Today John Edwards officially dropped out of the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. However inevitable this was, it was still sad to see it finally happen. Edwards fought a clean, issues-driven campaign, but it wasn’t enough to compete against the wild but justified excitement of the prospect of a formative Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton presidency. It’s unfortunate to see Edwards leave, but I’m sure many more good things from him are still to come.
The obvious question–one that remains to be answered–is who will his supporters turn to now? The two overriding themes of Edwards’ campaign were change and fighting poverty. Nobody could touch him on the poverty issue–an issue that he did far more for than just pay lip service. Fighting poverty hasn’t become such a major issue for any of the other campaigns, but, if it eventually does, I think that we can thank Edwards for much of that. When it comes to change, however, nobody else embodies this ideal as well as Barack Obama. As historic as a Hillary Clinton presidency would be, a vote for Obama is a vote for change, and all indications are that Obama’s rhetoric on this front is genuine.
Like Edwards, Obama has also run an overall pretty clean campaign. Contrast this to Clinton, who has often descended into the cynical and the petty, most notably by trying to counterintuitively paint Obama as a supporter of Reagan principles. Just today, I gagged a little bit when I saw a Clinton campaign email in my inbox with the subject “Victory in Florida” (referring to a primary where no delegates were at stake and no campaigning took place). In 2004, Democratic voters made the all too common mistake of voting (under the guise of “electability”) for the candidate who most looked like a politician. John Kerry was not the best candidate then, and Hillary Clinton–the establishment’s candidate–is not the best choice in 2008. If they want to continue to support the principles that John Edwards stood for–and if they want to see someone who embodies those principles in the White House next year–Edwards supporters should turn to Barack Obama.
The end of the Edwards campaign is sad for another, more bloggy, reason. Edwards also campaigned under the netroots banner. Netroots first became a mainstream political phenomenon under Joe Trippi’s leadership in the 2003/2004 Howard Dean campaign. Edwards inherited this legacy and took it to a whole new level this year, as demonstrated by his campaign’s outstanding blog site and his active courting of bloggers. He even participated in an interview for ScienceBlogs’ own A Blog Around the Clock. It remains to be seen whether one of the other candidates will take up this mantle this year, but netroots will continue to be a force through the 2008 election and will be back stronger than ever in 2012. And, like so many other good things, this will once again be part of John Edwards’ legacy.