Failed Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards brought his “positive populism” back to the Kennedy School on April 13, sounding a call to eradicate poverty in the United States. Terming it his “new cause,” Edwards told a packed audience at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum that citizens and government working together have “a lot of work to do” to raise living standards amongst the poorest of the poor.
“It is wrong in a country with our wealth and our prosperity to have 36 million people who wake up in poverty every single day,” Edwards said. “You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their neighbor who is in need. You can also tell a lot about the character of a country by how they treat the millions of people who live here in America and are struggling to get by.”
Edwards identified several ways in which Washington could help in the fight against poverty, including increasing the minimum wage, increasing the earned income tax credit, helping create more jobs in the inner city, repairing the nation’s health care system, and cracking down on predatory lending practices and overly aggressive credit card companies.
“Congress should act today and if Congress doesn’t act, the states should act,” he said. “But this is not just government’s responsibility alone. Private charities and religious organizations can make an enormous difference. What we can and must do is honor and engage the work of all of those inspired by faith so they can be in this battle against poverty.”
As for ideas on paying for such antipoverty efforts, Edwards identified a single source of revenues – eliminating President Bush’s tax cuts on those earning more than $400,000 a year. Such a move, Edwards said, could raise up to $40 billion a year “for families who are struggling.”
Asked later about how to best define success in the battle against poverty, Edwards answered simply, “I will believe that we will have won the war on poverty when the vast majority of people who work full time, no matter what their job is, are able to support their family, have decent health care, feel hopeful and optimistic about the future, and have something to fall back on if something goes wrong.”
It is in the nation’s best interest to win the battle against poverty, Edwards suggested, saying, “We strengthen the American economy when we have a vibrant and strong middle class.”
Edwards is a Visiting Fellow this semester at the Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.