Democracy Corps:
If Americans have ever been angrier with the state of the country, we have not witnessed it...When you ask in a national survey the 70 percent who say the country is off on the `wrong track' what underlying developments they are thinking about, they point to three inter-related themes, fully consistent with the more emotional response of the groups: big business getting whatever they want in Washington, leaders forgetting the middle class and America doing nothing about problems at home.
Of course, we don't need pollsters to tell us that the time is ripe for hard-edge populism, not after seven years of George Bush and, for that matter, forty years of increasing economic inequality, plus NAFTA, the Washington Consensus, Vodoo Economics, Enron, Halliburton, the Carlyle Group, the gutting of OSHA, Blackwater, Cintas, Nataline Sarkisyan---if John Edwards didn't exist, some political consultant would have to create him. He's the only candidate (with the exception of Ron Paul) who's speaking to the justified outrage and sense of betrayal permeating the public.
I've long hoped that influential bloggers would take up sides in the primary because active support from the sphere increases its relevancy, and because I figured that Edwards would be the primary beneficiary of endorsements. In the past week, both Chris Bowers and Matt Stoller have said they're rooting for Edwards. Though neither offered exactly a ringing endorsement, each recognizes what's increasingly clear: whatever his flaws, Edwards offers the best hope for a progressive revival. Here's Stoller:
Only Edwards has put forward an aggressive populist message, one conducive to the partisanship we need. And while he has no strong political accomplishments and I'm not sure he'd run a good general election campaign, he's succeeding somehow in Iowa with almost no media focus and a deep hostility from DC (marked by his fundraising circles, which unlike those of Clinton and Obama are entirely driven by non-DC sources). That is admirable, even if I don't fully understand how he's doing it.
But Stoller already answered his own question: How's he doing it? His "aggressive populist message."
Happy New Year. There's only year left in which George Bush can destroy humankind. Let's not let him.