Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why Now?

As everyone knows, Edwards endorsed Obama yesterday, leaving everyone scratching their heads asking "why now?" Wouldn't it, after all, have been better for Obama for Edwards to do this immediately after North Carolina? I mean, hell, they could've even held the press conference outside the voting booth or something. Point being, Obama needs this thing ended before Hillary causes more trouble, and doing that ahead of West Virginia would've been better for everyone, no? Ah-ha, they say, I've figured it out! Obama had Edwards wait until Wednesday deliberately - to rain on Hillary's parade. Edwards has more delegates than she gained on him (never mind that they aren't pledged to vote how Edwards tells them), and Edwards, unlike Obama, actually appeals to her base. So Edwards endorsing Obama the day after West Virginia is meant to render West Virginia meaningless by saying "see, here's a guy white, uneducated, working-class people can get behind, and HE likes Obama, AND he's popular enough that this will turn the tide back after WVa."

Well, right, could be, might be, who am I to say? It's just that I think too much of the commentary assumes that Obama has all the say in this. Commensurate with the media's lovefest with Obama, of course (he's gonna Change the World! ® - no REALLY!), but maybe not commensurate with reality. I'd like to say I'm not really all that cynical - I'm just cynical of John Edwards, and so whenever that dude's name is on something, I think "what's in it for him?" about 50milliseconds faster than I think it for any other politician. And so I think if you want to sniff this one out, you have to stop thinking in terms of "what's good for Obama" and start thinking in terms of "what's good for Edwards."

And then it all comes lucid.

Coward that he is, Edwards couldn't be bothered to endorse anyone until he was pretty sure the game was over. This is not a man who takes political risks. Oh, he's reasonably good at spinning his positions as risky, but they never actually are. Ditto this case: all the bloggers who predicted back in February that Edwards would endorse Obama after Super Tuesday got the endorsement right but the timing wrong. Really, they should've known better. The Edwards I know takes safe bets but makes them look daring. And that's what's going on here too. He waits until the media has called it for Obama, but he doesn't wanna be just another in a long list of superdelegates (wait - wha? Edwards is not even a superdelegate!) jumping ship after North Carolina. That would make it all too clear that he's just being opportunistic. So he waits instead until after West Virginia, which everyone knew was going hard for Clinton - the last possible time this election season that he has the chance to endorse someone without it looking like a fait accompli. Kentucky/Oregon is going to change nothing, exactly no one cares about Montana and South Dakota, and no one honestly believes that the DNC is going to let Puerto Rico decide its candidate for it. It really is now or never - and better now than last week.

Not to mention, of course, that Edwards pretty transparently sold his endorsement to gain Obama's support for his anti-poverty initiative. Obama needs "street cred" with the white millworkers, and Edwards gave him the opportunity. Anyone fail to see where this is going? Yup - Edwards gets a cabinet position in the Obama Administration, probably something like HUD. Better yet, Obama is just goofy enough to do something like expanding the cabinet to create a "Poverty Department" that Edwards could chair. Or, wait, I probably have that backward, right? What Obama would do instead is collapse several currently-existing departments - including HUD - into one, and let Edwards be Secretary of that instead (no doubt with a suitably Orwellian name like the "Department of Shared Prosperity"), claiming to have "eliminated government waste" even as Edwards concocts new ways for Democrats to buy votes for themselves with our tax money.

Another sure sign that this ball was in Edwards' court all along is that pansy-ass "slip-of-the-tongue" interview that Edwards gave MSNBC Friday, where he pretty clearly said he voted for Obama but then played the "you misunderstood my southern drawl" card to pretend he hadn't. That doesn't sqaure with the rest of your theory, you say - wasn't Edwards waiting until after West Virginia to endorse so that he could "look daring?" Well, right, that's the whole point. On Friday, it looked like a flood of superdelegates would turn camp for Obama. No use endorsing him if you're the last in that line. But equally no use endorsing him if you have nothing really to sell, and Edwards has more to sell as a way of mitigating the inevitable loss in West Virginia than he does trying to stymie it. A hard choice, right? But why choose at all when you can have your cake and eat it too? So he does the smarmy thing and says something without saying it. If the tide with the superdelegates continues to turn to Obama, Edwards can always go back and own his "slip-of-the-tongue." And if not, hey, who's counting? He can go ahead with the original plan and wait until after West Virginia.

But the best reason, of course, to believe that it was Edwards himself who decided to wait until after West Virginia to endorse is his cowardice. Edwards, let's not forget, is fighting for his political survival. He knew going in to this thing that (a) he wasn't going to win the nomination and (b) there was no way in Hell the voters of North Carolina were sending him back to the Senate (every time I read in the press that Edwards is a "former" Senator from North Carolina I fill in my own inversion of the Arthurian legend for him: "the once-and-never-again Senator from North Carolina"). A second shot at the Vice Presidency was unlikely, but not impossible. No doubt Edwards kept his options open there. But it is, in any case, pretty clear that Edwards ran for president this second time in the hopes of getting an appointment of some kind. I mean, when you know the voters of your "home" state aren't gonna give you a second chance, when you know you can't win a fair democratic contest, the next best thing to do is gun for an appointment, right? And maybe in the meantime all will be forgiven, who knows? But cabinet position leads to VP bid leads to presidential bid - or whatever's going through that "ambition-only" zone that passes for his brain. And, well, the last thing that a coward with ambition needs is a slap in the face. Knowing that Clinton was going to win West Virginia no matter what, Edwards can't possibly endorse Obama ahead of time and watch it have no effect. That would be admitting his own irrelevance. So he did it afterward, when the voters of West Virginia - supposedly "his" demographic - can't possibly tell him how little they actually think of him.

So sorry, Johnny, this one's not impressed. And I'm guessing the remaining superdelegates won't be either.


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