Monday, February 20, 2006

Guest Blogger: David Breeden

My father, who cast his first vote for Franklin Roosevelt and has stood by the party through thick and thin since, said in the last election, “I wish that Kerry would get out of the way and let Edwards run.” My father has a sixth-grade education and I have a PhD, so I explained to him about Kerry’s experience and such. Now I think I was the one who needed the education. My father, who was born in a two-room shack and spent forty years in a labor union, heard something I did not: John Edwards can speak to the old, laboring, Democratic base.

Who cares about labor? It appears that John Edwards does. He is currently barnstorming the nation in support of Unite Here, a union representing service-sector employees such as people working in hotels, foodservice, and textile manufacturing. Why should anyone but a bleeding-heart labor radical like me care about them? Well, partly because eighty percent of North Americans work in the service sector. Partly because one in four US workers makes less than $8.70 an hour. This is a national disgrace. It is also an opportunity to remake the Democratic Party.

I attended the February 17th Unite Here rally in Chicago. I stood in the Drake Hotel ballroom with an overflow crowd of union-members and union-wannabes. The crowd reflected workers in the hotel industry: Hispanics, blacks, Asians, some whites. At least a third of the population spoke English as a difficult second language. I watched as John Edwards took that crowd first by the throat, then by the hand. He’s down-home. He’s personable. His is the story of the American Dream—laboring, unionized parents, education, then success. I heard his story echoed in Spanish: this is why I came to this country. For many, that dream still lives. I lived it because my father was a union member. My father’s father dodged the bullets of strikebreakers for it. Edwards speaks the language.

Edwards began with a simple point: the old unionized industrial jobs that built the American middle class weren’t always good. Before unions, as a matter of fact, they were as bad as or worse than working in hotel laundries and kitchens. Unions made those jobs good, and unions can make current service-sector jobs good too. What was Edwards talking about? He was talking about working people sticking together; he was talking about a living wage; job security; health benefits. To great applause Edwards said that replacing striking workers should be against the law. Edwards speaks the language.

Unlike my father, I am a cynic who gave up believing in the American Dream a long time ago, in the face of outsourcing and ever-growing poverty, and now a never-ending War on Terror. Among the members of Unite Here, however, I felt something I haven’t felt in a long time: a little bit of hope that the US might be a place that could care about people again. It is a message John Edwards is currently preaching across this country to people willing to listen.

After the rally, I called my dad with the news. I hope he is right again. He hopes he lives long enough to vote for Edwards.


—David Breeden

4 Comments:

Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

I'm with your dad, I was happy to support Edwards until Kerry got in the way. I hope I get another chance.

7:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is very well written. And, I'm another one of those democrats who've always seen in Edwards that ability to touch "the better angels" in people's natures. To anyone who has any doubt about this should check out the following video. It is a speech (unlike a rally speech) that Edwards gave in Vermont. It captivates you not just emotionally but intellectually... I like how he can talk about policy ideas in conjuction with real life experiences, and tie the two together so beautifully and coherently (and he doesn't uses any notes, yikes!)

So, anyone remotely interested in Edwards or the issue of poverty should check out the following video:

John Edwards giving a poverty address

He talks about meeting a man a few days after Katrina... and I have to say that when he talks about that incident, there is a sincerity in his voice that I haven't seen in politics for a long time.

7:22 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I share your high regard for Edwards' focus and his ability to connect with working people. That's a fine post about a genuinely good man.

That connection to working people is part of the roots of the Democratic Party that the party foolishly drifted away from in the '80s and '90s. (In fairness, the rise of union workers for Reagan may have added push to the drift.)

Even so, I think you may be shortchanging Kerry. He's got much the same values and focus, although I admit he connects less well between listeners' sternum and navel. He's still a good man with a lot to offer.

I think Democrats have been too quick to write off unsuccessful presidential candidates over the years, whether or not the candidates came back for another try. Anyone who's been through the grueling, unique experience of running a full presidential race has a better, more complete understanding of what it's all about than the rest of us can ever achieve.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

S.W. Anderson, you're probably right that Democrats write off unsuccessful candidates too easily. I supported Kerry very early on and was glad to watch him improve his speaking and get into the swing of things from Dec. 2003 to about late March 2004; by early April, 2004, Kerry had great numbers and he could afford to coast a little bit for a month or two while working to set up the convention and the fall campaign. But Kerry never fully cranked it back up again and probably needed to improve a bit more anyway to get past his senatorial style; in normal times, that wouldn't have mattered since Kerry received 9 million more votes than Gore did in 2000; normally, Kerry would have won since Gore had a half a million more votes than Bush. In an sense Kerry was successful, but not successful enough.

The race is wide open as far I'm concerned and I take Kerry seriously as well as some other potential candidates. It's not even clear yet who's going to run. But I've been watching Edwards. What I'm seeing is getting more interesting. For one thing, I'm finally seeing some toughness to Edwards that I probably didn't see before; besides being a decent man, he's got some backbone. I get the feeling Edwards thrives on a steep learning curve. But he wasn't experienced enough or known enough to win in 2004. Edwards may be ready by 2008.

I think the race is wide open for 2008 and lot can happen between now and then but I asked my wife what she thought of a Edwards/Feingold ticket. Her eyes immediately lit up.

12:30 AM  

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