Is this election about change? Or is it about experience?
As the nation's eyes turn toward South Carolina's Jan. 26 Democratic primary, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have established their respective mantras, which are bound to be stale by Election Day (though Clinton is beginning to sound more like Obama every day).
They each have worthy qualities, not least of which is the fact that they understand the folly and the immorality of the war in Iraq; they understand that the greatest long-term threat to our national security is global climate change; they understand that America must overhaul its health care system. These facts alone make them head and shoulders above any Republican seeking the White House.
But there is another Democrat whom we hear less about these days, yet he stands head and shoulders above Clinton and Obama. I speak, of course, of John Edwards.
Edwards is the first genuine populist in decades to have a serious chance of being president. He has built his following by talking about the "two Americas," rich and poor, and the "moneyed interests" and "entrenched corporate power" that have a "stranglehold on our democracy."
In Iowa he said, "There are very powerful forces, well-financed forces, standing between you and the future your children should have. That's what this election is about. Unless and until you have a president of the United States who's willing to stand up with some backbone and some guts and fight and stand up to these corporate interests," there will never be real change.
That was too much for the Des Moines Register, which endorsed Clinton in the Iowa caucuses, as it chided Edwards for his "harsh anti-corporate rhetoric."
This is one reason I think we are seeing and hearing less of Edwards these days. In a time of enormous media consolidation, when news organizations are run by MBAs rather than journalists, Edwards' anti-corporate message is truly frightening.
This is just my little conspiracy theory. What is not a theory is that Edwards is receiving no money from corporate and lobbyist donors, unlike Obama or Clinton. And it is hurting his campaign.
According to CNN, Clinton has collected $91 million in contributions; Obama has $80 million; Edwards, $30 million.
During the Iowa caucus campaign, Obama spent more than $9 million on nearly 11,000 television spots. Clinton spent $7.2 million on 8,000 spots. Edwards spent $3.2 million and aired 3,700 spots. That's the nature of politics in America today. No matter how important your message, without money it won't be heard. It may be impossible to win the White House without corporate support. Edwards is about to find out.
Not only has he sworn off all contributions from lobbyists and political action committees (PACs), Edwards recently announced that he would ban all corporate lobbyists or anyone who has lobbied for a foreign government from serving in his White House.
"I don't think you can bring about change by taking their money or sitting down at the table and trying to make a deal with them," Edwards said, in announcing that decision on Dec. 29. "I think if that worked, we would have universal health care, we would be attacking global warming, we'd have a trade policy that makes sense, and we'd have a tax policy that makes sense."
By contrast, Obama and Clinton not only have their hands out for corporate contributions, Obama has turned key positions in his campaign staff over to corporate lobbyists.
According to The Hill, the authoritative Washington political journal, Obama has had working in his campaign lobbyists for Verizon, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America, Ernst & Young, British Petroleum, and the National Foreign Trade Council, among others. Other Obama workers have been linked to large trucking companies, insurance companies, and banks. These lobbyists are supposed to take leave from their firms before coming to work for a candidate. Apparently, one of them was still on her firm's payroll when she joined the Obama campaign, according to The Hill. (Go to TheHill.com for details.) Clinton has a similar thicket of lobbyist connections in her campaign organization. Edwards has no corporate lobbyists working for him.
There can be no real change in America until we change the power corporate money and lobbyists have over our elected leaders.
In this anti-union, corporate-friendly state, it is unlikely that Edwards can pull an upset Saturday against his two corporate-financed opponents. But a close race and a respectable third place would keep him viable and moving toward the Super Tuesday primaries and the national convention in August.
In the GOP primary eight years ago, the S.C. Republican Party launched George W. Bush on his way to the White House, opening an unprecedented era of corporate rape and corruption. By giving Edwards a boost on Saturday, perhaps S.C. Democrats can start to undo some of that damage.