Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why Progressives Should Support John Edwards for President

By Prof. Paul Burke, Sacramento Progressive Alliance
posted on
July 12, 2007, Sacramento, CA

This is the third in an ongoing series of articles on the Edwards and Kucinich campaigns

“It’s time for Americans to be patriotic about something other than war.” - John Edwards, Riverside Church, NY, January 14, 2007

After honoring our country’s revolutionary spirit with family, friends and fireworks at our Independence Day celebrations, perhaps we should also take a moment to reflect on the meaning of genuine patriotism. Following this 4th of July holiday, Americans are feeling betrayed by an administration which led us into an illegal, immoral, and unwinnable war in Iraq; pessimistic about an economy that increasingly benefits wealthy elites while the middle class shrinks and millions of working families are thrown into poverty each year; concerned about the erosion of our basic civil rights and civil liberties; and outraged by a “sicko” health care system that lines the pockets of health insurance executives while leaving a third of our fellow citizens either un-insured or under-insured.

In this context, real patriots must go beyond superficial declarations about how much we love our country. We must demonstrate our patriotism by honestly acknowledging the challenges that we face as Americans and by developing effective solutions. During this summer of our legitimate discontent, we are fortunate that Senator John Edwards has given us something more than just the most clever slogan of the campaign season. With his populist campaign for the White House, Edwards has indeed given progressives something other than war to be patriotic about.

The central themes of the Edwards campaign represent a set of core values around which progressives of many stripes can unite:

Ending the War in Iraq and Closing Guantanamo
Like far too many of his colleagues in Congress, Sen. Edwards made a tragic mistake in voting to authorize the use of force in Iraq in 2002. To his credit, however, Edwards publicly admitted his mistake two years ago and has since emerged as one of the most passionate and eloquent anti-war voices in the country. Speaking at a Martin Luther King Holiday event at New York’s Riverside Church this past January, Edwards called for an end to the carnage in Iraq from the same pulpit from which Dr. King had denounced the Vietnam War forty years earlier. Repeating Dr. King’s message that “a time comes when silence is betrayal,” Sen. Edwards challenged his more cautious Democratic competitors to speak out more forcefully against the war. In doing so, Edwards helped change the terms of the national debate on Iraq and succeeded in pulling Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama to the left on this issue. At a grassroots campaign event last month in San Jose, Edwards also pledged to close Guanamo on his first day in office, to end US. involvement with torture, and to spend his first few months in office traveling the globe and meeting with international leaders in an effort to begin restoring our nation’s moral credibility in the world.

Universal Health Care
Sen. Edwards is the only major Presidential candidate to present a detailed, comprehensive plan to bring America into the civilized world by guaranteeing quality, affordable health care to all of our citizens. Edwards’ plan covers every American, eliminates the insidious practice of denying insurance to patients with pre-existing conditions, and pays for the increased coverage by rolling back Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthiest Americans. Although the Edwards plan is not exactly a single-payer plan–which most of us support in theory, but which we lack the political clout to pass through Congress in the foreseeable future – it does include the potential to evolve into a single-payer, public insurance plan if that’s what the American people choose down the road. The Edwards health care plan is revolutionary in that it provides coverage to every American, but it is sufficiently pragmatic that Congress might actually pass it.

Empowering Working Families and the Labor Movement
On a live national conference call in March, Sen. Edwards emphatically declared his solidarity with the labor movement. “The movement of organized labor is my movement. I’m proud to be a part of it.” Along with organized labor and other progressive groups, Edwards spearheaded the successful campaign to raise the minimum wage in six states last November. Edwards supports the Employee Free Choice Act and other progressive reforms to strengthen unions. Without a doubt, this son of a North Carolina mill worker is the labor candidate in 2008.

Ending Poverty in Our Lifetime
Over the last few years John and Elizabeth Edwards have repeatedly declared that “ending poverty in America has become the cause of our lives.” In more than twenty years as a progressive political activist I’ve never heard an American political leader make such a pledge. Even better, Sen. Edwards has actually developed a plan to do it, which he outlines in his excellent new book, Ending Poverty in America: How to Restore the American Dream. Despite being the richest country in human history, the U.S. currently suffers from the highest poverty rate in the industrial world. Edwards’ remarkable commitment to end poverty in our lifetime is, in and of itself, sufficient reason for progressives to enthusiastically support this populist campaign.

More than anything else, to be a progressive activist means to embrace the “preferential option for the poor,” to struggle in principled solidarity with the disrespected, the dispossessed, and the disenfranchised. It means this, or it means nothing at all. At this crucial moment in history, there is no better way for progressives to move our agenda forward than to support John and Elizabeth Edwards in their populist, grassroots campaign for the White House. After all, isn’t it about time to be patriotic about something other than war?

Prof. Paul Burke is a veteran political activist and a Co-Chair of the Sacramento Progressive Alliance. He teaches sociology at California State University, Sacramento.

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