The Capital Times (Madison, WI)

Edwards best prepared to replace Bush

An editorial
February 14, 2004

The paramount issue of the 2004 presidential contest is the removal of George W. Bush. The president and his wrecking-crew Cabinet of neo-conservative militarists, war profiteers, free trade corporatists and religious zealots have collapsed our nation's credibility abroad, undermined our freedoms at home, run up dramatic deficits, and widened the gap between rich and poor to a point that is at once immoral and structurally dangerous. It is necessary for the safety and security of the United States, and the world, that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and their minions be replaced.

The first step in the process of replacing Bush involves the nomination of a Democratic candidate capable of defeating the president in November. Wisconsin voters will have an opportunity to influence that process on Tuesday, when they cast ballots in a primary election that could play a definitional role in the selection of the Democratic nominee. It is essential that Wisconsinites choose a candidate who is electable. But it is also important that Wisconsin voters - who have, so frequently, led the nation in the past - choose a candidate who can do more than simply beat Bush on Nov. 2.

To truly replace the Bush administration, America must elect a president who fully recognizes the damage that Bush and his allies have done, and who understands the steps that must be taken to repair the breach.
Among the five Democrats who are still competing for their party's presidential nomination, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is the candidate who offers the best combination of electability and vision. And it is that combination that makes him uniquely able not merely to replace Bush but to place America on a radically different, and better, course.

The most common complaint about politicians of both parties is that "they just don't get it." But Edwards does get it. In every speech, during the course of every debate, Edwards raises the issues of class and race that have so often been neglected in our country's discourse.

Of all the Democrats running this year, it is Edwards who stirs the greatest fear among Bush administration political operatives. That's because he bluntly says, "Today, under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one: One America that does the work, another that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America - middle-class America - whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America - narrow-interest America - whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president."

In contrast to Democratic front-runner John Kerry, Edwards has a record of opposing the corporate free trade agenda, which has cost America more than 2 million manufacturing jobs - 70,000 of them in Wisconsin - since Bush took office in 2001. In Wisconsin, Edwards has made trade issues central to his campaign. And his message has begun to resonate with voters in Janesville, Racine, La Crosse and other communities that have been devastated by the failed economic policies of an administration that cares more about Wall Street than Main Street.

To a far greater extent than any of the other candidates, Edwards has addressed the devastation of rural America by trade, tax and antitrust policies that favor corporate agribusiness over working farmers.
In the tradition of Robert M. La Follette and the Wisconsin progressives of old, Edwards has been a passionate critic of war profiteering by corporations such as Halliburton. Of all the candidates, Edwards has the most detailed plan for ending the distribution of contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq to politically connected firms. While he has not been as consistent a critic of the U.S. occupation of Iraq as Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-chairman Dennis Kucinich, Edwards supports turning over responsibility for the reconstruction of that country to the United Nations. And he is explicit about his commitment to renew and revitalize U.S. relations with international allies.

It is no secret that this newspaper has cheered on Kucinich and another candidate, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, as they have attacked the Bush administration's pre-emptive war-making, its assaults on domestic liberties and its warped economic policies. Kucinich and Dean deserve credit for pushing the debate in the right direction, and for teaching the other Democratic candidates - including Edwards - that it is not merely possible, but necessary to aggressively challenge the Republican president and his congressional allies. We respect the fact that many Wisconsinites will choose to reward those candidates for purer positions and rhetoric. But we do not believe that Kucinich, Dean or the Rev. Al Sharpton has positioned himself effectively to win the nomination or to replace Bush.

That leaves Wisconsinites with two realistic choices: Edwards and Kerry, both of whom have led Bush in recent polls. Kerry has a impressive resume as a war hero, a war protester, and a U.S. senator. He is the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination at this point, and he may well be unbeatable. But Edwards, the best natural campaigner in this year's race, has beaten the political odds before; in 1998, he won his Senate seat by defeating a Republican incumbent and the powerful political machine of former U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms.

This year, he has won a key primary, in South Carolina, and he has secured solid second-place finishes in a number of other states. A win in Wisconsin would give Edwards the momentum to compete with Kerry, and potentially to prevail. Even if Edwards does not ultimately win the nomination, his continued presence in the race will force Kerry to address the trade and economic issues that he has yet to treat as seriously as he must if he hopes to beat Bush in the fall.

There is no way that Democratic prospects in November will be harmed by giving Edwards a chance to continue talking about the "two Americas" and to force Kerry and other Democrats to hone their arguments against the Bush administration's economic policies. Indeed, Edwards is such a resolute foe of negative politics that he says, "If you're looking for the candidate who can do the best job at petty sniping against other Democrats, I'm not your guy."

But we do not endorse Edwards simply to keep a healthy Democratic debate going. We believe he is the most progressive candidate with a chance of securing his party's nomination this year. And we are certain that, if he wins Wisconsin and gains the momentum that is required to become the Democratic nominee, Edwards will give Bush a rougher race than any of the other contenders. Edwards likes to tell audiences that, if Democrats give him a chance to take on Bush, he will give them the White House. That's a big promise, but we would not support John Edwards if we did not think he could keep it. With his campaigning in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and, now, Wisconsin, Edwards has convinced us. He is ready to take on the president and, if he gets the chance, John Edwards will replace George W. Bush.

Copyright © 2004 .  Reprinted by permission.  (Phil Haslanger Feb. 20, 2004)

The Capital Times has a informal, loosely knit ed board; formal ed board meetings are very rare.  The endorsement discussion was conducted as kind of a "floating conversation" over a period of weeks, although the editors did eventually gather in a room to formally address the matter.  The group consists of Managing Editor Phil Haslanger, EditorDave Zweifel, Editorial Page Editor John Nichols, Editorial Writer Judy Ettenhofer, Features Editor Linda Brazill, Culture Editor Jacob Stockinger, and Copy Desk Chief Judie Kleinmaier.  Dave Zweifel and John Nichols are the main shapers of editorials.