Edwards speaks of ‘face of poverty’

Published 11:54 pm Thursday, March 9, 2006

By By JOHN EBY / Niles Daily Star
BENTON HARBOR - Thirty-seven million people waking up in poverty every day in the richest nation on earth poses “the great moral issue in America today,” says John Edwards.
Edwards, then a U.S. senator from North Carolina, bid for the White House in 2004, then joined the Democratic ticket with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.
He spoke like the 2008 presidential contender he's expected to be Wednesday night before The Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan at the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center.
Hurricane Katrina drowning New Orleans confronted many Americans for the first time with “vivid TV pictures that showed the face of poverty for the first time up close,” Edwards said. Many didn't understand why so many people failed to evacuate. “They couldn't,” he said. “They didn't have a car, a bank account, a credit card, a way to leave town or to support themselves if they'd been able to.
Edwards often hears the comment in his role directing the new University of North Carolina Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity that President Lyndon Baines Johnson already fought the war on poverty in the 1960s only to waste money and create dependency on government handouts and a bloated bureaucracy.
Another idea Edwards advanced is “work bonds” accounts to promote savings. “Every one of us in this room is worth exactly the same thing as the men and women who have been waiting on us tonight. This nation was founded on the idea that you can start from nothing and do great things. If that's what we believe, how could we allow what we saw in New Orleans to continue? It's not healthy for America to cluster poor people. It feeds the cycle of poverty.”
That's why it's “absolute insanity” to slash college financial aid and scientific research and development at the same time America's standing in the world is slipping. Education and mobile capital are two keys to succeeding in the global economy, Edwards asserted.
His wife, Elizabeth, diagnosed with breast cancer the day after President Bush and Vice President Cheney defeated Sens. Kerry and Edwards, “is doing very, very well,” he said. “She feels good. Knock on wood.” He thumped his noggin. “She completed treatment last summer.” Tests just before Christmas confirmed “she's doing great.”