On John Edwards’ Departure From the Presidential Race

Former Senator John Edwards bowed out of the race for the Democratic nomination for President yesterday.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to long-time readers that I’ve been a supporter of Edwards for a number of years. Over five years ago, on this very website, I described Edwards as “the shining hope of the Democratic party.” I was secretly happy when former Virginia Governor Mark Warner declined to run for the Presidency — both candidates would have run to the left, and I didn’t want Warner to split the progressive vote and hurt Edwards’ chances. I even think John Edwards would be the kind of person to build with LEGO.

It’s impossible for me to say why it is I was so invested in Edwards’ candidacy. Was it that he was bold enough to say the things I thought? That the growing income divide was a dangerous thing? That Washington valued the corporations and the monied interests over the people? To borrow a line from V For Vendetta, “There’s something terribly wrong with this country,” and it seemed to me that, of all the candidates, Edwards actually had answers to the things that were wrong.

Flash back to March 22nd, 2007. On that date, it was reported in the morning hours that John Edwards was ending his Presidential campaign. He had announced his candidacy in New Orleans three months earlier, and there were rumors that his wife Elizabeth’s breast cancer had returned. I wrote to a friend, late that morning, in a letter the following:

The political news of the morning? Indications that John Edwards was dropping out of the Presidential campaign due to his wife’s recurrence of cancer. I don’t think there’s a person in the world that would blame him for doing so, and while I was steeling myself for the worst, I’ll admit that I got a bit choked up at the thought. First, the suffering that he and his family would be enduring. Second, the loss of such a powerful and important voice in the Presidential campaign, one that wasn’t speaking to the corporate or moneyed interests but instead spoke for the common man. And then when I checked the MSNBC website and saw the news, that yes, the cancer had returned, but no, the fight for the future of the country would continue, I teared up. Because even though he hadn’t said it, it was like what Sam said to Frodo in The Two Towers, “There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.” The future is worth fighting for. Fixing the problems of inequality is worth fighting for. Restoring America’s standing in the world’s eyes, that’s worth fighting for. This is a moment where heroes are made, this is a moment where the possibilities seem endless. The things worth doing aren’t easy. The things worth doing require sacrifice. Things snap into perspective.”

At the span of nearly a year, I still agree with all of that. 🙂

People were expecting Edwards to drop out of the race because of his wife’s cancer. And there’s this article that suggests that Elizabeth Edwards’ health issues may have been a drag on the campaign; running for President in that situation isn’t what others would have done. I, however, found it noble. The message was vital, their time was limited, and the important things, as I wrote in that letter that day, require sacrifice. The message was more important than any one person.

And I thought then — and still think now — that John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards would not have been true to themselves and their convictions had they turned away from the Presidential campaign trail in March. Life had dealt them a rotten hand, but they were determined to soldier on, because what they were doing was important. It was the right decision.

For the first time in my thirty-four years, I had a politician I could believe in. Oh, I liked Reagan, because I was a kid and because he was President. I liked the first Bush, because I was in high school and he really seemed like a decent sort, a middle-of-the-road sort. And I liked Clinton, because whatever his personal demons were they didn’t affect the way he governed. But I didn’t believe in any of them.

I believed in John Edwards.

I gave John Edwards money. I’d never donated to a political campaign before. As I wrote at the time, “[when] Edwards talks about the two Americas, the growing income inequalities, the need for health care coverage, and the like, I get the feeling that he means it, and he wants to do something to make a difference.”

Making a difference.

Edwards left the Presidential race yesterday. He made a difference. Despite spotty media coverage and fighting against a media narrative that didn’t include him, despite a lack of funds against the superstar candidates, Edwards’ presence in the race forced the other candidates to tack to the left, to bring forth health care proposals and other policy positions.

I received last night an e-mail from the Edwards campaign. In the main, it was Edwards’ speech in New Orleans yesterday afternoon. A good speech it was, a forceful speech, a speech about the problems facing this nation and the things that can be done, that need to be done. A speech that had me believing in Edwards all over again and knowing that he’s the one who should be the next President.

Alas, that’s not to be.

But Edwards had another message in that e-mail. Not so much a summary, but a thank you:

Let me start by saying, “Thank you.” You have stood with Elizabeth and me throughout this campaign. Your support has sustained us as we have traveled across this country.

Earlier today, I suspended my campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency. I made this announcement from where our journey began just over 12 months ago: New Orleans.

I began my presidential campaign in New Orleans to remind the country that all of us — as citizens and as a government — have a moral responsibility to each other, and what we do together matters.

Now, it’s time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path. We do not know who will take the final steps to the White House — but what we do know is that our Democratic Party will make history.

And, along the way, all of you who have been involved in this campaign and this movement for change and this cause, I am asking you to continue speaking out for those who have no voice, just as Elizabeth and I will continue to do. We need you.

Do not turn away from the great struggles before us. Do not give up on the causes that we have fought for. Do not walk away from what’s possible, because it’s time for all of us — all of us together — to make the two Americas one. We need you.

I hope you will take a few moments to listen to the video clip of my speech in New Orleans earlier this afternoon or to read it below.

In the meantime, Elizabeth and my family join me in thanking all of you for your support and for working so hard on my behalf. We are truly blessed to have such friends.

Thank you.

John Edwards
January 30, 2008

No, John Edwards. Thank you. Thank you for being a politician I could believe in. Thank you for being a person who dared to speak the truths about this nation. And thank you for having a vision and sharing that vision. Thank for for creating not a campaign but a movement.

Thank you, John and Elizabeth Edwards.

2 thoughts on “On John Edwards’ Departure From the Presidential Race

  1. What does the end of poverty look like?

    John Edwards concluded his Presidential campaign yesterday, but not before securing pledges from Obama and Clinton that they would make the ending of poverty central to their presidential campaigns.

    Regardless the road we choose to take, be it a conservative path or a liberal one– at what point will we consider people out of poverty? Can somebody tell me. Not platitudes like “when every person is living in dignity and without fear” or some other claptrap. I can’t measure that, and unless we figure out how to achieve some communistic land of perfection, where everyone is robotically equal, we will always have different strata in society. The poor will always be with us.

    So, please somebody tell me– What does the end of poverty look like?

  2. You’re right, Tony — there always will be economic strata in any society. But that doesn’t mean that we have to tolerate the vast economic gulf between the rich and the poor.

    What would the end of poverty look like? A free and quality education for everyone. Health care for everyone. People working a forty hour week shouldn’t feel like they’re living paycheck to paycheck. And end to homelessness.

    I don’t know how you measure all of that. But if we can fix those, that would be a good start.

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