Tuesday, May 08, 2007

John Edwards Speaks on Poverty and Critics

A Republican pundit who criticizes John Edwards for being rich is a ridiculous sight to behold given how much the Republican Party is the party of greed. To watch people in the media act as if a Republican talking point still has validity this late in the game after six years of corruption, incompetence and ideological indifference to the fate of millions of American is embarrassing to watch, particularly since so many of these mainstream media types are financially doing quite well and are themselves more interested in staying on top that acting in the public's interest.

There are plenty of exceptions in the media, of course; here and there are people who pay attention. Bob Herbert of The New York Times will surely be writing about the various presidential candidates but here's what he has to say on John Edwards:
The scene was immensely more appealing than the overly scripted televised "debates" that feature sleep-inducing nonanswers from an army of candidates browbeaten by moderators wielding stopwatches.

New Orleans has not been a hot topic at those upscale gatherings. Much of the city is still in ruins, still in "terrible shape," as Mr. Edwards noted. During a lengthy interview that followed his talk with the local residents, he told me that what had been allowed to happen to New Orleans was "an embarrassment for America" and that as president he would put the power of the federal government squarely behind its revival.

He said he would appoint a high-level official to take charge of the rebuilding, and he would have that person "report to me" every day. He said he would create 50,000 "steppingstone jobs," in parks, recreation facilities and a variety of community projects, for New Orleans residents who have been unable to find any other work. And he said, "We're also going to have to rebuild these levees."


It's true that promises from politicians come at us like weeds on steroids. But the nation would get a clearer picture of the character, integrity and leadership qualities of individual candidates if the press would focus more intently on matters of substance.

As a rule, we're much more interested in gaffes than in the details of a candidate's position on a complex issue. We're much more interested in sound bites than in sound policy.

That should change. We should give the candidates time to speak. And we should listen.

Much of the media isn't really interested in the future of America; they're interested in circuses and media events and ingratiating themselves with powerful people and are more than happy to help someone like Bush put on meaningless photo op stunts like finding another group of bozos intent on attacking America with delusional schemes that even a movie producer would be embarrassed to use except in a lame comedy. Americans have the right to expect more from a powerful media.

Here's more on Edwards from AP writer Mike Glover:
Presidential candidate John Edwards said Monday it's silly to suggest that his wealth and expensive tastes have hurt his credibility as an advocate for the poor.


"Would it have been better if I had done well and didn't care?" Edwards asked.

Edwards noted that some of the most acclaimed anti-poverty advocates came from privileged backgrounds, including Franklin Roosevelt and Bobby Kennedy.

"You could see and feel the empathy they had," said Edwards, speaking from his home in North Carolina during an interview on Iowa Public Radio.

Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, has made poverty a central issue of his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and recently released a book on the subject, "Ending Poverty in America." He also has formed a center for the study of poverty issues at the University of North Carolina.

Edwards could easily have mention John Kennedy whose Peace Corps was very much an anti-poverty program, though in the third world; the Peace Corps also led to a domestic anti-poverty program called Vista. Teddy Roosevelt's reforms led to bringing the robber barons under control and strengthening the middle class and giving more poor Americans a chance. Let me add that Franklin Roosevelt was particularly good at fighting poverty and one of the things that made him a good fighter was that he knew there were wealthy people who were responsible and generous but he also understood the dark side of his economic class and he understood their games and their dishonest rationalizations for their behavior ('it's just business, you know?').

In contrast, we currently have a president who genuinely doesn't care about the poor: witness his response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush's first response is always to help his wealthy friends. He might listen to someone who is poor for the sake of photo ops but when it comes time to do something, nothing happens. That is the nature of most politicians in the Republican Party these days and this is despite the fact that may rank and file Republicans believe poverty issues should be addressed.

Bob Herbert is right; we need a media less interested in recording the ins and out of political games and more interested in finding out what the issues are, what candidates have to say and how America might address these issues. The last thing we need is a free press sticking its head in the sand like Republican ostriches.

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