John Edwards And The Poor

I was struck by the correctness of an article in The Economist concerning the policy goals of John Edwards as he campaigns for the White House.  While the magazine prides itself on their writing, we as readers know the publication to be objective.  Which is why these paragraphs matter.  These  goals that John fights for are the hopes of the American people.

On economics, too, the Edwards brand of populism is hard to pigeonhole. With roots in the textile mills and strong links to the unions, he is regarded as the most protectionist of the Democratic front-runners—though the margins are narrowing fast as Hillary Clinton stages a retreat from her husband’s embrace of free trade.

He offers plenty of standard populist cant: lots of talk about “fairness”; rants against oil firms for price gouging and drug companies for rocketing health costs; and—this year’s favourite villain—anger at mortgage lenders for ripping off poor home-owners. (He calls it the “wild west of the credit industry, where…abusive and predatory lenders are robbing families blind.”) A recent speech decried an economy that rewarded “wealth not work”, a tax system that favoured the rich and a government that served only special interests. Yet for all that Mr Edwards is less a redistributionist firebrand than a big-government do-gooder. He is intent on helping the poor more than soaking the rich; his inspiration is Robert Kennedy, not Huey Long.

The Edwards campaign openly evokes RFK‘s 1968 presidential bid, which combined vocal opposition to an unpopular war with a telegenic focus on alleviating poverty. Mr Edwards launched his candidacy outside a wrecked house in New Orleans’s ninth ward. This week he spent three days on an anti-poverty tour, one that finished, not uncoincidentally, in Prestonburg, Kentucky, where Kennedy ended his own poverty tour 40 years ago.

Look beyond the unsubtle imagery, however, and Mr Edwards’s anti-poverty plan is an intriguing mix. His goals are bold—to cut America’s poverty rate of 12.6% by a third within a decade—but the means are mainstream. His policy arsenal includes expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, a kind of negative income tax that tops up the earnings of poorer Americans; giving poor people “work bonds” to boost their saving; and providing 1m housing vouchers to help poor families move to better neighbourhoods. Policy wonks argue about whether these ideas, particularly housing vouchers, will work, but they could all have come from a centrist Democratic think-tank.

The combination of bold goals and mainstream means is evident in two other Edwards plans: health care and energy reform. And it is why his campaign, regardless of its electoral fortunes, is shaping the Democratic race. Unable to dismiss his proposals as crazy radicalism, the other candidates have to be both bolder and more detailed than they would like.

Consider health. Mr Edwards released his ideas for universal insurance in February, almost two years before election day. He steered clear of the approach favoured by the party’s left—a single-payer system, like Canada’s or Britain’s. Instead his plan has ingredients that were introduced in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney, now a Republican presidential candidate: an overhaul of insurance markets, subsidies to help poorer people pay their premiums, taxes on firms that do not provide health-care coverage for their workers, and a requirement that everyone should buy health insurance.

His proposal does nod to the left: a government health scheme, akin to Medicare, would compete with private insurers, potentially opening the door to a single-payer system if everyone chose to join the public scheme. But it does not seem threateningly radical. As a result, it has become the standard against which other Democratic candidates are judged. Mr Obama, who recently released a paler version of the Edwards ideas, was criticised for not requiring people to buy health insurance.

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2 thoughts on “John Edwards And The Poor

  1. Ferrell Gummitt

    John Edwards talking about National Health Insurance is like Cho Seung-Hui (aka The Virginia Tech Shooter) talking about how to prevent future school shootings. Senator Edwards made his fortune being a trial lawyer handling malpractice cases. I hold him and his trial lawyer buddies personally responsible for today’s skyrocketing health insurance rates. I pay almost $400 a month for my group health insurance. My kids aren’t covered, that would be an additional $130 a check. They are on this IL state program called “All Kids”. It’s bogged down in bureaucracy and ghost parolees. I am nauseated at John Edwards, Barack Obama and Hillary coddling me with government sponsored programs. I want the federal government to do two things: Protect my family’s butt and uphold the laws of the land. That’s it. Let me figure out the rest.

  2. Well Bush and Company have failed you on both counts. And the fact that you and countless millions of other Americans have either no health care coverage for themselves or their kids tells me that the problem is larger than people can meet on their own. Our nation is the laughing stock of Europe since we have no national health care plan. Most Americans are getting truly angry about it. I know that I pay for those folks who have no insurance and still get sick and use services, as they should. You pay for them too. I have no problem with helping others. I have no problem paying higher taxes. I want my govenrment to insure that big issues that can’t be resolved by each of us alone can be dealt with through large efforts at the natonal level. Health care is one of those…at the top of any list.

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