John Edwards, Dave Obey, and a progressive movement candidacy
by Peter from WI, Thu Mar 29, 2007 at 07:00:06 PM EDT
Wisconsin is about as swing-y as a `swing-state' can get. In 2004, Kerry won by less than 1% of the votes cast and in 2000 Gore barely squeaked by as well. In 2006, in the Democratic wave, we did hold onto the governor's mansion pretty convincingly and picked up the Bloody 8th congressional district while easily holding the other four Democratic House seats. Herb Kohl walked away with his senate job too. But we did lose the attorney general's seat after the progressive Democratic incumbent was beaten by a challenger in the primary. But all in all, if a Democrat is going to win in 2008, chances are that they're going to need to win my home state. For me, the guy to do it is John Edwards.
The Dean of the Wisconsin congressional delegation, 7th CD House rep Dave Obey is a major player in Wisconsin politics. He takes his role of being the congressional leader seriously. And being chair of appropriations in the House means he has considerable power. He's been around since 1969, he knows politics, he knows politicians, and he knows people. In 2004, he backed John Edwards, and in no small part that helped the latter to a strong second-place showing here. Even after Kerry had essentially been declared the Democratic nominee following Iowa, Edwards ran very strongly, especially in rural areas and in places where Democratic turnout in the primary was stronger than it had ever been before. Edwards won the suburban Milwaukee (read: Republican) 5th congressional district, basically tied Kerry in the 6th CD - a place that has always been strongly Republican even while being working class, and basically tied Kerry in the Milwaukee inner-city 4th CD where Democratic primary turnout is only surpassed by my home, the 2nd CD in the Madison area. Not too shabby for a guy no one thought would do much damage in any primaries outside of the south and after Kerry had pretty much wrapped up the nomination even being so early.
But back to Dave Obey. He endorsed John Edwards officially this week, as our political news aggregator, WisPolitics.com, reported. I know, you're saying, "well so did Jim Oberstar from Minnesota and a bunch of other Gopher state politicos." We don't talk much about Minnesota here in Wisconsin - you know, friendly rivalry and all. And you might even bring up the 50+ South Carolina Democrats including their state legislative leadership and a ton of local electeds and grassroots activist leaders who endorsed John recently. Or you might be in the deeper South, and say "well, the last Democratic governor of Georgia endorsed John too. Or perhaps you're out west and hearing about the Oregon campaign leadership for John that was recently announced got you fired up. If only for the inclusion of Kari Chisholm, founder of Blue Oregon, in that list. Maybe the Plains states is more your thing. Then you probably already know that almost all of Oklahoma's Democratic legislative delegation, including the leadership endorsed John Edwards. And you can't have missed the announcement right after Vilsack dropped out that over 100 of his former supporters were now backing Edwards including a healthy contingent of their state Democratic central committee members and even more county party chairs. And in the obvious endorsement category, all of North Carolina's congressional delegation backed Edwards.
But for me, the Obey endorsement means the most. Part of that is because he is a long-time hero of mine, and because he is from Wisconsin. But it's much bigger than that for me. I like John Edwards the candidate and the person for a number of reasons - he's right on the right issues, bringing up the things I think are most important like social and economic justice, providing moral leadership and talking about transformational change in American politics, policy, and public affairs. But he's not just ticking down lists, like his bold plan for universal healthcare, and building a sustainable energy economy and protecting the environment and stopping global climate change, and eliminating poverty and strengthening the middle class by rewarding work not wealth.
Dave Obey is endorsing John Edwards partially because he's the kind of leader that will focus on delivering a new direction for this country and working to restore American prominence around the world by making our country great once again. But the other part of this is that Dave Obey knows something about movement-building and he recognizes in John a movement-builder and a progressive movement candidate.
Here in Wisconsin, Dave Obey helped build the modern Democratic Party. In the 1950s and 1960s, the parents of our current governor, Jim Doyle, James and Ruth Doyle, along with the help of Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson joined with people like (another former governor) Pat Lucey (the chair of Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 campaign in Wisconsin), and the mother of my favorite state senator, Mark Miller, the indomitable Midge Miller, to build a progressive party with the remnants of the Progressives, the progressive Republicans, and the old New Deal liberals and Democrats. Dave Obey kept that going statewide, and in his neck of the woods (literally, the northwoods), built a dominant party that has no business being the partisan pick of choice. It's a socially conservative part of the state, if their economic sensibilities lined up with some of their since-forgotten socialist lumberjack and miner forebears. But if you look at a map of the state assembly seats and a map of the state senate seat held by Democrats, you'll notice that Obey's 7th congressional district is overwhelmingly held by Democrats. This is no coincidence. Dave Obey, as I'm sure David Sirota can tell you, knows how to build political networks, organizations, and movements. Dave has aggressively recruited, supported, and worked with people to build a farm team of Democrats and groups to work for Democrats and liberal causes. There are former Obey staffers who hold some of those seats, and no one involved in Democratic politics north of Stevens Point and Wausau hasn't come across Dave Obey and gotten a helping hand at some point in their life I'm sure.
And endorsements matter when they come from a guy like Dave Obey. As he's demonstrated over the years, he'll work hard to have an impact. And while I don't know a ton about the other endorsees I've laid out above and the myriad other endorsees of John Edwards (the only one I know personally is Madison's mayor, Dave Cieslewicz, a major Edwards supporter in 2004 and still today), I know that Dave Obey is going to bust ass to make his endorsement mean something more than a press release. He'll leverage that network of his that he has built up from scratch in the Northwoods of Wisconsin to work to get John Edwards the nomination and get him elected. Connecting from the grassroots to the halls of power is vital in this race - and beyond. This is not top-down or bottom-up, it's holistic and people like Dave Obey endorsing that will make their backing mean something with Democrats at all levels means that we can build something bigger than a happy first Wednesday of November in 2008.
But besides this fascinating look at Dave Obey's impact on Wisconsin politics, you might be asking yourself why this matters. Well a major part of this is about people like Dave Obey working to build a long-term, sustainable movement for progressive liberals that elects Democrats and helps them govern as progressives liberals. The man from the 7th CD has worked so hard over the years, and delivered results, to build a Democratic and progressive, liberal movement and that, paramount among all things in 2008 and beyond in my opinion, is what we need from a candidate for president.
We can elect a Democrat president. Any of the top three can get elected. When you look at the Republicans, you either think they'd be a disaster as president and get scared, or you think there's no way any of them can win. We have a duty more important than electing a Democrat president. We need to take this opportunity, as so many have been squandered in the past, to build a progressive movement and have a Democratic candidate as something of a standard-bearer for us. John Edwards gets that. So when he's talking about the importance of the labor movement and economic justice and security, it's not important simply because they are vital to the well-being and commonwealth of this country in the immediate sense, but also because this helps draw clear and bright lines between liberalism and conservativism that differentiates us from the Right, and how our values align with the core American values. When John Edwards gets up in front of a crowd and utterly stirs them up with his ability to connect on a visceral, emotional level and project a progressive, liberal message that absolutely resonates with people and voters of all stripes, it's more than just being a progressive liberal that gets people outside of our ideological spectrum in the netroots saying "I can vote for a Democrat like that." And when John Edwards stakes his campaign on a progressive, liberal message and relies upon grassroots people-power to drive the campaign, it's about much more than having volunteers and contributors to be part of the campaign. Even the grassroots organization, One Corps, is about enacting change now, in 2008, and beyond through community service and political activism both - and for anyone who's been involved in electoral or issue politics, non-profit work, or community service work as a profession can tell you, bridging these divides is a vital part of building a progressive movement. John Edwards is the progressive movement candidate - and that's the biggest reason I am supporting him.
I made the decision a long time ago to support John, in particular because he shares my vision for this country and because he puts such a high priority on economic and social justice issues - but also because he is about the things he is reflexively because they are the moral things on which to take a stance as well as the way to build a movement that can enact the most change, transformationally over the long-haul. That's why I started a One Corps group that is now the biggest in our state by far, why I've started to get Students For Edwards chapters off the ground, and have worked with the Wisconsin campaign leadership to make this thing work. Grassroots activism from committed people will win in 2008 and build a movement. John Edwards brings that out in me, and I know he is and will continue to do so in many more. If my mind weren't made up, I'd take it from a guy like Dave Obey - John Edwards is the real deal for America, for progressives, and for the netroots. I hope you will join me in supporting him.
You can get involved with the campaign with One Corps and if you want to read more about the exploits of the Wisconsin campaign for John Edwards, especially in the Madison area, you can do so at Madison For Edwards, my blog.
Finally, with the end of the first quarter this Saturday, please consider making a contribution to John Edwards for president on the my grassroots fundraising page on ActBlue for John, here.