This past Friday I attended an event featuring Presidential candidate, John Edwards. It wasn't a fundraiser. It was a homey speech/Q&A thrown by the Palisades Democratic Club at an upscale hotel in Santa Monica. Equally lavish as the feted fundraiser I attended recently for Barack Obama, but costing substantially less. Just twenty dollars per person to cover the price of the room, filled to capacity with Progressives deciding on 2008.
WE are, after all, the deciders. The energized, knowledgeable, truth-seeking, web-searching, fact-finding, peace-loving, media-reforming, money-raising, non-fiction devotees who work on campaigns. We are the activists. The die-hards who worked tirelessly in 2000 to win, then watched incredulously when etiquette superseded truth and the duly elected President conceded too soon. When pregnant chads and hanging chads paved the way for America's decline.
Then again in 2004. It was the activists who watched in disbelief as an entire campaign, an entire Presidency, was thwarted by the terms swift-boat and flip-flop. When multi-lingual and international became slurs.
We activists fought off these attacks, while the candidate and his handlers stood down. How shameful that a decorated hero, whose voice once ended a war, couldn't call himself heroic. In the end, after we fought hard for victory, we were cheated by another concession. Another cave-in leaving activists appalled, the world on a path to destruction, and lexicologists for Oxford and Webster making swift-boat and flip-flop new adds.
Thus I found it odd that John Edwards, as much as I like him, didn't seem to grasp the level of involvement of the group he was addressing. A group of seasoned, politically active attendees.
After his heartfelt presentation of progressive positions on the War on Iraq, healthcare, poverty, workers' rights, Presidential leadership, and America's moral role in the world, the good Senator looked out over the room, and closed with the following:
"I'm proud of the fact that on a Friday night this many of you showed up because you care so much about your country. We have to start taking responsibility for our country. We cannot stand by and hope that in the next election, the next elected President will alone solve all our problems. It's a fantasy. It will never happen. It matters who's President. It matters enormously who's President. But you matter, too. If we want to bring about the change that's needed in this country, you have to take responsibility. You have to get involved. You have to take action.
... Don't tell me Americans don't care. They do care. But they have to be asked to do more than go shopping. In the words of Ghandi, 'We have to be the change that we believe in.' That's what we have to be. And we can't wait, any of us. We cannot wait for somebody else to do this for us. There's just too much at stake. If we actually want to live in a moral and just America. And we want America to lead in a moral and just world, we have to do it. All of us."
It was at that point I was compelled to ask Mr. Edwards a couple questions, which time constraints on the Senator's schedule prevented me from doing. The more savvy folks dashed to the mike ahead of me and asked relevant questions on healthcare, voting machines, Iran, poverty, and campaign finance reform. The questions I wanted to ask were totally different.
I wanted to know:
- How did you feel on February 15, 2003, four months after casting your vote to approve the Iraq War Resolution, when between fifteen to thirty million people around the world stood in solidarity to protest the immoral, illegal invasion of Iraq? Did you notice? Did you care? Were you affected by shock and awe?
- Have you paid attention to the anti-war protests on the streets since then? To the letters and emails from activists? To the pleas from Cindy Sheehan? To the plights of Sergeant Camilo Mejia and Lieutenant Ehren Watada? Did you notice? Do you care?
- You're asking for OUR involvement. But in the past two Presidential elections, the lack of involvement has not been from US. It's been from the candidates themselves and their incompetent handlers. They've run unsuccessful, ill-managed, poorly planned campaigns. Will YOU vow to fight as hard as WE do, and not acquiesce unnecessarily to defeat? Then, when in office, will you maintain a dialog with a representative group of US?
Obviously, there are many, many questions we must ask our candidates during this critical election. We have so much work to do. Much study. Much investigation and monitoring. Much demand for accountability and ethics.
But as we watch them, we need to make certain they watch us, too. Not in a George Bush/Alberto Gonzales illegal surveillance kind of way. In a respectful way. Acknowledging our patriotism. Our love for our rights and our country, and the rights of other countries, too. And our valiant endless struggle to hold our nation and our leaders true to our democratic ideals.
Finally, I really do like John and Elizabeth Edwards. I liked them in 2004 and like them even more in this run-up to 2008. I'll express my reasons in a detailed, future piece. But, until then, if you're interested and happen to see these candidates yourselves, maybe you could ask them these questions. Just in case you, too, would like to know...
(Addendum: For purposes of clarification, I want it made clear that I was not prevented from asking my questions due to question content. I was prevented from asking my questions due to the legitimate time constraints on the Senator's schedule.)