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2008-01-31

Edwards’s Campaign Manager Bonior Explains Sudden Departure from Presidential Race

Guests

David Bonior, National campaign manager for John Edwards. He represented Michigan in Congress from 1976 to 2002.

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John Edwards has dropped out of the presidential race after running what has been called the most progressive Democratic campaign since Jesse Jackson’s run in the 1980s. We speak to Edwards’s national campaign manager, former Michigan Rep. David Bonior. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The presidential field narrowed by two on Wednesday, when Republican Rudolph Giuliani and Democrat John Edwards dropped out of the race, a day after they both placed third in the Florida primaries. Giuliani made his announcement in California just hours before the Republican debate. The former New York mayor threw his support behind Senator John McCain. Meanwhile, John Edwards made his farewell address in New Orleans, where he launched his campaign thirteen months ago. Edwards did not endorse any of the Democratic candidates.

    JOHN EDWARDS: Now, I’ve spoken to both Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. They have both pledged to me and, more importantly, through me to America that they will make ending poverty central to their campaign for the presidency. And more importantly, they have pledged to me that as president of the United States they will make ending poverty and economic inequality central to their presidency. This is the cause of my life. And I now have their commitment to engage in this cause.

    But I want to say this. I want to say this, because it’s important. With all of the injustice that we’ve seen, I can say this: America’s hour of transformation is upon us. It may be hard to believe when we have bullets flying in Baghdad. It may be hard to believe when it costs $58 to fill your car up with gas. It may be hard to believe when your school doesn’t have the right books for your kids. It’s hard to speak out for change when you feel like your voice is not being heard. But I do hear it. We hear it. This Democratic Party hears you. We hear you once again. And we will lift you up with our dream of what’s possible: one America — one America that works for everybody.

AMY GOODMAN: John Edwards, speaking in New Orleans Wednesday. We’re now joined on the phone by David Bonior. He served as the national campaign manager for John Edwards. Bonior is a former U.S. congressman who represented the 12th District in Michigan from 1976 to 2002.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

, Congressman Bonior.

DAVID BONIOR: Good morning. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. What made John Edwards decide to drop out yesterday?

DAVID BONIOR: Well, I think he looked at what was out there in terms of the path to the nomination, and he didn’t see the path leading to John Edwards. And he wanted to make sure that he got an assurance, as you just heard from the clip that you played, from the other candidates that they would continue to raise and highlight these issues that were of most concern to him and concern to people whose voices had not been heard and whose voice that he was — the voice of those that he was amplifying during the campaign on the issues of poverty, universal healthcare, and economic, racial, social justice equality.

AMY GOODMAN: Was it South Carolina that did it, his home state, where he was born — won it 2004 with something like 45 percent of the vote, but then coming in third now?

DAVID BONIOR: Well, South Carolina obviously was not helpful in terms of where we ended up. As you pointed out, we won it four years ago. We were running against two historic candidates, people that were representing African American community and the — well, women’s vote in this country that were just historic in their breadth and scope, and had huge resources, $100 million each. And I think all of that combined drowned out, to a large extent, a lot of the message that John was trying to get across.

There were a number of reports that you may have seen from nonprofit organizations and other media organizations that look at the media in terms of its balance, fairness and those kinds of things, and they show quite clearly that Obama and Clinton were getting six, seven times more press and coverage than John Edwards’s message was getting.

John Edwards also had a message that took on some of the corporations in this country, particularly the oil industry, the health insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry, and others. And he was a threat to a lot of corporate America. So both of that, I think, helped keep his message to a level which unfortunately didn’t reach enough people.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the union support? David Bonior, you’re known as, to say the least, a pro-labor congressman when you were there, a labor activist. It looked like early on John Edwards was going to get a lot of union support. And then, in Nevada the Culinary Workers turned around and they endorsed Obama. What happened there? The Culinary Workers, part of UNITE HERE.

DAVID BONIOR: Well, it’s rather complicated, but I think you kind of set the table here by saying UNITE HERE. UNITE HERE is a union that was formed and put together several years ago. Parts of it were UNITE, which is the textile — which were primarily for the textile end of the labor movement, and then HERE, hotel and restaurant employees, were just what the name describes. And they came together and they formed — they merged, formed a very powerful union. And the textile folks were very supportive of John in 2004. And HERE folks said basically that they love John.

John was much involved in their campaign for — Hotel Rising campaign, in which they were trying to get decent wages for housekeepers, people who worked in hotels across the country. John Edwards traveled with Danny Glover across the country trying to highlight this issue. He has been very active in 250 separate union-organizing drives around the country, walking the picket lines, hunger strikes — you name it. He was down at the University of Miami. He was all over the country doing efforts to help workers organize, one of the great untold stories of this campaign that we tried to get out, but, you know, a lot of the corporate folks weren’t interested in listening to it, and the media folks.

But to get your point and your question, the answer was that the HERE, the Culinary Workers who belong to UNITE HERE, decided they were going to wait until after Iowa to see what happened. And when Obama won Iowa, that’s when they decided to endorse. I think they would have endorsed John if we would have won Iowa. But we beat Hillary Clinton, but we didn’t beat Barack Obama, and that’s when they decided to go with Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at the New York Times coverage of your candidate, of John Edwards dropping out, and they say, “He pitched himself as a populist, but it was hard to overcome what became known as the three H’s: his haircuts ($400), his house (28,000 square feet in Chapel Hill, N.C.) and the hedge fund where he worked after his 2004 loss (which invested in companies that foreclosed on mortgages of Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans, the city Mr. Edwards was trying to make the emblem of his antipoverty work).” Your comment, David Bonior?

DAVID BONIOR: Well, in terms of the hedge fund and the New Orleans piece, let me just say that there’s nobody that’s fought harder for working people and for people in poverty than John Edwards. And yes, he worked for this company, and, you know, hedge funds do good things; they don’t necessarily do bad things all the time. And they’ve been very helpful in many respects in this country. And he divested himself of all of his holdings and the predatory lending piece that people pointed to. In fact, not only did he do that, divest himself of those stocks, he actually set up in New Orleans a fund with some folks, put his own money in, to help people whose homes — who were taken from their homes. So he went even beyond just the divesting of his stock portfolio.

AMY GOODMAN: So where do you go from here? Where does the staff? You have people like Chris Chafe, who came out of UNITE HERE, a top figure within John Edwards’s campaign. UNITE HERE, of course, endorsing Obama. And yet, John Edwards did not endorse a presidential candidate yesterday.

DAVID BONIOR: Well, I think John is concerned primarily about the issues that he’s fought for, and he wants to listen and hear and see how the two remaining candidates stand up and fight for those issues. And we’ll see what they do and how prominent they, for instance, tonight, focus in on the issues that he cares about. And so, I don’t know what his future is with respect to endorsements, but my sense is that probably it’s not going to happen — if it does happen, it won’t happen right away, and if it happens at all. And so, we’re listening, and we’re waiting. We’ll be continuing to pressure our two candidates in the party to speak out forcefully, with passion, and — on these issues to make them essential parts of their campaigns. And we’ll see what happens from here.

Now, we’ve got a lot of people, wonderful people that worked on this campaign. As you know, in these campaigns, you have a lot of young people. And we had hundreds of them from around the country on paid staff, and then, you know, thousands more that volunteered. And, you know, we’re in a situation right now that we’re trying to do the transition for all of them, making sure that they land on their feet and help them with job searches and school searches and those kinds of things. So these things just don’t end — I mean, I guess they end for the media the day after and a lot of folks, but, you know, these are people’s lives that have to go on. And our responsibility at the leadership now is to try to make that happen for them, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.

AMY GOODMAN: David Bonior, I wanted to ask you to stay on the line for a minute. Here, you have John Edwards dropping out, and on the same day, longtime consumer advocate and two-time presidential candidate Ralph Nader launched a presidential exploratory committee to decide whether to run as an independent. Ralph Nader ran on the Green ticket in ’96 and 2000, as an independent in 2004, which would make him three-time presidential candidate. On his website, Ralph Nader is urging supporters to “discipline the corporate crooks and lobbyists and their corporate candidates." He joins us now in Washington, D.C. in studio.

Ralph Nader, what are your plans?

RALPH NADER: Well, I’ve launched the exploratory committee with a website, naderexplore08.org, for those who want to get more details, in order to test the waters in three areas. One is to see if we have an adequate number of volunteers to run a robust fifty-state campaign that would include a network of pro bono lawyers to deal with the obstruction to ballot access that the Democrats engaged in in ’04, filing twenty-three lawsuits against us in just twelve weeks in that year, most of which we won. And second, to get adequate resources, contributions, donations — obviously, we’re not taking any money from corporate sources or political action committees. And that’s possible on the website naderexplore08.org. And finally, to get a talented, committed staff that connects with people’s daily lives and that can help organize one thousand people in each congressional district, not just for ’08, but also for ’09 and later. Congress really is the pivot institution that is most susceptible to change by popular forces, and, of course, it’s the most powerful branch of our government, if they care to use that power, like the impeachment power or the war declaration power under our Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you, Ralph Nader, you announced this exploratory committee the day that John Edwards dropped out. You had said that Nader — you had said that “Edwards now has the most progressive message across a broad spectrum of any leading candidate I’ve seen in years,” while he was running. Are you coming in because he just left and you saw this progressive stance dropping out of the race?

RALPH NADER: Well, I didn’t expect John Edwards to drop out so quickly, because he said for weeks that he was going to go all the way to the convention, and there were reports that he was going to have enough delegates to perhaps broker the convention between, say, Obama and Clinton. So that was rather disappointing. But the signs were clear that he was coming in third.

And I think it’s very important to note that there’s a difference between a populist platform and a record of commitment over the years. And I think my forty years indicate that I can be relied on to really pursue the shift of power that’s necessary from the few to the many in the area of our political economy, in the area of our constitutional principles and in the area of domestic and foreign policy. I don’t think that necessarily was the case with Senator Edwards when he was a senator. So he did provide a very good service in focusing on poverty, which was a no-no word for years by the Democratic Party, including President Clinton. He would always refer to the middle class as if he didn’t have fifty million men, women and children in dire poverty in the country’s — in the world’s richest country.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to —-

RALPH NADER: So I think there’s never enough forces of justice, Amy. There’s never enough forces of justice to combat the concentration of power in the hands of the few used against the many in our country, representing giant corporations who basically have turned Washington into corporate-occupied territory.

AMY GOODMAN: David Bonior, your response to the possible run of Ralph Nader for president of the United States?

DAVID BONIOR: Well, I’ve always been an admirer of Ralph Nader and his record, his long record, as he has just indicated, over forty-something years, and his work as a public citizen has just been one of the more outstanding efforts in this country on behalf of working folks and social and economic justice. So, you know, I really admire his work and his voice. And we need voices like Ralph Nader’s in this country speaking up on these issues.

I would say, however, though, that one of the things I think it’s important to look to in people is how they mature, how they grow. And one of the things that drew me to John Edwards was the fact that his maturation as an activist, as a person of commitment in social and economic justice, was quite an amazing thing to see, especially in the last, I’d say, five or six years. There were some votes that he cast in his early years in the Senate that I was not comfortable with. The war vote, for instance, was one of them. I helped lead the effort against the war in the House when he was voting for it with virtually everyone else in the Senate. But I watched him grow on that issue, as well as all the other socioeconomic issues that we’ve touched on here and raised his voice and not be afraid to raise his voice. And, you know, that speech he gave at Riverside Church relatively recently in which he quoted Dr. King by saying that silence is a betrayal, a takeoff on King’s remarks forty -— when King spoke there on his opposition to the war in Vietnam. It’s pretty indicative, I think, of where John Edwards has come from over the course of the years, and I think that we need to recognize people who make that journey. It’s rare when people do it at that stage in their lives, so when they do it and they speak out and it’s meaningful and they show it through their actions over a period of years, I think we need to embrace them. And so, Ralph has a long record — there’s no doubt about that —- the longest probably of any progressive in this country, but there are others we need to bring along, and young people, of course, are one in which he’s after, obviously, with his website and his entrée to the race. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think, David Bonior, of Ralph Nader running for president? What do you think it would mean for the presidential race in this country?

DAVID BONIOR: I think it’s always important to have voices that express progressive views and populist views. I mean, I’m glad Ron Paul — I mean, I don’t agree with Ron Paul on very many things. In fact, you know, it’s wherever the ’tween shall meet. When we were in the House together, we used to actually vote on things together, because we came from a different perspective.

AMY GOODMAN: So would you encourage Ralph Nader to run?

DAVID BONIOR: I’m sorry, I can’t hear you.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you encourage Ralph Nader to run?

DAVID BONIOR: That’s Ralph’s decision. And I’ll — we’ll watch and see how this develops, and we’ll watch and see how the other candidates respond in the Democratic race.

AMY GOODMAN: David Bonior, I want to thank you for being with us, national campaign manager for John Edwards. John Edwards dropped out of the presidential race yesterday, where he started, in New Orleans. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, the War and Peace Report. When we come back, we’ll stay with Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, three-time presidential candidate. Will he run again? He’s started an exploratory committee.

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