|There are differences between the two candidate. Obama stresses unity, hope and opportunity, while Edwards stresses the barriers that have arisen to divide us. But in his endorsement speech, Edwards powerfully demonstrated how their two distinct messages complemented one another, creating a deeper underlying unity. This is, without question the essence of what a deeply compelling progressive vision for the 21at century should be-a combination of the awareness of injustice to be overcome and of our capacity for renewal and transformation.
(2) The Deep Reinforcement Argument: Demographics. From Chris's 2004 post-election analysis, specifically, the diary "Eureka! Or How To Break the Republican Majority Coalition": What we need to build a center-left Democratic majority is to marry the existing progressive Democratic base with non-ideological reformers-most visible as a block in the 19% that supported Ross Perot in 1992. These voters were largely brought into the Republican Party via the issues highlighted in the 1994 "Contract with America" that specifically excluded the relgious right agenda. After almost 15 years of bait-and-switch, this entire block is ripe for conversion to the Democratic Party.
Obama presents us with an unexpected path towards this end-a candidate who has stronger appeal to the independent-oriented reform contingent than to the Democratic base. While this can pay huge dividends in assuring that these independent voters feel genuinely included, it shifts the focus of concern to maintaining the loyalty and enthusiasm of the base. While Edwards is not necessarily the only candidate who can do this, he is clearly one of the few nationally-known candidates with a record of doing so. His strength in closing the Democratic swing in the SUSA VP polls, which I blogged about last weekend, is the latest demonstration of this. This argument was previously developed at length in my diary, "Chris Bowers, Psychic Pundit! (Part I of The Deep Logic of Edwards For VP)".
(3) The "Whistling Past Dixie" Argument. In his 2006 book, Whistling Past Dixie, Tom Schaller advanced the argument that is was strategically foolish to try to rebuild the Democratic Party on its old foundations, by competing for the Southern white vote that Republicans had captured in recent decades. He was not arguing that such voters should be ignored, but rarther re-prioritized. Making them more important than the existing base and more important than other prospective prospects, particularly in the West, was a recipe for continued failure, Schaller argued. The emphasis on the West is compatible with (2) above, since the reformist agenda has its strongest appeal outside the South.
The cartoon version of this argument is simple: Let the GOP have the bulk of those voters on their increasingly rightwing terms, and let them run off a cliff together. However, Schaller was notarguing that we should wrtite off the South entirely. He was talking about the building of national coalitions, and he foresaw the opening of opportunities in the South over time as well-but beginning in the outer South where demographic trends were most favorable.
Obama has confirmed Schaller's thesis, at the same time he has capitalized on the New England-based, but westward-stretching reformer demographic that Chris identified in his "Eureka!" diary.
Superficially, this would not seem to be much of an argument for John Edwards. However, it actually is given that Obama's candidacy has already had unforseen consequences.
Edwards represents an indigenous white progressive tradition. Thus he combines being a Southern white male-thus conveying cultural comfort to Southern voters-with being an outspoken progressive, thus not serving to undercut Obama as a typical "balancing" southern white male-such as Sam Nunn-would. The building of local infrastructure, and the promotion of an indigenous Southern progressive movement are forms of Southern political activity that are entirely consistent with Schaller's thesis. They do not involve sacrificing the national party's identity or resources in a vain quest to recapture voters who now part of the core GOP constitutuency. Instead, they are doing the unglamorous work of creating a new South in which we can win on our own terms.
Edwards would simply accelerates that process in an unexpected way, just as Obama has impact the outreach to the independent reform block in an unexpected way. In both cases, the basic analytical framework remains intact, but the way the dynamic plays out was unforeseen. It's actually a confirmation of these frameworks that they still make sense, despite unexpected scenarios. This shows that their analysis is based on a deeper level of understanding than scenario analysis.
(4) The Electoral Strength Argument. I have laid out the strength of Edwards as shown in Survey USA's polls at great length. The strength is so clear and overwhelming that it is pointless to deny it, but a number of excuses have been raised. Before considering them, however, it's also important to remember that throughout 2007 Edwards routinely did better than Clinton or Obama in head-to-head matchups with possible GOP opponents. For example, CNN reported on a poll conducted December 6-9, 2007:
On the Democratic side, Edwards performs best against each of the leading Republicans. In addition to beating Huckabee by 25 percent and McCain by 8 percent, the North Carolina Democrat beats Romney by 22 percentage points (59 percent to 37 percent) and Giuliani by 9 percentage points (53 percent to 44 percent).
Furthermore, Edwards was the only one who then would be McCain:
The poll also shows that Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona would do best against leading Democrats. He beats Clinton by 2 percentage points (50 percent to 48 percent), ties Obama (48 percent to 48 percent) and loses to Edwards by a smaller margin (8 points) than the other Republican candidates do.
These polls played no part in the nominating process. What dominated there was the ability of Clinton and Obama to raise much more money than Edwards-hardly a surprise given his strong populist message. But during a general election, when Edwards doesn't have to worry about that, it is only logical to expect that the strength he showed throuhgout 2007 should continue in 2008. Thus, the SUSA VP polls should not be seen in isolation. Rather, they need to viewed as a confirmation that the strength Edwards showed in head-to-head competition in 2007 continues to hold up as a VP candidate in 2008.
The arguments that attempt to minimize the impact of Edwards polling strength tend to fall into three broad camps:
(i) Forget the polls. Response: (A) Why? If we want to win, and polls point to an obvious way to do that, why should we ignore them? (B) See arguments 1-3 above.
(ii) The polls only measure name recognition. Whoever is nominated will have name recognition, so forget the polls. Response: (A) See #i. (B) See my diary from earlier today, "The Case For Edwards-Refuting the "Name Recognition" Canard". What is being measured is Brand recognition, a much stronger phenomena. As Blue November explained in the comment that made this distinction clear to me:
I think some people have confused Brand recognition with Name recognition. (Yes, I work in marketing). Brand recognition includes not just knowing what a product's name is or what it does but it also inspires emotion and feeling. Think of the difference between "car", "Volvo" and "Lexus" - a vehicle for transport, a "safe" car, a "luxurious" car. We can apply this to talk show host, Jerry Springer, Oprah or color, yellow, gold. Each word, each idea elicits feelings around it. And the deeper the brand recognition, the more loyal the consumer. Also, brands build over time and change over time, so it's a bit tricky to refer back to 2004 as a mark against Edwards as his brand as evolved over four years and as more and more people have (sadly) came to see the truth of the "two Americas". It's fair to assume that the power of the Edwards' brand would only increase from now until November.
Anyway, obviously any Obama VP pick would instantly gain increased name recognition. It is very unlikely, however, that they would be able to generate as popular a "brand" as John Edwards in such a short time (now until November). Companies spend millions of dollars trying to brand products or talent. And one incident (like Tom Cruise couch-jumping) can undo years or decades of branding. This is also why possible VP picks go through rather intrusive vetting processes. [Which Edwards has been through twice]
(iii) Clinton deserves it. Response: (A) This reasoning has never prevailed in the past, and has to be viewed as an ad hoc ploy. The only real moral legitimacy it has depends on Clinton's gender, but there are much more substantive things that can and should be done on this score. (B) Clinton is not a reinforcing candidate, which violates the Deep Reinforcement Argument (#1 above). (C) Clinton attacked Obama in ways that GOP is certain to attack him in the fall. Having her on the ticket with him will ad considerable to weight to those arguments-a headache that he simply doesn't need.
(iv) Obama needs a strong foreign policy/defense running mate. Response: (A) This violates the Deep Reinforcement Argument (#1 above). (B) Obama can handle McCain on defense without VP assistance. Indeed, McCain is a paper tiger on defense. He had a bad record in the Navy (a reverse ace, lost 5 planes), and has no command experience. He has supported Bush religious the last two years, and repudiated whatever sound ideas he may have embraced in the past. He has also been terrible on GI and veterans issues. But perhaps most importantly, he simply doesn't know what he is talking about, and the longer this campaign goes on, the harder this becomes to ignore. (C) Most of the Democratic foreign policy/defense establishment does not have a very good record. What's needed is a clean break with most of them, not more of the same. Wesley Clark may be the exception that proves the rule, but his strength on paper has not been tested in polling. He clearly should play an important role in the campaign, and get a high cabinet post-such as NSC Advisor. But without strong evidence that he can deliver as well as Edwards, the question is-why gamble?
(v) Obama needs X in order to deliver Y. Response: There are endless variations of this that are simply special pleading by candidate partisans, mindless Versailles spin or both. The SUSA VP matchups show that Obama/Edwards can crush the best that the GOP has to throw at them. Nothing more is needed. Why gamble on the unkown, when you don't have to?
(5) The Evolving Dynamic of the Campaign. Finally, as I noted in my earlier diary today, "Presidential Race Progress--Forecasts May 23 Compared to June 20", over the past four weeks, Edwards home region has clearly emerged as a potential battleground deep inside enemy territory, with two states-Florida and his native North Carolina-moving to toss-up and a third, Georgia, moving from solid McCain to lean McCaind. There is now no solid McCain state on the East Coast, and only two that are lean McCain:
The softness created on the Southern coast creates yet another strong argument for Edwards as VP. With that region already as soft as it is, Edwards could be used heavily their to keep McCain pinned down and spending incredibly scarce resources defending states that he simply cannot afford to lose. In turn, this would make it virtually a cakewalk to take Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado and New Mexico. That's the election right there. Any Southern coast states that Edwards manaeged to tip over into the win column would be pure gravy. And that's not even considering Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota and Montana, none of which McCain will be adequately funded to defend.
In addition, as was also noted in a Quick Hit this week, both the Hispanic and Black caucuses released lists of their recommened VP choices this week. Edwards was the only candidate to make both lists.
Summing up all the above, the conclusion is inescapable-as much as humanly possible to predict the future, Edwards is clearly strongly positioned to help us win in November, and he is the only candidate who is publicly proven to do so. This is a reflection of underlying logic reflected in points 1-3 above, as well as polling and endorsement data from 4 & 5. The only coherent reason for rejecting Edwards would appear to be either hostility or indifference towards populist economics-at the very least, and possibly an even broader hostility toward progressive politics. But after three decades of increasing income inequality, hostility or indifference towards populist economics is simply delusional. The argument should be about the best ways to implement populist economics in ways that synergize with other important policy goals. And the way to ensure that such arguments take place is to have Edwards as our Vice President.