Mellencamp to Join Edwards in Iowa for Rally
12.31.2007 - Click here to
read The Nation article online
The news that singer John Mellencamp will cap the Iowa caucus campaign of John
Edwards had not provoked the media frenzy that accompanied Oprah Winfrey's Des Moines
tarmac tap on behalf of rival Democrat Barack Obama.
For this, Edwards should be thankful.
Obama has been stalled in the Iowa polls ever since Winfrey visited the state on
his behalf early in December. In contrast, national front-runner Hillary Clinton,
who fumbled repeatedly in November and early December, and Edwards, who had been
written out of the race by some pundits, have regained their positions.
Obama misread Iowa. He bet on style over substance in a state where activist Democrats
take seriously the definitional role their play in the nominating process. The senator
from Illinois, who had so much momentum at the beginning of December, calculated
that the Hawkeye state might be locked up by a recommendation from a multi-media
persona whose entry into presidential politics came off a little like the launch
of a new "project."
That does not mean that Obama should be counted out in Iowa. He has spent more money
than the other candidates on slick TV ads, he has hired some of the best caucus
strategists and his campaign is tossing every charge and claim it can muster into
a drive to blunt the momentum that has belonged to Edwards since he dominated the
last pre-caucus debate between the Democratic contenders.
But, despite his many advantages, the Illinoisan could well finish behind Edwards.
That's because the 2004 Democratic nominee for vice president has waged a dramatically
different campaign than Obama's feel-good effort. Where Obama has run the softest
sort of campaign, Edwards is mounting a edgy, muscular effort that owes more to
the memory of Paul Wellstone or the sensibilities of Ralph Nader than to the smooth
triangulations of Bill Clinton or the not-so-smooth compromises of John Kerry.
Edwards has fought his way back into contention with aggressively populist positions,
anti-corporate rhetoric and a campaign that eschews glitz for grit. Necessarily,
the former senator from North Carolina opts for a different sort of celebrity than
the other contenders.
So it is that Mellencamp will come to Iowa Wednesday to close the Edwards campaign
off with a "This Is Our Country" rally at the not-exactly-Hollywood Val Air Ballroom
in West Des Moines. (In case anyone is missing the point here, they will be distributing
the tickets from the United Steelworkers Local 310 hall.)
Where Winfrey brought a big name but little in the way of a track record on the
issues that are fundamental to the rural and small-town Iowans who will play a disproportional
role in Thursday's caucuses, Mellencamp is more than just another celebrity taking
a lap around the policy arena.
For a quarter century, the singer has been in the thick of the fight on behalf of
the rural families he immortalized in the video for "Rain on the Scarecrow," his
epic song about the farm crisis that buffeted Iowa and neighboring states in the
1980s and never really ended.
Mellencamp has not merely sung about withering small towns and farm foreclosures.
As a organizer of Farm Aid, he has brought some of the biggest stars in the world
to benefit concerts in Iowa and surrounding states, and he has helped to distribute
the money raised at those events to organizations across Iowa.
Farm Aid is nonpartisan. It's not endorsing in this race. But Mellencamp is. The
singer, who this year will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but whose
music remains vital enough to have earned a 2008 Grammy nomination for Best Rock
Vocal Performance, was lobbied for support by other campaigns, especially Clinton's.
But he has a long relationship with Edwards. He has an even longer relationship
with the issues that Edwards is talking about. Indeed, his credibility is grounded
in the recognition that Mellencamp has repeatedly taken career-risking anti-war,
anti-racist and anti-poverty stances that other celebrities of his stature tend
What matters, of course, is the fact of that credibility -- and the fact that it
is so closely tied to the farm and rural issues that have meaning even in the more
urbanized regions of Iowa. That is why, if there is an endorsement that is going
to have meaning with the people who drive down country roads to attend caucuses
on what looks to be a very cold and unforgiving Thursday night, it is likely to
be that of the guy who proudly sings that, "I was born in a small town..."
here for the Iowa Politics Website/Press Release with event details.
Click here to visit John Edwards' page for the event, including how to request tickets.