OK, I'm going to say it: I miss John Edwards.
I'm not pining for that goofy smile or the expensive coif, but rather for what Edwards brought to the national conversation on poverty. Really, at least during the campaign, he was the national conversation on poverty. And as the recession ebbs and the DOW grows, as the banks focus on paying back TARP and Bernanke sees the light, I've become more and more worried that working-class Americans are not going to end up any better for all the trillions spent.
It's about using every available tool we have to create the change America needs.
I know that idea is an uncomfortable one, somebody helping lead the country on a moral issue after a moral lapse of that magnitude. I also know that if the gender roles were reversed, the chances of success would be far, far smaller. But I'm willing to separate a person's tragic flaw from the impact they could have on the most important issues facing the country.
I had that same feeling last week during my interview with Eliot Spitzer. Should Spitzer be forgiven? Perhaps not. But should he be on the sidelines when he could meaningfully help clean up Wall Street and protect taxpayers? I'd rather have him in the trenches. Like the Treasury said about the nation's biggest banks, Spitzer is "systemically important."
And in the fight to end poverty, there's a gaping hole in the system. Paul Wellstone is gone, as is Jack Kemp. I don't hear from Jesse Jackson anymore -- and even if I did, I doubt he could get too many others to listen. On the right, Newt Gingrich has also gone silent, after once offering transformative ideas for the working class. But the biggest gap was left by Edwards, who had concrete plans for getting low-income kids to college, expanding access to bank accounts (28 million Americans don't have one), and raising the minimum wage.
Barack can't do it alone. Forty million Americans live in poverty, and countless others don't make the stats. Eighteen percent of children live below the poverty line, those without a high school diploma are unemployed at nearly twice the national average...the circle continues.
LBJ needed MLK and many others to challenge him to move forward on civil rights. Lincoln needed Frederick Douglass and the abolitionists pushing him and the nation. So too does Obama need people to push him to ensure that everyday people -- the "Other America" that Edwards referred to so often on the trail -- get a fresh start ahead of Wall Street bondholders.
Edwards was right then, and he'd be right now. Leveling the playing field will yield a more just America, and a more economically and socially dynamic America, as well.
Am I crazy to think Edwards could return to public life? We've seen it before. Grover Cleveland, Bill Clinton, Marion Barry, Benjamin Netanyahu -- they all came back to do have a real political impact, even if their reputations never fully recovered.
Photo by sskennel.
Carlos Watson is the founder & publisher of The Stimulist.
Cross-posted at The Stimulist