Since Vox Nova has been discussing the relative merits of the Republican candidates, I thought I would open up a debate about the other side. I must say that of the three leading contenders, I feel most drawn to John Edwards at this point. Let me explain.
There seems to be a certain inevitability about Hillary Clinton. She will undoubtedly be competent (and ironically, closer in terms of policy to the right-wing elements that utterly detest her than any of the others) but I simply cannot warm to her robotic fakeness, her poll-tested nuances, and the feeling that she can be every bit as ruthless and vindictive as the present occupiers of the Oval office. Others have made the point that she will only pour fresh gasoline on the flames of the culture war, leading to even greater bitterness and recrimination. At the same time, much of the vitriol directed at her and her husband was certainly over the top, a personal hatred with scant relation to actual policy implemented or position taken. People talk of Bush Derangement Syndrome, and yet this is a pale imitation of the original virus, Clinton Derangement Syndrome. Remember, not too long ago, respectable commentators were addressing questions such as whether Clinton murdered his aides and smuggled drugs into Arkansas. In the end, he was impeached in a self-righteous frenzy over a case of adultery (and, as events since then have shown, adultery is not exactly unknown on the Republican side either).
But here’s the rub: the vicious machine that arose in that era, fueled by Gingrich and his acolytes, is not only alive today, but more powerful than ever. Democrats are still bewildered by its ability to attack and derail. Just look at what happened to John Kerry, or Max Cleland. This, I think, explains the tendency to rally around Hillary: she is perceived as the one candidate who can take on the smear machine. Obama, people fear, will simply be buried by the onslaught, lacking the ruthlessness to deal with it. And so, here we are, caught in a bind: because one side has become so personal and ruthless, the other side needs to pick a candidate with similar qualities. We all suffer as a result.
This explains why those most dis-satisfied by the politics of personal attack are drawn to Obama. Pundits like Andrew Sullivan claim that he is the ideal post-boomer politician, unwilling to fight and re-fight the tired old battles of that most narcissistic generation in modern history. To others, he evokes the soaring rhetoric of a bygone era, when eloquence trumped the 30-second soundbite. Sometimes he reminds us of Bobby Kennedy, possibly the most inspiring politician in recent American history. But… not quite. As Obama soldiers on, he seems to inspire less. We are treated to a sequence of speeches notable only for their escalating blandness. He simply has not lived up to the hype. Plus, as I mentioned, he seems just too nice to face the oncoming GOP juggernaut. And, there is always the nagging suspicion that Americans simply will not vote for a black candidate, no matter what they tell pollsters.
Which brings me to Edwards. I am very reluctant to support this man, given the incident earlier this year when he refused to dismiss one of his campaign bloggers who wrote some truly reprehensible anti-Catholic garbage (see my old blog on this one). And yet, at the same time, Edwards is willing to put poverty, health care, and defense of the common man at the forefront of his campaign, more so than any other politician. Should his flirtation with anti-Catholic forces be grounds for automatically excluding him from consideration? Have a look at his new ad, which I think is simply the best thing I’ve seen in a long long time: