|Edwards addresses crowd in Kentucky |
The world needs to see America as a force for good again, “instead of seeing us the way they see us now: bully, selfish, only interested in the expansion of American power.”
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE — Democratic presidential contender and former U.S. Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina makes a point as he addresses a crowd of about 600 Thursday at Columbus-Belmont State Park, located on the east bank of the Mississippi River
Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards on Thursday used those words and more in a campaign speech to a crowd gathered at Columbus-Belmont State Park, site of a Civil War battlefield in far western Kentucky.
“We don’t need a surge in Baghdad. We need a surge in New Orleans. We need to help our people who are struggling (to recover from Hurricane Katrina),” he said. “I want to say something about what’s happening in the world. I don’t think (President) George Bush has injured our reputation in the world, I think he’s destroyed it. I think America has so much work to do to reestablish ourselves as the leader we should be. And the starting place is ending this mess of a war in Iraq.”
He said that on his first day in office, one of the first things he’ll do is take action immediately to bring the troops home from Iraq.
Under sunny skies and moderate temperatures, Edwards addressed a crowd of about 600 that received him in the scenic park replete with red, white and blue balloons and campaign signs. His next stop of the day was Ward 9 in New Orleans.
“On the first day I’m president, I will close Guantanamo (Naval base in Cuba where the U.S. holds captured al Qaeda terrorists), which I think is a national embarrassment,” Edwards said. “The idea that America would hold people against their will, with no hearing, no nothing to determine whether they should be held? That’s not America. And secret prisons? We’re going to put a stop to that. No more illegal spying on the American people. No more torture or the condoning of torture. It’s really amazing that I have to actually say those things, isn’t it? …
“(President George W.) Bush is spying on America. And illegally. I don’t mind saying it. It is illegal, what he’s doing.”
“I have seen movements in my lifetime,” Edwards said. “I saw the Civil Rights movement. I lived with it. It didn’t start in the Oval office. It started in communities like this all across the country where people of good will and conscience — young people on college campuses — had the courage and passion to speak what they believed. They stood up, they spoke out, they marched, they changed this country. The same thing happened in ending the Vietnam War. You can feel it right now, in this war in Iraq. But we need you. Your voice needs to be heard.”
On the fence
Edwards said there’s an entire generation of young people in the world “sitting on the fence.” On one side are Osama bin Laden and the terror network, al Qaeda. On the other is America.
“Which way will they go?” he asked. “That depends on us. If they see us as bullying and selfish, it will drive them in the other direction. But if they see us as the light — and America was the light when I was growing up — if they see us as the source of hope and opportunity, it will pull them to us like a magnet.
“America needs to be the source of hope and opportunity again. We need to be the light, we need to be the beacon for the entire world, and this is where all of you come in.”
During the hour-long speech to the crowd that included print and broadcast media, Edwards projected himself as the torch-bearer whose beacon of light would cast its rays into far-flung nooks and crannies of the country.
“Some of these presidential candidates think of rural America and small-town America as a place you fly over when you’re going from New York to Los Angeles,” he said. “Not me. I am committed to be president not just for big cities, but also for small towns, small communities, rural America. It’s why I laid out a very specific agenda to strengthen rural America.
“I will go everywhere in this country and campaign, because when I’m elected president, I (won’t be) the president of the blue states or president of the red states, I’ll be president of the United States of America, and that includes every single person in this country.”
Although Edwards’ bombast touched on a wide range of topics, his basic theme was that he, like the crowd he addressed, is a product of humble origins. He said he came from a poor family in a mill town in North Carolina.
He told the crowd they deserve “somebody as your candidate” who can relate to them, who understands their lives and their struggles. He said he grew up in a family “just like yours.”
“We had trouble paying the bills. My father had to borrow $50 to get me out of the hospital when I was born,” he said. “I know what it’s like to sit at a kitchen table and figure out how you’re going to pay the bills. I know what it’s like when you’ve got a child who wants to go to college and you don’t have the money. In my family, no one had ever been to college before I went. We had no idea what it was like. When I went away to college, I was the hick in the big city.”
In his preaching to the choir — “I know there are a lot of Democrats here. I’m a Democrat myself” — he seemed reminiscent of the late William Jennings Bryan, also a Democrat, who ran for president in 1896, 1900 and 1908, and was defeated each time. Edwards seemed to be Bryan back from the grave to run for the presidency just one more time. And Edwards, by appealing to agriculturalists in his address, brought Populism with him.
The system in Washington is “broken” and “rigged,” he told the crowd. He said it’s rigged against you, “the ordinary Americans,” by “entrenched interests, big corporations and lobbyists.”
“Your voices are not heard in Washington. There are lobbyists that stand between you and the legislation (needed for change). They stand as an obstacle to what America needs.
“That crowd in Washington — the pundits, the experts, all the Washington insiders — think if you don’t take money from lobbyists and corporate lobbyists in Washington, you can’t be elected president. I don’t take their money, and I will be elected president. They think that when you come to communities like this, it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is the fundraising contest. This movement matters, because at the end of the day, you get to decide. That crowd in Washington thinks they get to decide. But we’re going to prove them wrong.
“You get to decide. You get to say ‘No!’ to special interests and lobbyists who hold all the power and who are controlling what happens every single day. You get to say, ‘We’re not going to replace a crowd of corporate Republicans with a crowd of corporate Democrats.’”
Here’ are snippets of Edwards’ platform:
• Universal health care.
Edwards said America doesn’t have universal health care because of drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists in Washington. “And we will never have it until we have a president who will take these entrenched interests on, a president who doesn’t take their money,” he said.
“The same thing is true when you’re trying to do something about energy and global warming. Oil companies, power companies, gas companies. Their lobbyists in Washington …
“The first thing I intend to say to the Congress and to every member of my cabinet when I’m sworn into office in January 2009 is, ‘Come July of this year, if you have not passed universal health care for America, you lose your health care.”
He said he has a health care plan and it includes mental health needs, physical needs and provisions for chronic care, long term care, dental care and vision care, “all covered.”
“And you get to take your health care with you wherever you go,” he said. “If you get laid off or change jobs, or move, your health care goes with you. My plan costs $90 to $120 billion a year and I pay for it by getting rid of Bush’s tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year.”
• Minimum wage.
Congress finally passed a new minimum wage act, making it $7.25 an hour. “That’s great, but it’s not enough,” he said. “Minimum wage ought to be at least $9.50 an hour.”
“We ought to strengthen the right of unions to organize in the work place, so they can be stronger and collectively bargain,” he said.
• Payday loans.
“We ought to crack down with a national law to regulate predatory payday lenders who are preying on our most vulnerable families,” he said.
“We ought to make it easier for kids to go to college. Last year Bush took $7 billion out of the federal budget for kids to go to college,” he said. “This is insanity. We ought to make it easier for kids to go to college. Here’s my idea: We say to every young person in America, ‘You graduate from high school, qualify to be in college, and commit to work when you’re there.’ We don’t give it to them. They’ve got to work at least 10 hours a week. (And we tell them) ‘But you work 10 hours a week, America pays for your tuition and books.’
“Very simple. And we’ve actually done this in a low-income area of eastern North Carolina. It’s been hugely successful so far.”
• Federal judges.
“We have got to have a president who appoints judges and Supreme Court justices who actually believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, who believe that our individual liberties are the heart and soul of what makes America what it is. It’s what protects us against abuses, and it protects us in some cases against the power of the government.”
• The cabinet.
“I get asked a lot who I’ve considered for the cabinet. I’ve already made a list of the people I’ll consider for each major cabinet position. But I want people who are strong and smart and independent, and who will challenge me. I’m not interested in having a bunch of ‘yes’ people sitting around telling me how great I am. I want people who will challenge whatever it is I have to say. … Every person on this list is not a Democrat. I think we ought to consider the best, most qualified people that exist in America for those jobs, and I will do that.”
Change the “No Child Left Behind” law, Edwards said. It’s causing all kinds of trouble.
“What I would do, I’d give bonus pay up to $15,000 a year to teachers who are willing to locate in rural towns, rural communities, places where we need them most,” he said. “I’d create a National Teaching University, similar to West Point, where they could study the art of education. It’d be for young people who would commit to going back to small towns and places where it’s harder to get them to go when they graduate.”
Published in The Messenger on 10.05.07