In the last 41 years, the Democrats have won the White House only when their candidate has been a Southerner — Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. They tried again in 2000 with Al Gore of Tennessee, and, indeed, another Southerner was elected. But he was a Republican, George W. Bush, a Texan elected president twice.
So some political experts now say that the Democrats’ strategy is no longer correct. Scott Keeter of the Pew Research Center and others say that they have found that the South is becoming more like the rest of the country so that habitation doesn’t count. However, many Democrats don’t agree or believe that they should nominate John Edwards of North Carolina in 2008.
Edwards was in Little Rock last week to lecture students at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service and to make a speech to about 300 Democrats in the Clinton Library. Anyone seeing and listening to the man had to believe that he wants to run again, not as vice president as he did in 2004 but as president.
He’s 52 years old, but he looks like he’s 35. Born in a poor family, he was the first member ever to go to college. He became a personal injury lawyer and earned millions of dollars. In 1998, he suddenly decided to run for the Senate and spent $8.3 million defeating a 70-year-old incumbent, Sen. Lauch Faircloth, who spent $9.4 million trying to stay in office.
Edwards is handsome, talks easily and interestingly to anyone and is a good speaker, although his speech here was much too long. He praised Bill Clinton, saying, “I’m proud to be in a place that honors a president who did so much good for so many.” He didn’t really attack anyone, although he did say that President Bush was “guilty of failure of leadership.” Edwards talked a lot about the hurricane in New Orleans and that the government didn’t act quickly to help people find places to live. Now, he said, some house trailers are finally being opened. “If the Great Depression brought forth ‘Hoovervilles,’ those trailer towns may someday be known as ‘Bushvilles.’ ”
Edwards intends to get the nomination by planning a way to eliminate poverty in the country, a subject he talked about during his campaign last year. He has signed up to head for two years the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is traveling all over the nation to talk about it. Arkansas was his 31st stop.
He said that after the hurricane, 37 million Americans were in poverty — a million more than there were a year ago.
“We have a historic opportunity that I think is a great moral issue facing our country today,” he said. “We do not have to live in an America that accepts poverty as a fact of life or a situation that we choose to ignore.
“We have to face the tragedy and the moral issue of poverty all across this country. If you are a Latino family today, you live on about $8,000 a year. For African Americans it’s about $6,000. People from all over the world have been drawn to America … because we are all created equal. But the American dream has become a distant thing. The government response to the hurricane, unfortunately, undermined those ideas. It is the shaming of America. We want the world to see a greater America.”
One of his stories was that of a woman in Kansas City with no husband and several children. Her income was so low that at night she had to cut off either the lights or the heat. Because the kids had to study, she cut the heat, which meant the kids had to sleep in their coats. “Please don’t tell anyone at school that we don’t have heat,” she told her children. Then she told Edwards, “Nobody in American should work full-time and have to live like this.”
What does Edwards want to do to eliminate poverty? 1) Start all kids at age 4 at better and smaller schools, pay more money for teachers to go where we need them, have more two-year colleges and enable a poor person who has made fine grades to either receive or borrow money to go to college. 2) Raise full-time minimum pay from $5.15 to $7.50 an hour. 3) Allow people to switch jobs without loss of health care. 4) Double the amount of the earned income credit deducted from their income tax (now $2,000) for low-income married people with children. 5) Make sure that workers are always able to organize or join unions.
It’s far too early to even guess who is going to be the Democratic candidate in 2008. You have to remember that every Southern state voted for Republicans last year; 58 percent of Edwards’ neighbors in North Carolina voted against him and John Kerry. Then, too, if he sticks so strong to eliminating the poor, there will be plenty of people who will remind him of what it says in the Bible: “The poor you always have with you.”