By voting for Edwards, you...
1. Reward and advance progressivism.
We can argue about candidates' voting records and try to gauge their instincts, but there's no question that Edwards has run the most progressive campaign. The proof is plentiful. He's embraced unions, the blogosphere, and the progressive movement as a whole. The stated and demonstrated rationale is to fight economic injustice; rhetorically and substantively, he's run the most populist presidential campaign in years. On every major issue--taxes, climate change, health care, foreign policy, trade, you name it--he's embraced policies more progressive than his rivals. He alone rejects nuclear power and the Global War on Terror frame. He alone opposes expanding the NAFTA model to South America. He alone has called on the Democratic Party to do what he's done his entire career: say no to K-Street cash. The better a progressive campaign does, the stronger progressivism becomes. To vote for Edwards is to increase the chance that progressivism becomes dominant in the party and the country.
2. Pull the race to the left.
There may not be a blogger, pundit, or publication that hasn't recognized the influence of Edwards. Paul Krugman, Ezra Klein, Dean Baker, Robert Bosorage, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Jonathan Tasini, Jonathan Singer, Matt Ygelsias, The Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Rolling Stone (among many others: they all point out the obvious: that Edwards has tugged the race to the left. And should he remain a factor in the race he'll continue to do so. To cite just on concrete example, the McCain-Lieberman global warming bill (better known as the great corporate giveaway of 2008) may come to the Senate floor during the race. With Edwards having announced his early opposition to it, Obama (who originally sponsored the bill) and Clinton will have little choice but to vote against it. Recently Edwards used his platform to make the homelessness of vets a topic of national discussion and this week he'll travel to New Orleans to give a speech about poverty. Remember New Orleans? Neither Obama nor Clinton have been talking about it much. I have a feeling they will be soon, though.
3. Preserve the possibility of (an unlikely) victory.
There are several elaborate scenarios by which Edwards could capture the nomination. Some involve the implosion of one or both of the other candidates. Others involve buyers' remorse combined with JRE's resiliency and the respect it engenders. Others involve a surprise victory in Oklahoma next week. Others involve potential Edwards strength in the March 4th states of Texas and Ohio. Others involve the prospect of a McCain nomination and a renewed focus on electability. Others involve a deadlocked convention at which Clinton or Obama agrees to back Edwards in return for the VP slot. Make no mistake, an Edwards victory is highly unlikely, but if you don't believe in long shots, why bother being a progressive?
4. Make Edwards kingmaker (or platform editor).
The more delegates he wins, the more power Edwards will have to shape the race and the party's identity. He could perhaps swing his support to the candidate more willing to embrace progressive policies or rewrite the party's platform to include stronger anti-poverty and pro-labor measures. Who knows? Maybe he'd even force the party to commit to refusing K-Street cash. One can dream.
5. Reject the self-fulfilling nominating system driven by polls, pundits, and money.
There's something disturbing, Orwellian and tautological, about the notion that Edwards can't win because pundits say he can't win. A relative few have voted. Until someone wins anyone can win. Do you want to uphold such an regressive system that effectively lets the media and the establishment choose our choices? Do you want to be another brick in the wall or part of the bulldozer the knocks the wall down? Over at Daily Kos, Bruce McF has been doing a great job making the philosophical and political case for supporting Edwards. Our current system of picking out leaders is self-fulfilling, but so is populism. Listen to Bruce:Populist movements don't build themselves, they grow from a process of people learning how to support a series of populist campaigns in a populist way, rather than as passive consumers of candidates produced and marketed to win the greatest market share in the electoral marketplace.
It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.
6. Sign on to a movement.
His message isn't going away, nor is his core of support. His support may evolve into an organization -- a more powerful version of PDA, which grew out of the Kucinich campaign. In any case, his online and real world supporters will continue to organize and agitate, to fight both corporate Republican and Democrats.
7. Increase the likelihood of a brokered convention, which would be good for Democrats.
Don't believe the lie that it's essential for the party to settle on a nominee early. Drama creates interest creates viewers created voters. If the convention were an actual event rather than a choreographed variety show, ratings would go through the roof. That can only be good for the party.
8. Piss off the establishment.
Pundits and the party power structure want Edwards to go away, not least because he's John Edwards. You have a great chance to piss them off; what else really do you need to know?
9. Do something good for your soul.10. Come Up with Your Own Reason (I ran out of time but didn't want to change the title)
If you take to his message of economic justice and enlightened populism, maybe you should say so with a vote. Maybe if you're inclined to support him you should vote for him precisely because you're inclined to do so. Maybe there's something healthy and soul-enriching about voting for the candidate you like the most. Maybe it's better -- cleaner -- to vote affirmatively rather than strategically.