Dem Con, Sunday: John Edwards


By Tim Redmond

Former Senator John Edwards can't let Hillary and Barack show him up, so he has his own carefully staged entrance, surrounded by signs and supporters. He looks like a llittle Ken doll in the middle of the crowd, perfectly coiffed and impeccably dressed. But he's got the right lines for this audience. "We are past the time for cautious, poll-driven politics," he announces. He goes on to win loud cheers for the comment the directly separates him from Hillary Clinton: "I voted for this war, and I was wrong to vote for this war."

Edwards affects a folksy manner, repeating aw-shucks phrases like "I don't know if this is a good idea, but ..." and "I don't know if this is going to be popular, but ..." To his credit, though, he actually mentions poverty -- something the other major candidates haven't discussed at all. "Thirty-seven million people wake up in poverty every day, and it's wrong," he says. "If my party can't be the voice for the poor .... why do we exist?"

He's very popular in a lot of Democratic circles for his willingness to talk about class issues, about the "two Americas." And at a post-speech press conference, I push him on it.

"Senator," I say, jumping up to get the first question, “the 25 top hedge-fund managers in this country made enough money between them last year to pay the salaries of all 88,000 New York City public school teachers for three years. I know you want to repeal the Bush tax cuts, but beyond that, shouldn’t we actually raise taxes on the very rich so we can pay the teachers a little better?”

“It’s a good question,” he says, “and it’s worthy of consideration.” When pressed, he says that tax hikes for the uber-rich would be “on the table” during his administration. But for now, Edwards won’t go beyond restoring the tax code to its Clinton-era levels. Remember: During the Clinton years, the United States officially became the most socially stratified nation in the industialized world.

I know, I know -- Phil Angelides talked about taxing the rich, and it didn't work out so well. One ofthe reporters points that out to Edwards, and he responds: "It's important for the next president to be honest about what he will do."

Maybe I'm still an idealistic nut, but it seems to me that there were other big problems with the Angelides campaign, that it has to be time to talk about income and wealth inequality. Edwards is kind of wimpy about it, but at least he's not heading for the hills at the first mention of the horrid "T-word."