Perhaps John Edwards should not have dropped out of the race. Well, yes, he should have dropped out. In the early Democratic primaries he just didn’t have the votes – second to Obama in Iowa and straight downhill from there. No one was buying what he was selling, economic populism. He seemed to want to wake us up to the plight of the homeless, the working poor, the uninsured, and those screwed over by the big corporations polluting our air and water and selling us crap that sometimes killed people. You never got the sense he wanted to shame us all into action, just that he wanted us to see that fair is fair and help him do something about all this. It wasn’t the angry the-Mexicans-are-coming-to-kill-us-all-and-take-over populism of CNN’s Lou Dobbs. It was an appeal to community.
That didn’t work out so well. Poverty and the exploitation of the relatively powerless is an issue, but it’s just one issue. The war was on everyone’s mind – and the incompetence of the Bush administration – and how we had alienated all our allies and most of the world saw us as bullies who would listen to no one – and that the economy was disintegrating, pretty much melting down before our eyes.
He apologized for voting to authorize the war, saying he had been wrong. That was brave and honest, but not enough. He was basically running on Katrina, squared. People had shrugged off New Orleans. It had been a fine place. It was gone. It wasn’t coming back, no matter how many new homes Brad Pitt and others built. The Spike Lee documentary came and went – and so did Edwards.
He endorsed no one, although he seemed to like Hillary Clinton’s words about helping out the helpless, and specifically her healthcare plan, mandating healthcare insurance for everyone with no exceptions at all. His wife praised that plan, on this television show and that, saying it was far better than the slightly more modest one from Obama. But there was no endorsement of Hillary Clinton. There was word that Edwards found Obama too aloof – insufficiently passionate about Edwards’ issues. So there was no endorsement of Obama.
And then he became obscure, as all the pundits decided he was irrelevant – Obama was the charismatic idealist and deep thinker, endorsed by the Kennedys, and Clinton the feisty old-school political infighter, ruthless and determined, if not nasty, fighting to get her husband back into the White House. The narrative was locked in. He was locked out.
But after the Philadelphia debate leading up to the Pennsylvania primary, with all the talk about who’s an elitist and who’s a man (or woman) of the people, and thus the real champion of the downtrodden, you have to wonder if Edwards didn’t sit back with a rueful smile and, after seeing ABC egging on Clinton to go after Obama, think this was really his territory. So now they get around to it – and he’s sitting at home. It must have seemed to him that’s not fair at all. He was always saying America had somehow split into two nations under Republican rule – the smug fat-cat rich and those they exploited – and he wanted to fix that, to make us one community again. Now these two were saying much the same sort of thing, arguing who is bitter about what and what to do about it, and doing it badly. Damn – that’s cold.
But it took Pennsylvania to do it. Edwards didn’t make it that far.
And Pennsylvania is the place where it maybe just had to happen. Okay – why?
If you’re one of us who grew up in Pittsburgh, you know. Take Dormont, Pennsylvania. You take the Liberty Bridge and go through the long tunnel, the Liberty Tubes, to the scrubby south suburbs. You pass through sad Bletzhoover, cross Saw Mill Run Boulevard, and, just before you get to the relatively wealthy Mount Lebanon, you’re in Dormont – small homes, strip malls and a dying economy, like much of what they call the Rust Belt. It’s not a fine place, but not the end of the world. It’s just people just getting by – and a lot of them the empty-eyed elderly. It’s a bit of a nowhere place – one square mile of something from Samuel Beckett.
But real people live there. Via the Andrew Sprung site Xpostfactoid (yes, site names on the web are strange) we hear from Dormont resident Danny Evans, adding a contribution to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s reader forum on the Democratic debate on the far east end of that state:
That was no debate – it was a rerun of Access Hollywood. If we Pennsylvanians should be bitter about anything, it’s that our state debate was turned into a sort of media carnival, rather than dealing with the real issues facing our region, and the American people.
The insult to us ex-Pittsburghers out here in Hollywood aside, he’s doing the Edwards thing. There are two Americas, and he’s a bit bitter, and he does like Obama:
I admired the restraint Obama showed in NOT diving headlong into the fray. Though it did seem to frustrate him that over half the debate had nothing to do with substance, he held his tongue in check, defended his opponent on one occasion, and even said “she could win” without so much as batting an eye.
… All in all, I saw in Barack Obama a frustrated (yet honest) commitment to trying to stay away from the political pie-slicing that has paralyzed our country and silenced OUR voices for far too long, now.
And he makes his choice:
As bad as it was to watch, what we did see (pay attention PA) is that we, as voters, need to seek out as much information as we can, not just what the networks and cable shows think we want to hear. Barack Obama didn’t have his best night, yet carried himself with grace and dignity in the face of farce. That’s my kind of President. Because NOT wallowing, NOT changing, means he really does stand for HOPE in ways we’ve not seen in a long, long time.
Sprung adds this:
Obama was not sharp. But who would be after scraping off all that shit?
It’s time to get serious and not get all hung up with the trivia, or as Matthew Yglesias says elsewhere:
I don’t wear a flag pin on my lapel. Never have. And while I won’t rule out the possibility of doing so in the future, I probably won’t. And, yes, this is because I hate my country. But not as much as Jeremiah Wright hates it.
You have to understand the context that gives rise to this, Pennsylvania. Barry Crimmins understands the context:
But seriously – no one could view most of rural Pennsylvania – or for that matter most of upstate NY – and not see the despair and doom that is everywhere. Wherever you look there are indications of surrender to cruel economic realities. You see home improvement projects, half-done, leaving the dwellings more exposed to nature and decay than they were when people tried to put some sweat equity into them. Folks just run out of money and hope. You see empty commercial districts, closed factories and people time has forgotten. If they aren’t bitter, they are either drunk or drinking deeply of religious dogma so as to distract them from the grim reality that confronts them every day. Being human, these people don’t want to hear that they live somewhere that is rotting and forgotten. So cynical politicians will come along and exploit the victims of the American economic calamity by indicting anyone who dares to point out that unjust and horrid circumstances have led to tangible tragedies. Schools become nothing more than a good way to keep track of tomorrow’s cannon fodder. Children who are inquisitive are considered disruptive to a process of indoctrination that makes the rest responsive to pleas to ignorance in drag as calls to duty. Throughout the populace, fear of the rest of the world grows and people become backward and cut off. The situation is no different than it is in the cities except that the insidious impact is spread over thousands of acres rather than hundreds of blocks.
Go to the link. Look at the photographs. It’s Dormont, or close enough. And as for being bitter, consider what he says next:
When a candidate even begins to acknowledge and source this calamitous state of affairs, he is punished as if he himself brought this hellish circumstance about – as if mentioning this nightmare somehow brought it on. Well, we are screwed forever unless we all open our eyes and look at the grim reality that ambitious and shameless politicians like Hillary Clinton are so happy to exploit. If she was the co-president she wants us to think she was, then where the fuck was she for the people of Pennsylvania during her eight years in the White House? And where has she been for the people of upstate New York during her seven years as our senator?
Do we have to wait until the entire nation has sunk to the level of economic collapse that has long beset much of rural America and so many of our rust-belt cities before we reject the cowardice and heartlessness that has allowed us to ignore the agony that has slowly debilitated so much of this nation?
Wasn’t that what Edwards was saying? Ah, yes – there were those other more important issues. Crimmins will have none of that:
We can no longer afford to squander our wealth on the childish and patriarchal madness of deficit-spending this land into alleged military superpower status. For Christ’s sake, if we have learned nothing else over the past forty years, we should have learned that our vast military might is just about useless. We have lost war after war (one way or another) and made new enemies in every corner of the globe. We have become the bully with a glass jaw and everyone knows it. We need to be humble enough to assess our circumstances and then demand that our government finally live up to the rhetoric it bandies about concerning inalienable rights. We have no right to inflict the horrors of war upon innocents all over the globe but we have a responsibility to use all that we do have to ease suffering and bring hope to our nation and world.
Wasn’t that what Edwards was saying?
But we are at war, and that’s a big deal.
The war in Iraq has become “a major debacle” and the outcome “is in doubt” despite improvements in security from the buildup in U.S. forces, according to a highly critical study published Thursday by the Pentagon’s premier military educational institute.
The report released by the National Defense University raises fresh doubts about President Bush’s projections of a U.S. victory in Iraq just a week after Bush announced that he was suspending U.S. troop reductions.
The report carries considerable weight because it was written by Joseph Collins, a former senior Pentagon official, and was based in part on interviews with other former senior defense and intelligence officials who played roles in prewar preparations.
It was published by the university’s National Institute for Strategic Studies, a Defense Department research center.
Basically it comes down to this – “Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle.” Read it and weep, really.
Of course there are lots of details:
The report lays much of the blame for what went wrong in Iraq after the initial U.S. victory at the feet of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. It says that in November 2001, before the war in Afghanistan was over, President Bush asked Rumsfeld “to begin planning in secret for potential military operations against Iraq.”
Rumsfeld, who was closely allied with Vice President Dick Cheney, bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the report says, and became “the direct supervisor of the combatant commanders.”
“… the aggressive, hands-on Rumsfeld,” it continues, “cajoled and pushed his way toward a small force and a lightning fast operation.” Later, he shut down the military’s computerized deployment system, “questioning, delaying or deleting units on the numerous deployment orders that came across his desk.”
No one was thinking about Dormont.
And there was John McCain on Chris Mathews’ Hardball College Tour, for a full hour, saying things like this:
MCCAIN: We can look back at the past and argue about whether we should have gone to war or not, whether we should have invaded or not, and that’s a good academic argument.
See “dday” at Hullabaloo with this:
It sure is. I can’t wait for the lecture series: Five Thousand Dead Americans, Hundreds of Thousands of Dead Iraqis, Trillions of Dollars in Treasure to Create An Iranian Client State: What Was the Purpose of This Lecture?
The only ones debating the invasion as an academic argument are the academes in establishment Washington who don’t want the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history pinned on them. They’re academes as diverse as Doug Feith and Charles Krauthammer, Colin Powell and Bill Kristol, Richard Perle and Judy “I was proved fucking right” Miller and Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon. They all live up in an ivory tower where accountability is verboten, and with each mistake they climb a flight of stairs. They are cheered on by warbloggers and neoconservatives who so desperately want the blood off their hands, who are more afraid of their place in history than what their catastrophic mistake has done to the nation and the world.
… There is nothing more dismissive, ugly and cruel than for the men and women who signed the death warrants of so many people for an exercise in futility to cast that historic mistake as something unworthy of discussion, as some sort of borrrr-ing lecture series instead of the fundamental question that will haunt them the rest of their lives. “Academic argument” is actually the comment of the 2008 campaign. …
But life goes on in Dormont, such as it is. Edwards sits quietly at home, smiling that rueful smile.