John Edwards' Bumper-Sticker Liberalism

On Sunday, June 3, eight contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination took the stage to battle one another for the approval of the American left. Senator Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., putting the finishing touches on her Nixonian political transformation from liberal radical to voice of moderation, solidified her status as frontrunner. Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., staking out territory to Clinton’s left, stumbled throughout the debate.

But it was John Edwards, outflanking Obama, who provided the most memorable moment of the evening, summing up nearly six years of liberal thought with a single paragraph. "[W]hat this global war on terror bumper sticker — political slogan, that’s all it is, it’s all it’s ever been — was intended to do was for George Bush to use it to justify everything he does: the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture. None of those things are OK. They are not the United States of America."

Of course, Edwards’ aphoristic denunciation is itself paradigmatic bumper-sticker politics. His strategy is sloganeering. And sadly enough, his pithy shallowness mirrors the Democratic base far more than Clinton’s newfound moderation or Obama’s faux-profundity. If everyone who slaps a "War Is Not The Answer" sticker on their Prius votes for Edwards, the charlatan from North Carolina could breeze to the Democratic nomination.

Most of the Democratic base is simply unwilling to discuss policy with any sort of seriousness. Clinton’s supporters are an agglomeration of political opportunists, Hillary-circa-1993 devotees, militant feminists and ardent Bill-lovers — a more powerful version of the John Kerry coalition. Obama’s fans are the racially focused and intellectually shallow, who shiver with secret excitement every time Obama utters the word "understanding."

By contrast, Edwards’ supporters are the true blue, the loyal foundation. They are the disappointed Deaniacs and Ned Lamont backers. They are the "Bush Lied, Kids Died" contingent, the "No War For Oil" crowd. They are the Michael Moore followers, the Al Gore worshippers. They are the vapid but solid core of a radical party — a party that has risen to power by obfuscating its radicalism and opening its arms to Americans disaffected with President Bush.

Edwards supporters offer no real answers; they offer fortune cookie proverbs and unremitting vitriol. And it is the Edwards supporters who control the Democratic ticket, which is why every Democratic candidate kowtowed to the far left during Sunday night’s debate. Clinton, that paragon of reasonableness, contradicted her previous positions by stating in absolute terms that as president, her first priority would be "to bring our troops home." Obama, that prophet of national "unity," ruffled at the moderator’s suggestion that English be dubbed our national language. No matter who wins the nomination, it will be the Edwards supporters steering the Democratic ship.

And don’t count Edwards out yet. Edwards is slimy, to be sure. His "two Americas" shtick has always been pure demagoguery. His newfound willingness to exploit his wife’s cancer for political gain — Elizabeth Edwards, unsolicited, told the media on Monday that she was writing a letter of advice to her children for them to read after her death — is particularly stomach-churning.

Still, Edwards is leading in Iowa. He’s running second to Hillary Clinton in the most recent New Hampshire polls. His support will bump once Democrats realize Al Gore is out; he’ll get another boost as Obama continues to fade.

Will John Edwards win the Democratic nomination? It’s too early to tell. But no matter what happens, Edwards’ brand of bilious, apothegmatic politics will continue to dominate liberal discourse — to America’s detriment.


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