The Guns of August

For a few months now, I think it’s been clear that Hillary Clinton isn’t some paper tiger who’s just going to melt away once her rivals for the nomination get better name ID. The question has been whether — or when — any of those rivals would decide it’s time to seriously attack her. Barack Obama’s been involved in some skirmishes, but Clinton’s camp has usually shot first in those battles. Now John Edwards is on the attack, if not quite by name:

The choice we must make is as important as it is clear. It is a choice between looking back and looking forward. A choice between the way we’ve always done it and the way we could do it if we dared. A choice between corporate power and the power of democracy. Between a corrupt and corroded system and a government that works for us again. It is caution versus courage. Old versus new. Calculation versus principle. It is the establishment elites versus the American people.It is a choice between the failed compromises of the past and the bright possibilities of our future. Between resigning ourselves to Two Americas or fighting for the One America we all believe in. […]But small thinking and outdated answers aren’t the only problems with a vision for the future that is rooted in nostalgia. The trouble with nostalgia is that you tend to remember what you liked and forget what you didn’t. It’s not just that the answers of the past aren’t up to the job today, it’s that the system that produced them was corrupt — and still is. It’s controlled by big corporations, the lobbyists they hire to protect their bottom line and the politicians who curry their favor and carry their water. And it’s perpetuated by a media that too often fawns over the establishment, but fails to seriously cover the challenges we face or the solutions being proposed. This is the game of American politics and in this game, the interests of regular Americans don’t stand a chance. […]The choice for our party could not be more clear. We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats, just swapping the Washington insiders of one party for the Washington insiders of the other.The American people deserve to know that their presidency is not for sale, the Lincoln Bedroom is not for rent, and lobbyist money can no longer influence policy in the House or the Senate.It’s time to end the game. It’s time to tell the big corporations and the lobbyists who have been running things for too long that their time is over. It’s time to challenge politicians to put the American people’s interests ahead of their own calculated political interests, to look the lobbyists in the eye and just say no.

There’s much more to the speech, read the whole thing. The word “populism” gets tossed around a lot in politics, especially over the past five or six years, but in this speech Edwards is really living up to the term in a way most things that get labeled that way don’t by explicitly connecting his critique of the economic status quo to a vision of a democratic economy: “Will corporate greed be all we value as we move further into the global economy, or will we put workers and families first, so that all jobs pay fair wages, every American has health care and corporate profits work for democracy and not the other way around?”

I think it’s a very strong speech. A lot of primary voters seem to me to want a more strictly partisan message than this, but I prefer the more properly ideological note that Edwards is striking here, trying to convince us that the crisis of Bushism is also an opportunity for sweeping change that we need to seize.