UPDATE: Joe Trippi says Obama and Hillary are “beating down the doors” for Edwards' endorsement. I can see Edwards endorsing Obama, or nobody; I would be totally shocked to see it go to Hillary, although there are some policy areas in which they're closer.
So John Edwards is dropping out. Like David, I figured he'd stick around through Feb. 5; I have to wonder if there was a deal involved, most likely with Obama.
It has seemed pretty obvious that those two have more of a simpatico with each other than with Hillary. After 2004, Edwards changed his emphasis and rhetoric pretty drastically, changing from a centrist DLC-type Democrat with an emphasis on class divisions, to being a confrontational populist dead-set against the power of special interests and “corporate greed.” Russ Feingold pointedly enumerated the ways in which Edwards “evolved” over the last few years, and I don't think that's unfair. Edwards had a voting record; he made his bed; and perhaps the the failure of his campaign to catch fire was a consequence. So be it.
So, Edwards' change in language and substance might merely have been a Romney-esque conversion of convenience: Perhaps he was simply following the Zeitgeist, going where he thought the votes were. But I doubted that. David and I talked to Edwards in early 2006, when he was on his “poverty awareness” tour; and he spoke like someone who had had enough of choosing positions strategically, in order to find the most votes. And indeed, even after Katrina, and in spite of Edwards' best efforts, poverty still doesn't capture the imagination of the voting public. For liberals, it seems permanent, intractable, and therefore depressing; and conservatives follow Reagan's example in proclaiming it Someone Else's Problem. Why would Edwards choose this issue if it were mere posing?
Earlier than the other candidates, Edwards staked out ambitious health care and climate plans. He didn't wait for a consensus to emerge that Universal Health Care would be a central Democratic position; one could argue that he created that consensus. I hope he continues to shine light on the central issue plaguing our democracy today, which is the immense power of special interest money in our political system. That power relationship is simply not fully acknowledged by Obama's rhetoric of reconciliation, or Hillary's promise of insider-savvy. The policy proposals were terrific, and influential; but it's the last point that really needs to take hold in the public's consciousness, in order to truly change its expectations of government — what it is, and for whom it works.
Edwards is 54; even if Obama/Hillary do two terms, he'll only be 62 in 2016, so a future run is not out of the question by any means. In the meantime, he's got an opportunity to pull an Al Gore and do something heroic as a private citizen. (I doubt he'd run for his old Senate seat in NC this year.)
Anyway, if an endorsement is forthcoming, I'd have to imagine it will be for Obama. That's where I'm going. Fired up, ready to go.