A top priority for progressives regarding next year's presidential election should be convincing Barack Obama and John Edwards to join forces as a ticket and defeat Hillary Clinton.
Were one of them to drop out, the other would easily take first place in the polls. But neither of them is likely to drop out. As a result, unless they join forces, we will face a choice between a pro-war, pro-corporate Republican and the pro-war, pro-corporate Hillary Clinton. Jeff Cohen recently laid out the case against Clinton.
Together, Obama and Edwards could announce their candidacy as a ticket today, take the lead in the polling tomorrow, and keep it through the primaries. They would also stand a much better chance of defeating a Republican in the general election than would Clinton. She is the designated loser, and what's frightening (and motivating) is the thought of how awful our future would be even if she were to win. This is a case that ought to be clear to a wide range of progressives. Even if you're committed to backing whoever the Democratic nominee is, as a progressive you have an interest in making sure it is not Hillary Clinton. And even if you're fed up with the entire Democratic Party, you can recognize the danger of Clinton becoming the nominee.
Personally, I'm a Kucinich supporter. I keep pushing and prodding and waiting for America to come to its senses and back Kucinich. I'm not a party loyalist. I believe that when a party fails, it should be opposed from outside of it for its own good and for the good of all of us. I'm not a fan of Obama or Edwards. Were they to gain the nomination as a ticket for president and vice president, I might or might not vote for them, depending on their positions at that point and the other options available. I consider Cynthia McKinney a true progressive and a hero.
All of that having been said, I think it is high time we all realized that the top electoral priority for progressives (other than instituting honest and credible vote counting) has got to be preventing Hillary Clinton from gaining the Democratic nomination.
Karl Rove opposes Hillary for the same reason Osama bin Laden opposes Bush (in order to give her a boost), but the right really does despise Hillary Clinton. Nothing would be more divisive from the party that refuses to challenge Bush-Cheney, discuss impeachment, end the occupation of Iraq, or undo NAFTA or any of Bill Clinton's other handiwork (like the media-conglomerating telecom act).
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But the real problem with Hillary Clinton is that the left cannot stand her. If anything could revive efforts to push a third-party candidate or tempt an egocentric billionaire to jump into the race, it would be nominating Hillary Clinton. If anything could depress voter turnout to the point where a Republican "victory" was just barely credible, it's nominating Hillary Clinton.
Getting Clinton out of the #1 spot, on the other hand, might reduce her influence on Congress, including on Nancy Pelosi, the person primarily responsible for Bush and Cheney's free passes and immunity from impeachment. Even groups like the National Organization for Women that flip-flopped from pro- to anti-impeachment at the end of last year might start to recover their soul were Hillary Clinton's influence reduced.
The strategy of combining Edwards and Obama ought to be especially appealing to those who really support Edwards or Obama. But it's even appealing to those, like me, who support some other candidate.
Edwards, in my view, is a very corporate-friendly, military-friendly Democrat, but decidedly a huge progressive cut above Clinton. Today's John Edwards is a candidate whom progressives could promote without nausea. On many issues he's a candidate we could be proud of. In other areas, he could be worked on. And he's shown himself capable of changing for the better. As an added benefit, if an Edwards election is stolen from him, there is reason to believe that – without John Kerry around – he might challenge that theft.
Obama is much more of a blank slate than Edwards, and some of the bits he's filled in are pretty disturbing. Others are encouraging. And there is a chance, there is at least a possibility, that Obama would serve as a better president or vice president than what he campaigned as. It's a very slim chance, and this sort of wishful thinking is a very bad habit for progressives. But here's the thing: we know for a fact that Hillary Clinton would govern from the right. She has an established record. And we can be sure she would choose a running mate to the right of herself.
So, how do we do it? How do we make Obama-Edwards or Edwards-Obama a ticket. Well, asking one of them to take the vice presidency is going to be a heck of a lot easier than asking one of them to drop out, which is our other option. And we're asking them to take a likely vice presidency rather than an unlikely presidency. I doubt they'll need a game theorist to explain this one to them. Plus, they can't be unaware that Dick Cheney has turned the vice presidency into the real seat of power. In fact, these two candidates could work out from the start an understanding of the role the next vice president would play.
But which one of them should take the backseat? In favor of Obama stepping back, he has less experience governing, he has less experience campaigning, and his positions are less progressive. In favor of Edwards stepping back, he is behind Obama in the polls, and he is horribly handicapped by his vote to support the Iraq War and the speeches he made in support of it. Of course, we can and must leave it up to the two of them, but I would prefer to see Edwards take the vice presidential nomination, and I think he may have the humility and understanding needed to approach Obama with such a proposal. In the meantime, I think we should suggest it to both of them.
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