SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE
At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, one of North Carolina’s famous sons, the 2004 vice presidential nominee was clearly absent, and with him, the issue for which he had become a national spokesman. In 2004, John Edwards cemented himself as a symbol for the fight against poverty. However, since then his personal failures have forced him and his favorite issue off the map.
There is no question that the John Edwards case is a personal tragedy because of the former presidential and vice presidential candidate’s moral depravity – having an affair and illegitimate child while his wife had cancer, and obtaining a lot of money to cover it all up. It is a tragedy for Elizabeth Edwards, for himself and for the Democratic Party. It also has stopped his once rocketing career dead; he was a top tier presidential candidate in 2008.
CNN’s Candy Crowley recently said the Democratic Convention emphasized “the middle class, the middle class, and the middle class.” We are all for the middle, but what about those underneath? We know what Tampa and the Republican Convention appealed to — the top. Only the Democrats have any hope of bringing the bottom up.
In 2004 and 2008, Edwards spoke eloquently about “two Americas” and about poverty. As we watched C-Span re-run his 2004 convention speech recently, at first we felt a grating unease because of his personal misbehavior. But then the power of the speech took over; it was riveting. As he spoke, the issue was front and center. Since then, all we have heard on the issue is…silence.
Poverty exploded over the last decade with one in six people living below the poverty line, while the top American tiers have gotten progressively richer — since 2010 alone, 93% of all new wealth in America has gone to the top 1%. Detroit has a shocking 44% of its residents below the poverty level and Michigan as a whole has 21% below poverty. Meanwhile, the policies of both parties, whether under pressure to get anything done or due to coziness with campaign contributors, has been to give more and more tax breaks to the richest Americans despite evidence that jobs and GDP growth have not trickled down from the tax cuts. “Trickle down” has not worked since Hoover tried it. For all the Republican hoopla about tax breaks for the “job creators,” the ongoing Bush tax cuts clearly aren’t creating jobs.
Even though Edwards betrayed his family, his party and America, the country’s impoverished citizens should hope the issue makes a comeback. The nation needs a top spokesman for poverty. We have our corporate advocates… hey, Mitt Romney says “corporations are people” and we should talk about income disparity “in back rooms.” Romney and new running mate Paul Ryan want to slash Medicare, repeal national health insurance, privatize Social Security, ask college kids to find their tuition by borrowing from their parents, and cut a fifth of food stamps. This all sounds like we’ll have people back on the streets fending from garbage pails and in bread lines — a return to the pre-New Deal Days
The last time we had a real effort against poverty in America was Lyndon Johnson’s War On Poverty. Since then, the rich tax cutters have had a different kind of war on poverty — one expanding the numbers by giving to the rich and to military contractors. Democrats should again lead an America we will be proud of, one with values for all. However, without a big-time spokesman for an issue, one who tirelessly, vocally and with lots of media, presses and re-presses the point, policy and legislation, nothing real will happen. If there is a dedicated high profile advocate on the Hill or in a major position, yes, we can make the change.
One potential spokesman for the impoverished is John Conyers (D-Mich), newly empowered with his 40+ point primary win over credible opponents. By his job creation bill, The Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act of 2012, he hopes to create millions of new public jobs and provide job training. Led by Congressional Black Caucus Dean and Judiciary Committee top Democrat Conyers, his sharp legislative assistant Joel Segal, and Jobs for All Coalition National Director Mike Hersh, the effort has already received support from the NAACP, National Organization of Women (NOW), the AFL-CIO and national student groups. The bill has over 50 congressional cosponsors.
John Edwards, you launched a cause but blew it. We need a new-found hero to come to the fore and take America back to our proud values. Who will it be, or are we destined for more policies of the rich, by the rich and for the rich?
Robert Weiner is a former senior Clinton White House spokesman and former aide to Congressmen John Conyers, Charles Rangel, Claude Pepper and Ed Koch and Senator Ted Kennedy. He is a national columnist and radio-television commentator who covers the White House and Congress and wrote the epilogue to Bankole Thompson’s book, “Obama and Christian Loyalty. John Horton is former policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates. Richard Mann is senior political assistant at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.