John Edwards’s attempt to get us to look at social class and the pernicious effects of the ongoing skewering of income and wealth never caught fire. Now that he’s bowed out, the remaining alternatives are: a too-familiar face who shows every intention of consolidating Bush’s worst tendencies or an inspiring albeit unfamiliar one.
Too bad we never really got a debate about what Edwards was saying. Instead, in the midst of the worst economic panorama of the Bush presidency, we got a dopey consensus that the American people need to get a CARE package and rush over to the mall with it.
No one dares to suggest that we’ve organized our society and our economic affairs in such a way that people have been encouraged and tricked into a habit of spending beyond their means, a habit that has to stop—and will.
When countries like Argentina or Russia got into similar trouble, the Great Experts at the IMF and other Washington power tanks prescribed radical government spending cuts and starving of domestic demand. It’s tough medicine, they said, but somebody’s gotta take it.
Funny how that turns out not to be doctor’s orders for us. Despite the appeal of the free-money strategy and the unfairness involved in the mortgage debacle, it remains true that U.S. consumers as an aggregate have over-borrowed and overspent. But politics dictates that the consequences be passed over and passed on.
Edwards was the lone voice suggesting that a redistribution of income was needed to get us through the inevitable consequences of Bush’s eight-year kegger. But that discourse didn’t feel much like the ‘hope’ or ‘change’ the country’s young people were after.
Wherever this whiplash election goes next, we’ll miss the note of sober reality Edwards was injecting. Perhaps he can go to work next on representing the interests of working and poor people now that the Democratic Party has forgotten how to do it.