Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Edwards Out, But Left His Mark

In the lower ninth ward of New Orleans, a city that has come to embody his message of rebuilding the nation into one America, Democratic primary contender John Edwards gracefully bowed out of the race. "It's time for me to step aside so that history can blaze its path," Edwards said. Words both profound and prophetic, because try as he might the former North Carolina senator simply could not get any traction while he was bookended by such important, longed for, historic "firsts."

And so Edwards, the son of a North Carolina mill worker, ended a scrappy underdog bid in which -- without the superstar status of his rivals -- he still managed to steer the discussion towards some oft-ignored progressive ideals. I have no doubt that John Edwards will continue to fight for the middle class, universal healthcare, and ending poverty in America. And, with the delegates he has already garnered and the loyal followers he has accumulated, he will continue to be a voice in the Democratic party. Perhaps most importantly, however, he has inspired the other candidates to take up these core issues, to focus on policy issues that are often paid lip service but see little serious debate, and the party is better for it.

Edwards undertook this race at great personal cost, publicly grappling with family hardships that both garnered voters' sympathy and also made them question his decision to run for office. I remember the "60 Minutes" interview with he and his wife, Elizabeth, when the reporter asked what to many of us was a simply question. Why? Why pursue this gruelling race in the face of such tragic circumstances? I'll always remember Elizabeth Edwards' answer -- paraphrased, of course, but here is the gist: So that will be my legacy? That in the face of adversity I quit something I believed in? That I quit fighting for the causes I care for, and deprived the country of possibly having a leader like John? I will not have that be my legacy. I will live now like I mean to go on.

We didn’t hear an endorsement from Edwards today, though I am sure both Clinton and Obama would each dearly love to have it. Edwards has said he would be happy to spend time with both candidates, talk more about their plans and ideas, and perhaps make a decision then. He championed issues that are often hard to discuss, asking the simple question: Why, in the land of plenty, are so many people falling farther and farther behind? I have no doubt he wants to know what the "last two standing" propose to do about the issues he has championed so passionately, and inserted into the debate so skillfully. John Edwards did change the political landscape this election season. I would hazard a guess that is more important to him than putting his stamp of approval on either of the candidates.

John Edwards would have been a fine president. A moral, just man who would have worked tirelessly to put his vision of One America into reality. Now, he'll move on to other, more private endeavors, and he will continue to work towards these causes outside the spotlight. But I will miss John Edwards if he doesn't take some continued, visible role in public life. Oh, I know, this son of mill worker is going to be just fine. But I think we'll all be better for it if we could hear his inspiring message -- and see the evidence of his good works -- from time to time. "America’s hour of transformation is upon us," Edwards said as he bowed out. I hope he's right, and we should all thank John Edwards for the role he played in spurring that transformation.

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