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Whose Tools Can Best Dismantle this House?

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Over at TAP, Garance has an article up that asks — and tries to answer — the question of why Edwards’ candidacy seems to have fallen a bit flat. Not John McCain flat, but flat. Here’s her answer:

Edwards’ problem is that poverty in today’s America, as in New Orleans, has not merely been the result of too low a minimum wage or other defects of bureaucratic liberalism. It is also a consequence of a lack of social and political power among certain groups of people, and the distortion effects that this historic lack of social capital or hope has on whole communities. Government programs can help reduce the negative consequences of the lack of power, and have a tremendous positive impact on how poor people are able to live.

But offered a choice between the promise of new programs and political candidates who might enhance their social standing and political power, many poor people are choosing the promise of social change. They understand intuitively that social equality and increased political power for the disenfranchised leads inexorably to greater economic equality and opportunities for all. Edwards’ promise of anti-poverty government action, in this calculus, holds less appeal than the transformative potential of electing the first African-American or first woman president in the nation’s history.

Edwards, it turns out, does not appeal to minority women or to low-income voters, as evidenced by the fact that his base is whiter and wealthier on the whole than Clinton’s or Obama’s supporters.

There’s a lot that’s right about what Garance says — the more disenfranchised members of our society do seem, if these early numbers are any indication, to prefer societal change to hole plugging. And I can’t say I disagree with that. Social change would be more gratifying and make more of a difference long term than programs to pacify and mollify and programs that aim to, say, alleviate the healthcare crisis without actually fixing it.

But I think Garance is missing an important piece. A large part of Edwards’s problem may be his approach, especially when compared to the other seemingly non-establishment candidates (funny that a Clinton would ever be described that way, but that’s for another day). But to note that cannot but precipitate this question: can a white male candidate ever be the candidate to help raise a minority group’s stature and/or power? Could Edwards have tapped into what Garance identifies as today’s winning rhetoric if had wanted to? Would an Edwards win (as unlikely as it seems) mean that Obama and Clinton lost or that the U.S. is not “ready” (whatever the hell that means” for a Black or woman president? To jump off of the comments by the “controversial blogger” whom Garance quotes, can a person who benefits from the establishment be the one to help dismantle it?

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