Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Truth about John Edwards and New Orleans

Former Senator and 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards first came to national prominence when his 2004 presidential campaign focused on the “two Americas” theme of fighting poverty. Edwards’ second presidential campaign again makes poverty a central focus, and he announced the campaign in December in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward (video below). I am very glad that Edwards is out there highlighting the neglect of the Gulf Coast when the mainstream media ignores it, but a deeper analysis shows that sadly, Edwards is no Gulf Coast champion and neglects the issue almost as much as the media.

As of today, the phrases “New Orleans,” “Gulf Coast,” and “Katrina” do not appear once on his campaign’s issue page, blog frontpage, or homepage. As a result, Googling "John Edwards New Orleans" brings up a number of news stories and blogs, but nothing official from the Edwards camp. In a speech last week here at Dartmouth, Edwards barely mentioned New Orleans – it only got a passing half sentence while he discussed the broader issue of poverty. In his reply to the President’s State of the Union address, he does not criticize the President for failing to mention hurricane recovery, and in fact does not even mention the region himself. In post-SOU interviews, Edwards only talked about New Orleans when CNN's Anderson Cooper directly asked him about it - the issue didn't come up with CNN's Larry King or MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough. And most recently, a front-page article in yesterday's New York Times about Edwards' campaign gives no mention to New Orleans, probably because it just didn't come up in the reporter's time with Edwards (though the article does have some nice coverage of the Dartmouth event!). For a man who brought hundreds of student volunteers to the city last spring, this neglect was shocking, unexpected, and depressing.

If you watch his campaign announcement, which I’ve included at the end of this post, you’ll see that while he does highlight the issue of New Orleans recovery, he does not discuss specifics or give solutions. Katrina is merely his backdrop and photo-op. He does ask people to volunteer and get engaged themselves, which is good; more volunteers are desperately needed, and I’m thrilled someone is issuing that call on a national level, but it’s a call more fitting of a cultural leader than a political one. Political leaders need to not only issue that call, but heed it by offering solutions in a way no one else can. We know how Citizen Edwards feels, but we don’t know what President Edwards would DO.

One comes to expect this level of neglect from some politicians, but from John Edwards, the populist champion of the poor? Through his volunteer push and campaign announcement, Edwards pretends to focus on New Orleans, but when he has the chance to actually do something about it, he passes the chance right up. I know his compassion is real, genuine, and heartfelt, and I hope I’m wrong about his focus – I hope substance is in development and will be announced soon – but I doubt it. The truth is that Edwards is vague on a lot of issues, like Iraq and Darfur. He masterfully describes problems without giving solutions.

I don't mean to slam the Senator on a personal level. John Edwards is a good man. Even if he has no substantive policy proposals, his compassion is as real as it gets. He would make a great Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and I would welcome his return to the Senate – but as long as he remains this vague on issues he claims to care so much about, especially New Orleans, he is not fit to be President.

2-min Speech

9-min Speech (at 2:25 left in the video, watch the boy on the right side of the screen)


Nathan S. Empsall said...

This post has generated hundreds of comments at MyDD, Daily Kos, and other Democratic blogs - isn't it hilarious that there isn't a one here?

Boris the Bewildered said...

The Democratic Underground thread:

Jude Nagurney Camwell said...

I'd imagine a lot of those stories you looked up at the Edwards blog came from me. I wrote them because I know how much Senator Edwards has genuinely cared about the welfare of the citizens of New Orleans - especially the poorest. What you're doing for the people of New Orleans is commendable. We need millions more citizen-leaders like you in this country. The importance of service for the benefit of our fellow man and woman is what I personally hope every parent will teach every child. God bless all of you.