Rural Routes/Margot Ford McMillen

Fearless Didn’t Win Delegates

The morning after Bush’s State of the Union speech — his FINAL State of the Union speech — was Jan. 30. We got up feeling hopeful — not because Bush had said anything to make us so — even though his smirks and mugging at the camera had been interesting. We asked each other if his inappropriate grinning was a sign of relief at finally getting out of office, or was it involuntary? Like, look at me, they’re applauding.

How about this statement? “I ask the Congress to support an innovative proposal to provide food assistance by purchasing crops directly from farmers in the developing world so we can build up local agriculture and help break the cycle of famine,” followed by a naughty sneer. Yeah, boss, we know you’re trendy.

And the faces of Cheney and Pelosi behind him should have been edited out. She, you would think, is smart enough to ask to sit somewhere else. But, no, she tried to figure out how to look interested.

And take Cheney. Please. About five minutes into the performance, my husband taped a sheet of paper across the left upper section of the TV, unable to abide another moment of the Veep’s stony scowl.

But the next day, we were among a group of farmers meeting John Edwards in Jefferson City and, since he had been one of our favorites from the beginning we felt change in the air. It had already been a big week in Missouri, progressive politics-wise. Just a few days earlier Matt Blunt, the Republican boy governor, had announced that he wouldn’t seek a second term.

Blunt’s news surprised even his own staff, who had been strategizing on the re-election campaign just days earlier. Generally, such a sudden announcement would hint of scandal but no scandal had emerged. Instead, we were gently amused by the governor’s last speech: “With the knowledge that we have achieved virtually everything I set out to accomplish, and more, I will not seek a second term in the upcoming election,” Blunt said. Nothing left to do, then.

Among his accomplishments was cutting thousands of kids from Medicaid and changing the rules to make the state’s college loan program increasingly anti-student. At any rate, the news of Blunt’s non-run sent the Republican governor wannabes scrambling, checking their war chests, to see if they were rich enough to be the next prick, uh, pick.

In this state, Republicans in disarray makes normal people giddy. And now we were going to meet Edwards, to promise him that we’d call our friends and neighbors and get out the vote.

Arriving at the venue a full two hours early, I found most of my friends had beat me there. Rhonda and Tim were directing the sign making. Julie was squiring the media around. Diana had washed her car in preparation for driving some of the entourage, maybe even Edwards himself, from the Jeff City airport. We were all grins.

And our favorite Missouri pols did the warm up and introduction. Senator Wes talked up the Edwards plan for farmers. House Minority Whip Connie Johnson apologized for lisping, and explained that she had just gotten braces. She said the Edwards’ health plan would help single moms like her mom to afford braces for their kids in their teens.

Joe Maxwell, now a private citizen raising hogs independently to prove it can still be done, introduced Edwards and Edwards thanked him. And then, Edwards gave a terrific speech and as I listened, the word “fearless” kept jumping into my mind. Health care. Enforcing anti-trust laws that are driving farmers out of business. Making it easier to join a union. An education plan to reward teachers in underserved inner city and rural schools.

“Fearless,” I thought, again and again.

At one point, Edwards gestured to the signs my friends carried. “Support family farms” and “No more CAFOs”. He said those signs were right, and that he’d back a moratorium against CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations, those polluting and disease-ridden facilities that are stealing our water and ruining our health.

“Fearless,” I thought, and then, “he has nothing to lose.” Because even though in that room it felt like he could take the state, it was true that he didn’t have the money, didn’t have the early wins, didn’t have the Kennedys. And the little snips between Barack and Hillary took all the inches and minutes the corporate media were going to provide for the Ds.

Then Edwards said he’d be in New Orleans the next day, and that the plight of New Orleans symbolized everything that was wrong with the current government system. And, while he was in New Orleans, as you know, he dropped out of the race.

But, hey, you guys, for a few minutes there it all seemed possible. The change thing. The fairness thing. It seemed like Edwards, with us behind him, could deliver it.

Now, we console each other by saying that he got the issues out there. He spoke honestly and he offered possibilities.

Now all we can do is hope that the others, those newly anointed candidates, can carry forward some of Edwards’ ideas.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2008

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