I posted this today at Free Dartmouth.
Presidential candidate and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) spoke at Dartmouth College today. The speech will eventually be on C-Span's Road to the White House . He delivered some of the best rhetoric I've heard from any candidate, but when you get right down to it, he really didn't have much actual substance at all. This was the third time I've seen him speak in person, and it was the worst speech of the three.
Edwards knows the problems, but not the answers
He did a great job explaining the problem in Darfur - but didn't tell us what he'd actually do to stop or, at least lessen, the genocide as President.
He did a great job highlighting the horrors of India's caste system - but didn't tell us what he'd actually do to change India as President.
He did a good job explaining the need for universal health care - but didn't tell us what his actual plan involves. Single payer? Multi-payer? (He did, to be fair, say details were coming very soon.)
He said we need to stop enabling Iraq - but didn't tell us what that would take. He said we must talk with Syria and Iran, but he didn't say anything about whether or not he'd talk to Maliki or other Iraqi leaders, and what he would say to them if he did.
This was just like his campaign kick-off in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward. Thank you, Senator, for highlighting the ignored Gulf Coast crisis; that really is a service given the media's neglect - but now would you please tell us what you'll do to remedy the current Road Home Program and the FEMA housing messes, and how you'll prevent such incompetence in the future?
What little substance Edwards did offer was in response to a question about predatory lending and changing the structures that produce poverty - he has ideas about interest rates, "work boxes," and housing vouchers. (Unfortunately, he only mentioned the vital issue of New Orleans in passing, which I found very disappointing, especially coming from him.) What I'm wondering is, where was this substance in '04, the first time you ran for President? And why isn't there more? Did it really take you this long to develop just this much?
I hate to say it, but hypocrisy was on display, as well. Edwards likes to paint himself as a man of the people, and began his remarks with your typical, "When politicians do this, they don't really mean it." But in answer to a question about voting in support of coal mining in West Virginia, he essentially said he was trading votes with Sen. Robert Byrd. Now, I have no problem with vote trading - it's what makes the Senate work. But if you partake in, don't act like you're not a typical politician and expect us to believe you! At least be honest!
That wasn't the only hypocrisy we saw, though the other two examples were smaller. Edwards bragged about the anti-poverty college program he started and his stances on education, all while appearing at a college, but the first several questions he took were all from older audience members. Was he pandering to the CSPAN and wider NH audiences? Fine, there's nothing wrong with that, but don't play up your college stances immediately before passing up the chance to talk to students. Pick one or the other. (On another note, sources tell me that the folks who actually work at his anti-poverty center resent his involvement - they're grateful he started it and brings in money, but they feel his involvement is inconsistent and heavy-handed.) Edwards also said, on the subject of gay marriage, that he hates to think he might use his own personal experiences to influence policy decisions - but don't I remember something about economic discussions and the line "son of a mill worker"?
It's Not All Bad
Not everything I have to say about John Edwards is negative. He did give us some refreshing candor as to his GLBT stances - not everyone in the audience liked what he had to say about the issue, but he said it anyway, and discussed some inner personal turmoil. And I am so thrilled he is out there pushing these issues - poverty, climate change, and reconciliation with the populations of other countries JFK-style are crucial. He actually mentioned poverty in INDIA as part of his stump speech! (Now if only I could get him to respect the issue of Native American poverty...) Nobody talks about these subjects, so thank God Edwards is pushing the debate. But knowing what to talk about is only a good start: it's not enough to win the White House. Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK) (who's also running, but who I'll also not vote for) was right: most politicians will do a wonderful job telling you what the problem is, but if you pay close attention, they really don't offer any hard solutions. John Edwards would make a wonderful Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and I'd love to have him back in the Senate, but he must not become President.
Thankfully, there are some candidates out there who do offer concrete ideas and solutions - candidates like Joe Biden, the author of the Violence Against Women Act and the only Democratic contender with an actual plan for Iraq.
UPDATE: A New Hampshire newspaper, albeit not a local one to the Hanover area, had a decent-length article on the speech: http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/02012007/nhnews-ph-nh-edwards.html
Thanks for the tip, philgoblue. Personally, I think the article shows the vagueness, but read it and decide for yourselves. You're netroots, I know you will!