Saturday, February 03, 2007

- Daily Kos and Raising Kaine Diary, 2/3/07 - Recall Mark Warner

I heard John and Elizabeth Edwards up here in New Hampshire the other day and found their new ideas about poverty to be oddly familiar. Then I realized John seemed to be talking about the same set of ideas which I had written about in 1975 in Philadelphia; naive ideas which created an almost permanent underclass and a culture of welfare in the U.S. They are ideas which almost ruined the Democratic Party and sent millions to Reagan a few years later. Simplistic ideas like interspersing poor people into wealthy neighborhoods to end poverty; ideas like everyone should go to college. And funding these ideas with deficit spending. These ideas vastly expanded the welfare state and were wholeheartedly rejected by the Democrats and by most Americans almost 30 years ago. It took decades for some very good universities to recover from them (including my own, U. Mass.) and some have never yet recovered.

I am guessing that Edwards got these new ideas at the Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity at UNC - Chapel Hill where he was Director until recently. It is a departure from his point of view of four years ago, and it is a vast departure from any Democratic policy initiatives of the last 30 years. Having worked in colleges within the last 20 years I have found that as ideas get rejected by the outside world they became tenurized and live quiet lives exiled in academia, like potted plants. But like the mysterious Corpse Flower that blossoms every 30 years or so at the Smithsonian’s Botanical Gardens, they pop up again as sure as Dave Dillinger (rest in peace) and Jane Fonda are gonna pop up at an anti-war rally 30 years after their hour in the sun has passed (“Max! Its time for my Close Up!”).

Edwards was only 23 when these strategies last failed across America. Perhaps he has been unfamiliar with them until now. He also said things like the U.S. is the only place in the world where poor people live separate from rich people. Say what? Every society in the history of human time has done so. He and Elizabeth presented these ideas as if he had heard them for the first time and was awakened by them and no one else knew about them yet.

This is quite different from the economic populism we’ve been hearing recently from Jim Webb, but Edwards now seems to be riding on the momentum which Webb hatched last Tuesday night in his rousing populist speech in opposition to the President’s State of the Union. But from what I have heard so far I find that they hold quite contrary views - Webb cuts through academic rubric and partisan bullshit to get to the core of things. I was particularly impressed in Webb’s debate with George Allen – before he was cut off – when he talked about the specific responsibility the state of Virginia has to black people as per the specific history of the region. Academia has long extended the cloak of victimization to nearly everyone on every social scale and pay grade and in doing so, has excused itself from the specific responsibilities to its own regional poor.

Indeed, these new ideas of Edwards, which appear to be primarily based in philosophy of the 1930s, are the ideas which sent people like Webb and millions of other plain folk in the rural South and urban America away from the Democratic Party in the first place. Edwards’ new pitch is also vastly different from the talk we hear today from Wes Clark, who brings in a new vision of the Labor Union as a vehicle for the transformation of worker’s lives, not necessarily in opposition to management, but more as a church group does or like the “worker’s circle” in Japanese industry, enhancing cooperation between worker and management and equitably improving the lives of both.

Webb and Clark bring us forward. Edwards brings us back to the failed policies of the Sixties. The Clintons and the DLC reacted to the welfare-state culture of the Sixties, but they went too far and fell into alliance with Wall St. at the expense of the worker and the common people. But there is no going back to failed and finished policies. Webb and Clark offer a path forward to a responsible middle ground.

But after the Democratic National Committee speeches Friday, Edwards, already at 35% in Iowa, seems to be breaking away from the pack.

I was disappointed when Edwards emerged yesterday. I’d hoped Wes Clark would. Among this crop of Democrats only Mark Warner and Wesley Clark have the actual leadership abilities and management tools needed to be successful Presidents. Because it is President, not American Idol. If the Democrats continue with naive and incompetent leadership another four years, the world’s benchmark currency, which depends on a stable tradition of governance, will most likely shift from the dollar either to the Yen or the Euro. The strength and beauty of the U.S. is its multifaceted culture and diverse life force, but that is also its weakness as well - recently, questioned by Bernie Sanders, Ben Bernacke was forced to admit that our only comparable RE wages of rich and poor is Brazil.

The greatest crisis we face today in the U.S. is a management crisis. The other crisis; Iraq, economy, flow form that. We could easily fall into Third World status with continued inattention to management and pushing forth "bodice rippers," “rock stars,” nostalgico candidates (and their wives and aunties), and unelectable candidates representing every ethnic, ideological and political tribe imaginable. If this crowd can’t rise to Clark, Mark Warner must be recalled to service for the good of the country.

The Democrats have taken good strides this past year with Howard Dean’s 50-state initiative, the new Democratic Congress and vital new people with a new Democratic attitude; people like Webb, Carol Shea-Porter, Joe Sestak and Patrick Riley. But Democrats have lost the field 49-1 three times in the last 50 years. One more catastrophic failure and for them the game’s over.


Anonymous said...

This synopsis so seriously misstates John's position and what he said in New Hampshire last week (I was there) that I urge anyone who cares either about a response to poverty in this country or about John generally to listen to him yourself. He specifically says the answers of the 1960s did not work, so he certainly doesn't embrace those or whatever someone said in Philadelphia in 1975. He absolutely never said anything about where rich and poor people live in other countries. Nothing at all. John believes in a responsibility feature to the solution that was completely missing in the 60s-70s approach. And finally John's notion of possible solutions was not incubated in a collegiate lab. If you go the Poverty Center's website and look at the forums John shared or if you look at where John went in the last 2-3 years, you will see that he spent a great deal of time listening to and visiting those in the field facing poverty and actually working the solutions. I hope that you -- and anyone reading your blog -- will come to hear John again and ask him the hard questions on poverty. I am certain in a direct question on poverty (rather than how do you distinguish your plan from Dodd's predatory lending prohibition), you will be more than satisfied with his thoughtfulness and innovation, as well as his compassion. -- Elizabeth Edwards

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