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June 22, 2006

Can This Man Solve Poverty?

He's good. Better, in fact, than you remember. I just got back from a National Press Club luncheon where former VP candidate John Edwards gave the first substantive policy address of his yet-unannounced 2008 candidacy. News that Edwards can command a crowd's attention is scarcely news at all, so I'll not dwell on that. Nor will anyone be particularly shocked -- though some will be enthused, and others inspired -- to hear that Edwards wishes to make the elimination of poverty a national crusade. Here's what is new:

• Poverty is going to be Edwards' foreign policy. That's not to say he'll lack a variety of proposals and opinions on our dealings with other countries. He's called for the immediate withdrawal of 40,000 troops from iraq and just coauthored a book on Russia with Jack Kemp. But his vision, his megacritique of our foreign policy direction, will be about poverty. Edwards' big idea seems, at least from this speech, to be downright Beinartian -- America can only restore its moral authority around the world by showing some here at home. As other countries intently watch our nation, their willingness to accept our leadership depends mightily on their estimation of our righteousness. "How we work to improve our country and lift our people up," he said, "is critical to restoring American leadership in the world." Put another way, if we're stronger at home, we'll be more respected abroad.

• It will also be his domestic policy. But for Edwards, poverty isn't about the poor, it's about the rich. "Ending poverty is not something we do for others, but something we do for all of us. It says something about us." Poverty, in his hands, is about us, not them. Its perpetuation isn't the fault of the unemployed minority, but the shame of the blessed majority. He's attempting to transform the issue, rendering it a referendum on the moral character and compassion of the country.

• He's also moved to specifics. In q&a, he said his poverty plan would cost about $20 billion. That obviously ignores the health care plan, which he's not yet released the details of but has promised will guarantee comprehensive coverage to all -- "no wiggle-words" or excuses. As for poverty, here are the major proposals:

1) Reform the poverty measure, which is a 1950's era anachronism based on food costs. Get an accurate metric which delivers an accurate count. Early estimations show that we'll have about a million more folks in poverty using such a standard.

2) Create a million "stepping-stone" jobs over five years. These positions would be open to individuals who have searched for a private sector job for six months and found nothing. They would pay minimum wage and last up to a year. These would be public works or non-profit positions.

3) Raise the minimum wage to at least $7.50, triple the Earned Income tax Credit for workers without children and end the marriage penalty hidden in the way it treats low-income couples.

4) Strengthen labor laws, pass the "Employee Free Choice Act."

5) Radically reform the department of Housing and Urban Development and create a million new housing vouchers to economically integrate neighborhoods. Create tax credits and asset-building programs to aid first-time homeowners. Crack down on predatory lending and open easier avenues for home loans.

6) Promote savings through "work bonds,' a new income subsidy that would match wages up to $500 annually and deposit the cash directly into a bank account.

There's also some miscellaneous promises to expand access to college, incentivize marriage, help rural communities, etc. This is a meaty speech, though, not the type of address you deliver if you're not hungrily eyeing an office with the power to implement it. There's been no announcement, but based on what I saw today, and the series of speeches promised for the next year or so, I'd say Edwards is almost definitely running.

Crossposted at Tapped

June 22, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

I'd probably push for the universal healthcare harder than the poverty ticket, but Edwards is being bolder....gotta admire that.

Posted by: Steve Mudge | Jun 22, 2006 4:20:06 PM

Repealing the bankruptcy "reform" act, putting a cap on credit card interest rates, restoring the estate tax...these would be good ideas, too. Haven't heard any high profile Democrats emphasize any of this.

Posted by: Bulworth | Jun 22, 2006 4:28:23 PM

The way to win the war on Terror is to minimize poverty, everywhere. At least we can start in the US.

Any chance of Gore/Edwards?

Posted by: Sky-Ho | Jun 22, 2006 4:54:37 PM

I said it at Tapped, I'll say it here. If Edwards proves that he will come out swinging against not only his opponents, but against whatever "swiftboat"-type attacks come his way, then I will support him.

I love his ideas, his vision. However - and this applies to any Dem candidate - he needs to show that he will fight for this, that he will "go negative"*, that he will verbally thrash anyone who tries to besmirch his character.

I would support him even if he is from the south!

*Going negative does not have to mean claiming that one's opponent fathered a black child with a gay illegal immigrant.

Posted by: Stephen | Jun 22, 2006 5:12:29 PM

Edwards has a bold plan on poverty, but it won't displace the thrust of the election focus on international affairs, war and peace, and national security.

Conceptually he is right that we should get our house in order here at home - but that problem is far, far broader than just poverty - and includes reestablishment of the balance of powers within the federal government, restoring our civil liberties and privacy, and finding means to halt the sale of legislation to the highest bidders.

But the political reality is that domestic affairs won't be the major focus in 2008 elections. It is counter-reality to think that it will be.

Edwards is reinforcing the thought that he is avoiding foreign affairs but trying to supplant it.

I could get very excited about a Wes Clark/John Edwards ticket with both men having creds in different areas: Clark on national security, Edwards on domestic affairs. But that ticket won't happen because Edwards is clearly shooting for a Presidential nomination. -

Edward's program will be a target of the other Dem. contenders because it avoids the essential truth that foreign stuff HAS to be the nation's focus in the wake of the disastrous policies of BushCo in Iraq, Iran, N. Korea, the mideast generally, among our traditional allies, and between major trading players (China, Taiwan, India, and South America).

I'm glad Edwards is raising the domestic issues in importance by focusing on poverty - a better foreign/domestic balance is needed - but I doubt it can win him the nomination, and I'm sure it can't win an election as President.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 22, 2006 5:18:58 PM

Typical Dem thing to do, Jim: dance to someone else's tune. The Rethuglicans have been scaring the crap out of everyone with the "War on Terror" in order to essentially bully everyone into going along with their agenda. Edwards' plan refuses to allow this to continue. If he sells it (admittedly a BIG "if"), we'll all be envisioning how much better things will be at home and abroad that we won't have time to buy into the "they all hate us, so be really scared and vote for us and we'll kill them all" scheme that passes for the Republican foreign policy.

Seems to me that Edwards is proposing bold ACTION as opposed to what we've been seeing from the Dems to date: REACTION to the Republican noise machine.

You're right on one thing, though: such a scheme won't win a presidential election as long as we continue to let the Republicans define the territory of the debate. The Republican lock on fear is way too strong, IMHO, to fight it head on. You have to change the subject, because, just like the "War on Terror," the war on the Republican agenda, on its own terms, is unwinnable.

It's not "cutting and running," its called outflanking.

Posted by: Brian | Jun 22, 2006 5:40:09 PM

Fighting poverty is good and noble and important, and I'm genuinely glad to see Edwards offering up actual policies for doing so here, but in terms of restoring America's moral authority abroad it's really not very relevant. Hostility towards the US in foreign countries isn't a reaction against our domestic policy, it's a reaction against our foreign policy. To put it another way, the mideast doesn't hate us because people in our country are poor. It hates us because we tend to blow up, torture, and generally oppress people in the mideast (and support the regimes of those who blow up, torture, and generally oppress people in the mideast). It's hard to see how work bonds will really fix this.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Jun 22, 2006 5:42:27 PM

That's all well and good, but Michael Moore is fat, and there's a blond still missing somewhere in Aruba.

Any approach to the war on poverty will get swallowed up by the news cycle. What meat remains on the carcass will be picked over by the cable news pundits.

Matt Drudge will pick the partially digested strands out of the newsers dung.

Posted by: Jimmm | Jun 22, 2006 5:49:14 PM

Typical Dem thing to do, Jim: dance to someone else's tune.

There's only so much one party can do to push debate in one direction when outside events are pulling it in another. By all appearances, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will still be going strong during the 2008 campaign; do we expect the Democratic candidate to be able to simply ignore questions about Iraq, Iran, al Qaeda, etc. on the basis that he might not have a perfectly comfortable stance on the issue? The "bold action" that Edwards, Clinton, et al need to take is on this issue. If you want to be elected to the position of commander-in-chief of the armed forces, you'd better have some plan for what to do with them once you get the job.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Jun 22, 2006 5:52:41 PM

When I first read that sentence, "Poverty is going to be Edwards' foreign policy.", for a second I had high hopes that it was meant literally. From what followed, not so much, but maybe there's still room for that kind of focus.

Because that is a completely legitimate and practical foreign policy guiding principle, that not only works to repair the damage that Bush has done, but twists the whole question right out of the framework that Republicans have been beating Democrats over the head with for years. I think Yglesias had a post about this, in a way, over on Tapped recently. Take a look at the cost of the Iraq War. Over a TRILLION dollars. Then look at what you could accomplish for a fraction of that amount in direct foreign aid. Immunizations. Technology transfer. Refugee assistance. Energy and transportation development.

You can take that same moral leadership that Edwards talks about practicing here at "home" - our local home, the USA - and extend it to the leadership required of the industrialized nations generally, towards the incredible number of people living in horrible, grinding poverty around the world. No of course you can't FIX it in a year or four years or even ten. But you can do very real things that have very real, concrete, immediate effects. Not World Bank projects to build dams or any of the other things that have meant, largely, money into the pockets of ruling elites (here and there). Run it through the UN if that works, or through ad-hoc coalitions, or NGOs - any mechanism that provides sufficient transparency, limited and specific objectives, and accountability.

The other, and I think related, part would be an environmental focus. We need an international rapid response force for climate emergencies - we've already seen this, and it's only going to get worse. Sure, there'll be problems with rogue nations like the US refusing outside assistance. But most countries that are in the paths of what's coming aren't big enough to be so foolish.

If you do the domestic work first, and show some success with it, so that people feel like needs here are being met, you could get support for this kind of outward-focused policy. The long-term benefits would be huge. I know it seems unlikely - can barely believe I'm thinking it's possible. But if we could just break that barrier of thought, it could really happen. It's nice to think about, at least...

Posted by: tatere | Jun 22, 2006 6:15:50 PM

Brian: I'm a fighter, not a dancer. Iron Lungfish's comment is directly on spot.

But you can't fight if you say nothing, or attempt to change the conversation. It won't fly to the media or to the public. It doesn't fly with me (or most of the progressive Dems).

Those Dems who sorta, kinda, sometimes, disagree with the thrust of the BushCo foreign policy are not fighters, and they cannot win against a party that thrives on lies, smears, hyper-nationalist appeals, and hidden agendas.

I hold these truths to be self-evident enough that I want some candidate to say them:

- You can't impose democracy on a culturally different society by military means.

- We were justified in attacking Afghanistan because they not only harbored terrorists, the terrorists and the Taliban government were indestinguishable.

- We were not justified in attacking Iraq, either to remove WMDs that had not been proved to have existed, or for their human rights abuses, or to establish democracy.

- War specifically, and Foreign Affairs in general, should never be pursued to gain domestic political advantage. Those who violate this spirit should be punished politically.

- International cooperation and alliances should be the basis of our foreign policy. Diplomacy and soft power (leading by example, economic fairness, etc) should be our normal and abnormal tools. We should return to the constitutional standard that only the Congress can make war (except to respond tactically to direct attack).

- We should explicitely disclaim imperial ambitions, and dramatically reduce our military presence in many areas of the world - replacing them if necessary with multi-lateral forces - but concentrating on diplomacy and international cooperative efforts.

- Oil, or any other economic issue should never be a justification for unilateral or pre-emptive war or the basis of our foreign policy.

- There is no War on Terror. There should be real, sustained, and substantial multilateral efforts to target and bring to account groups who use terrorism as a political, economic or social-control tactic.

- The US President's powers as Commander in Chief do not include evading US laws, ignoring the Constitution or the separation of powers, or hiding acts and policy from the Congress or the people. Lies should be countered by impeachment if needed.

(I'll refrain from more points, as the above indicate the direction of my thoughts)

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 22, 2006 6:37:45 PM

Going negative does not have to mean claiming that one's opponent fathered a black child with a gay illegal immigrant.

Irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to speculate.

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | Jun 22, 2006 7:31:03 PM

"He's also moved to specifics. In q&a, he said his poverty plan would cost about $20 billion."

Too small to be inspirational nationwide. $20 billion is pocket-change, bubblegum money in this economy with our budget.I am not a fan of Clinton's welfare program, or other plans that move the poor barely up into the working poor.

Cass Sunstein had the nerve to bring it up: FDR's Second Bill of Rights

If you are really going to differentiate the Democratic Party from Republicans, think trillions, not billions. They do. I think it is called "balls".

Edwards looks to be trying to win the primaries, without concern for the general. This itty bitty little feel-good will get Ezra excited, but won't win a election, get passed by Congress, or change America.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jun 22, 2006 8:38:41 PM

$20 billion dollars. Crikey. Are we letting Republicans define the domestic debate also? If we want to change the debate in this country, we have to offer something big enough and exciting that a majority will vote to raise taxes for. We have to get past taxophobia.

Democrats are the "tax and spend" party, and I am damn proud of it. A trillion dollar "security and opportunity" program, and tax whoever and whatever we have to to pay for it.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Jun 22, 2006 9:02:14 PM

Jim, I only hope that someone from Edwards' campaign reads your comment.

Just beautiful.

Posted by: Stephen | Jun 22, 2006 9:15:13 PM

It will be interesting to see what kind of economy we have in 2008 when Edwards runs. I suppose $20 billion is not a high price tag these days for a major program, but if, at minimum, you tie it to a health care plan, then the stressed part of the middle class is brought in as well. Talk about the world's energy problems and how the US can start leading the way again with innovation (and new jobs) while solving our own energy problems and, one by one, you start bringing in unifying policies that are not directly tied to special interest groups. I see the possibilities.

I'm open about all the potential Democratic candidates but I've already seen signs that Edwards is doing his homework.

Posted by: Craig | Jun 22, 2006 9:23:18 PM

I'd love to see Edwards run on this platform, hell, he should make this his work for the next two years, go on tv, go on tour, go anywhere people will listen. It takes balls to put your cards on the table and tell people this is what I'm about.

Jim, man does not live on foreign policy alone, and Edwards can pick a running mate that will fill in the foreign policy blanks.

Posted by: jbou | Jun 23, 2006 3:19:02 AM

And just how long has the 'war on poverty' been waged by Democrats with trillions and trillions of dollars? If it doesn't happen quickly under Edwards' rule, will it also be considered a 'failed policy'?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jun 23, 2006 8:40:17 AM

What, no "if you vote for us people like Christopher Reeve will get up out of their wheelchair and walk" claims this time? Hey, the man is obviously becoming more mainstream!

I say "go ahead and run on make-work jobs". Run. On. It.

Posted by: RW | Jun 23, 2006 8:50:11 AM

"You can't impose democracy on a culturally different society by military means"

But isn't that exactly what we did with Japan after WWII? This thing-that-actally-happened is to you, self-evidently false?
______________________________________________________
"Oil, or any other economic issue should never be a justification for unilateral or pre-emptive war..."

So if Iran announces to the world that, "If America does not immediately withdraw from Iraq, we will use our anti-ship missles to attack any oil tankers passing through the Straits of Hormuz" or words to that effect, in your view it would NOT be appropriate for the U.S. to preemptively destroy Iran's missle sites?
Because although such a blockade by Iran would send oil prices to stratopheric levels that would have a crushing effect on the entire world's economy, the U.S. would be the villain here because "It's all about the OIL!"?

Posted by: zomby woof | Jun 23, 2006 8:53:23 AM

"man does not live on foreign policy alone, and Edwards can pick a running mate that will fill in the foreign policy blanks."

People don't elect vice presidents to run the country. A running mate with solid foreign policy credibility may lend Edwards some small measure of foreign policy credibility of his own, but he won't be giving Edwards what he substantively needs right now: actual foreign policy. This is a picture of a candidate who, at the moment, has no real plan for dealing with the rest of the world. He needs to spend more time developing that and less time changing the subject.

Posted by: Iron Lungfish | Jun 23, 2006 9:13:23 AM

"You can't impose democracy on a culturally different society by military means"

But isn't that exactly what we did with Japan after WWII? This thing-that-actally-happened is to you, self-evidently false?

No, it's not what actually happened, though I guess if Jim wanted to be 100 percent accurate he should have said "create" instead of "impose". Japan had a parliamentary democracy for about a generation before the throne reasserted itself during WWI. (In the twenties? The thirties? Sorry if I don't remember exactly.) It had the institutions and framework for democracy, which had been created internally, and people who remembered how to solve problems in a democracy, and there was not the sense that an alien way of life was being imposed on them. The same, by the way, could be said of Germany.

Italy did not have a democracy before World War II. But then, power took more than 50 years to change hands from one political party to another after WWII, so its claim to democracy until the 1990s is dubious at best. You might or might not think it's a good idea to stay in Iraq for 40-plus years, but you can't honestly claim that's how the invasion was sold to us.

And it's true that neither Japan's nor Germany's pre-WWII democracies were very democratic by today's standards. But they would meet the minimum requirements, and standards change. A century ago parts of America wouldn't have been considered democracies if judged by today's standards.

So, yes, I think it's safe to say that a democracy was not created in a culturally different society by military means in Germany or Japan, and only very debatably in Italy. So why did neocons think they could do it?

"Oil, or any other economic issue should never be a justification for unilateral or pre-emptive war..."

... although such a blockade by Iran would send oil prices to stratopheric levels that would have a crushing effect on the entire world's economy, the U.S. would be the villain here because "It's all about the OIL!"?

Posted by: zomby woof

It seemed pretty obvious to me that if Iran made that threat (unlikely) and actually carried it through (much more unlikely) in today's environment, they would have fired the first shot, would be the bad guys, and we would be well within our rights to defend ourselves. Apparently, despite all the talk about it for the past few years, you never managed to figure out what the word "pre-emptive" means.

Posted by: Cyrus | Jun 23, 2006 9:43:06 AM

man does not live on foreign policy alone, and Edwards can pick a running mate that will fill in the foreign policy blanks.

Isn't that what Bush claimed he was doing? The fact is that we need a President who has a solid foreign policy and is able to respond when a crisis occurs. No Democrat will be elected if he can't address questions of Iraq war and the war on terrorism. Every candidate needs to have a solid plan of action to address the major problems of the day and to respond to crises as they occur. I decided against Edwards in the 2004 primary when he was unable to respond intelligently to questions of foreign policy and I imagine I'm not the only one.

Posted by: Mike | Jun 23, 2006 9:57:26 AM

$20 billion is chicken feed. If that's all Edwards is saying he'll commit, and he claims to believe that amount will make a major difference, then he is either (1) lying or (2) stupid. He's not stupid.

Posted by: ostap | Jun 23, 2006 10:12:42 AM

The fact is that we need a President who has a solid foreign policy and is able to respond when a crisis occurs. No Democrat will be elected if he can't address questions of Iraq war and the war on terrorism.

Agreed. I'd be happy to have Edwards as VP this time around.

Posted by: Hamilton Lovecraft | Jun 23, 2006 10:13:17 AM

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