REVISING AND EXTENDING MY REMARKS ON EDWARDS AND POVERTY. I'm not sure whether what follows will be seen as walking back my earlier post about John Edwards and poverty (which I'm not afraid to do; I don't think the point of this medium is to be right all the time, but to put out ideas, let them get beat around, and refine them if they don't stand up), or reaffirming it, but I should say a little more. [UPDATE: Answer -- It's the walk-back. A complete retraction.. See original post.
First, I can't know whether John Edwards "really cares" about poverty or not, and I shouldn't have put it that way. Because I know better than to think it matters. As a friend put it in an e-mail, "Your respondents may have taken too much to heart your earlier point.... from many months ago, that authenticity is overrated." That's true -- it doesn't matter to me whether a politicians' stated commitments come from deep personal passions or from calculated ambition or from political fear. In fact, calculated choices, in response to political pressure, may be more resilient and reliable than personal passions. (Although that's not true if the choices are calculated to win a party primary, and then quickly abandoned for the general election, which happens all too often with over-cautious Dems.)
That said, Edwards presents his focus on poverty in a certain way: He says he talks about poverty mainly because he cares about it personally, and because of his own background, damn the politics, and damn the risk. And yet, as I point out, he actually talks about poverty in a relatively safe way that treats it purely as an economic issue and he often (though not always) avoids the issues of race, racism and power that are inherently connected to entrenched poverty, especially urban poverty. His major speech on poverty last fall mentioned race only as something that used to be a problem, whereas now income is the problem. (Exact quote: "it was wrong we once lived in a country legally segregated by race. Too many places today are segregated by class.") Even his incredibly daring proposal the other day for school integration adopted the "class, not race" formula of "economic diversity" that politically savvy liberals have been recommending as a safe back door to integration for years. It may be smart politics, and I wouldn't want him to adopt stupid, self-destructive policies. But his economics-only analysis of poverty seems to me a little thin and careful for someone who claims to come to it from pure passion, and as a result, I don't quite feel the passion. And the reason I brought his background into it is because (1) he does and (2) I find it implausible that a white southern liberal of that era would not see poverty in racial terms, and so the choice to not talk about in that way seems calculated and safe.
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