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James Ridgeway on the 2008 Democratic Contenders

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With the Iowa Caucus less than a month away, James Ridgeway, co-author of The Contenders, discusses “the two John Edwardses,” Governor Bill Richardson’s “run” for the vice presidency and Sen. Chris Dodd’s ties to the banking industry. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: The Iowa and New Hampshire primaries are only a month away. But beyond the spin, the campaign spending, the YouTube spots, the paid advertisements, and the network presidential debates, what do the Democratic contenders really stand for?

Today, we take a close look at some of the candidates. We begin with John Edwards, the former North Carolina senator, vice presidential candidate in 2004. He claims he’s a populist candidate. His advertisements warn against replacing “a crowd of corporate Republicans with a crowd of corporate Democrats.”

    JOHN EDWARDS: This system is corrupt, and it’s rigged. And it’s rigged against you.

    NARRATOR: Finally, someone telling the truth.

    JOHN EDWARDS: And we can say, as long as we get Democrats in, everything is going to be OK. It’s a lie. It is not the truth. Do you really believe if we replace a crowd of corporate Republicans with a crowd of corporate Democrats, that anything meaningful is going to change? This has to stop. It’s that simple.

AMY GOODMAN: An advertisement from the John Edwards campaign.

Jim Ridgeway is the co-author of a new book from Seven Stories Press called The Contenders. It’s an alternative guide to the Democratic presidential hopefuls. Ridgeway examines what he calls “the two John Edwardses.” Jim Ridgeway is the D.C. bureau chief of Mother Jones, joining me here in Washington, D.C. Welcome, Jim, to Democracy Now!

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Hi. How are you?


JAMES RIDGEWAY: Just to correct something, before you go on. I’m not the D.C. chief of Mother Jones anymore. I’m just a correspondent.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about John Edwards. You write a chapter in The Contenders about “the two John Edwardses.” Explain.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, John Edwards is a little like Clinton. You know, I mean, he, on the one hand, comes out of the mold of the DLC, Democratic Leadership Council. And he’s very middle-of-the-road.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what the DLC is, Jim.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, that’s sort of the centrist body in the Democratic Party, from which Gore came, Clinton came, Lieberman comes. Kerry, I think, was a member of it. It’s sort of the center. And Edwards, while he was never officially a member of it, certainly was a card-carrying, you know, guy. His views, like in the last election, 2004, echoed the DLC’s lines, you know?

For example, when you come to, let’s say, medicine, so Edwards — Dennis Kucinich would say, you know, he’s for a national healthcare system. Edwards, I can remember, saying in New Hampshire, “Well, what we ought to have is clearer disclosure on the pill bottles,” you know? Things like that, rather moderate, you know, disclosure — I mean, nothing bad or anything like that, but it’s just not — doesn’t go very far.

AMY GOODMAN: This is John Edwards speaking at the AFL-CIO presidential forum this August. It was hosted by MSNBC.

    JOHN EDWARDS: I have a very simple view about this. My view is that we ought to treat the pensions and the retirement of the chairmen and CEOs of companies exactly the way we treat every other worker in the company. That’s what we ought to be doing. And we ought to have — and we ought to have universal healthcare in this country. We need it in the worst kind of way, so that when you’re bargaining, you’re not bargaining about healthcare costs.

    But I want to say one other thing. I intend to be the president of the United States who walks onto the White House lawn and explains to America how important unions and organized labor is to the future and the economic security of this country. It is fine to come up on this stage and give a nice talk. The question is, who’s been with you in the crunch? In the last few years, 200 times I have walked picket lines. I have helped organize thousands of workers with twenty-three national unions. I have worked with employers. Here’s what you need to ask yourself.


    JOHN EDWARDS: It’s great to give a talk.

    KEITH OLBERMANN: Senator, we’re out of time.

    JOHN EDWARDS: Let me finish this. It’s great to give a talk. It is great to give a talk, but who was with you in crunch time? Because if we were with you in crunch time, we will be with you when crunch time comes for you and all of organized labor. That’s the question you need to ask yourself.


    JOHN EDWARDS: Who will stand with you when it really matters?

AMY GOODMAN: John Edwards addressing the AFL-CIO, Democratic presidential contender. Jim Ridgeway, our guest, with Mother Jones, wrote a chapter in The Contenders about the two John Edwardses. Talk about his domestic policies and his stance on his putting poverty front and center in this debate.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, first of all, in relationship to that ad you just made, I mean, I think probably every candidate, every Democratic candidate, makes a speech like that. I mean, I’ve heard that over and over and over again, and I’ve heard the cheering of the labor unions. I can remember hearing it when Reagan ran, you know, and they all voted for Reagan. So I don’t know that you can attach any particular significance to that.

But in terms of poverty, Edwards, you know, comes on with what — I don’t know whether you would call it like a neopopulist line, but a kind of populist line, that he’s going to stand with the poor and he’s going to help them in one way or another, you know, with housing vouchers, with this medical care system that he’s suggesting, with controls over credit cards, controls over debt — I mean, things that do make a real difference. But, you know, a lot of this is, you know, kind of talk. I mean, it’s a question of how far it goes and what it means.

But John Edwards is the one person in the Democratic fold who actually does speak up for the poor. I mean, you have to think about this. I mean, there’s none of these candidates ever talk about the poor. All they talk about is the middle class. And that’s like the DLC. That’s all they talk about: tax breaks for this, tax breaks for that. You know, Edwards, to his credit, does not do that. So, you know, in my view, I mean, he’s sort of a good guy.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of foreign policy, John Edwards, as you point out, voted for the USA PATRIOT Act when he was a senator, voted not only for the Iraq war resolution, but was a co-sponsor of it, along with Lieberman. Talk further about Edwards and foreign policy.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, he was for the Iraq war, and he — again, this is sort of like a DLC line. But then — but, of course, now he’s changed his views. He even at one point — I guess a couple of years ago — was saying things about Iran, for example, saying the President shouldn’t take anything off the table, beginning to sound like Bush. But he did correct himself after a while and said that he didn’t think it was a good idea to go to war with Iran. And I think you can certainly believe that he wants to get out of Iraq.

But, you know, the whole question of Iraq is, how are any of these people going to get out of Iraq? I mean, they all say, “Oh, well, let’s stop the war, turn around, take the troops out.” Well, really, I mean, I don’t think that’s going to happen with any Democrat.

AMY GOODMAN: Edwards has been fierce in attacking Hillary Clinton on the issue of the war.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Yes, he has been. I mean, look, you’ve got like a three-way race at the top here — Obama, Clinton and Edwards — and Edwards is like the Kentucky Derby. He’s laying way back on the rail. He’s waiting for a moment he’s got to move. Well, the time is getting to the point where he’s got to move. He’s got to make a break. So what is his break going to be? What’s he going to do? He’s got to get propelled forward further than he is at this time to make, you know, a victory or a strong showing.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the second tier — that’s the name of your second chapter — candidates like New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. I want to play a clip of Bill Richardson discussing energy at CNN’s November 15th Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: The future is renewable. It’s not oil. It’s not coal. It’s not nuclear.

What you do with the waste is, you don’t put it in Yucca Mountain. All my life, as secretary of energy, as a congressman, I opposed the site for environmental reasons, water saturation.

I don’t think the answer also is in regional sites. There is a technological solution, a scientific solution. What I would do, I would turn Yucca Mountain into a national laboratory. We have the greatest brains, our national lab scientists. We need to find a way to safely dispose of nuclear waste. There is a technological solution, but while we do that, we shouldn’t be giving nuclear power industry all of these advantages in the Senate bills that are coming forth, or subsidies. Oil, coal and nuclear are getting most of the subsidies.

We need an energy revolution in this country to shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources by 50% by the year 2020. 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are mandated. We need to have 30% of our electricity renewable. And it’s going to be also the American people — I’m going to say this honestly — sacrificing a little bit when it comes to appliances, when it comes to being part of an energy efficiency revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Talk, Jim Ridgeway, about who Richardson is and why he’s running for president.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, I don’t know why he’s running for president, but he certainly is running for vice president, and he might make quite a good vice presidential candidate with Hillary Clinton, because he has the Latino vote, and he comes from the Southwest and, most importantly, he’s socked into the oil industry. I love this talk about green and so on. I mean, Bill Richardson has been on the board of directors of some of the — two or three of the largest and most important oil companies in the country. And, for example, he has strong backing from a power company in the Middle West which is involved in the gasification and liquefaction of coal, which is hardly — it’s an alternative technology, OK, but it’s hardly anything green. It’s like one of the most polluting, devastating and disgusting turns that you could make, in terms of energy. So, I mean, should you believe what Bill Richardson says? With a grain of salt.

AMY GOODMAN: Joseph Biden, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, who’s running for president.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Biden is really an extraordinarily gifted and experienced person. He’s been in Congress, I mean, way, way back, for a long time. He’s been head of the Judiciary Committee, Foreign Affairs. He’s extremely knowledgeable. I mean, he’s got a motor-mouth problem, but as a person and as a politician, he’s very sound, he’s very liberal. And I would say that Biden would make, you know, a good secretary of state, perhaps, or attorney general.

AMY GOODMAN: Is that why he’s running?

JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, you know, you can’t say things like that, but I would imagine something like that, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve just got thirty seconds. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut?

JAMES RIDGEWAY: He’s the banking industry’s man. He’ll be secretary of the Treasury. But he’s very liberal on a lot of issues, but he’s socked into the banking industry.

AMY GOODMAN: In Connecticut?

JAMES RIDGEWAY: In Connecticut, all over the country.

AMY GOODMAN: His father was a prosecutor at Nuremberg.

JAMES RIDGEWAY: That’s right. Dodd is very liberal in many, many respects, very good on Latin America and so on, but he is Wall Street’s man, no doubt about it, no questions.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you very much, Jim Ridgeway, for just a brief overview at some of the candidates. He has written several chapters in a new book called The Contenders.

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