January 24, 2008


Sam Smith

I have seldom seen a campaign so driven by symbolism and so weak on substance. For example, among the Democrats we have had little talk of the collapse of our constitutional government or global warming but endless and futile discussion of race and gender. After all, if you believe in equality in such matters, it is a given that both saints and sinners of humanity are fairly distributed by ethnicity and sex. Therefore knowing that Clinton is a woman or Obama is half black tells you little. In fact, if voters were only given the policies of the candidates, and didn't know their demographics, John Edwards would be the most logical major candidate for real Democrats of whatever size, shape or color.

But then, for many being a Democrat or a liberal is primarily a symbol as well. These people might be described as transpoliticals, which is to say that what they wear on their bodies and put on their faces doesn't quite match what is under their pants. They call themselves liberals but they don't lift a finger on behalf of such issues as single payer healthcare or pensions or outsourcing.

Liberals used to believe in doing the most for the most. What is so remarkable about the Edwards campaign is that he is the first real liberal of this ilk to make a major run for the White House since Lyndon Johnson - but too many people who call themselves liberals don't even notice. They put on their I love blacks and women faces and call it a day.

Related is one of Edwards' other problems: he is a white southern male. I have been a bit startled by the amount of northern liberal prejudice against him because of this. These supposed lovers of diversity ridicule him and in doing so make it easier for the right to capture the votes of people who talk like him. Having been born in segregated DC and having covered its transition to a majority black city, I know the difference between understanding the complexities of ethnic relations and merely pronouncing about them. Remember it was a white southerner, Lyndon Johnson who, with the help of Adam Clayton Powell, got more good civil rights legislation passed then we have seen since. It could happen again if fewer Democrats were less self righteous about their symbols.