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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Two Democrats for Two Americas

Senator Schumer of New York gave his views on the future of the Democratic Party here yesterday. Here's another voice from within the Democratic Party, John Edwards, with a different perspective on where the Party should be headed:

National Press Club Policy Address, Senator John Edwards Washington, June 22, 2006: ...The focus of my speech will be on poverty. But we cannot address an issue like poverty without answering a few basic questions...

First, what kind of leadership should America be providing in the world? We live in a moment of dramatic change and huge global challenges. Our military power is fortunately strong, and we must keep it that way. But our economic power will be challenged by new forces, and our most important asset, our international moral authority, is not what it ought to be. Far from it. What kind of leadership can address all these fronts and serve us at home as well?

Second, what kind of America do we want, not just today, but twenty years from now, and how do we think we can get there from here? The founders of this country created the country we have today because they dreamed large. ... We will never get what we don’t reach for. So in 2006 and the decades to come, for what should we reach?

And last, on a more partisan note, what and for whom do we want our Democratic Party to stand for and fight for?

Those are the questions. I’d like to start with direct answers to these questions.

On America’s leadership role in the world, we need to restore the moral core and legitimacy that has been the foundation of our influence. It’s no secret that America’s credibility has been tarnished during the past six years. And that in too many places, even among our best friends, the very idea of American leadership seems like a contradiction. Poll after poll shows this... I’ve felt this first-hand, from Europe to the Middle East to India and Russia. Reversing this is one of our most important challenges.

I want to live in an America that is once again looked up to and respected around the world; an America that is an inspiration to common people everywhere who want to make their lives better. That means working to restore our legitimacy by strengthening international institutions or creating new ones; it means leading on the great challenges before us: whether it’s preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ending the genocide in Darfur, or fighting extreme poverty and diseases that ravage societies. It also means a plan to substantially reduce our presence in Iraq, by at least 40,000 troops immediately, and to continue that reduction so that the Iraqis can take control over their own lives. ... Restoring our credibility and legitimacy is absolutely essential if we are to defeat global jihadists.

How we work to improve our country and lift people up is also critical to restoring American leadership in the world. For decades, many drew inspiration from us, admiring how we worked everyday to make our country a better place. And the whole world is watching. Just as we fight poverty here at home, we must show more leadership in ending extreme poverty around the globe. It is wrong that close to half the world’s population – more than 3 billion people – live on less than 2 dollars a day. And it is a disgrace that millions of people suffer and die from diseases that are preventable – for example, a $5 dollar mosquito net could save a family from malaria; a few cents could vaccinate a child; and a $4 dose of medicine can help prevent a mother from transmitting AIDS to her newborn at childbirth. If we are to rebuild America’s moral leadership, we must do better at home – and abroad.

On the America we want to achieve in the next twenty years, I don’t think the picture is hard to draw. It is an America where we are well on our way to ending poverty. It is an America where every American has health care coverage – not access to health insurance or other wiggle-word ways we try to describe something less than health coverage for every American. It is time. It is an America where businesses and working people thrive in a competitive and fair international marketplace. It is an America where everyone can join the middle class and everyone can build a better future than their parents had.

I want to live in an America free from dependence on fossil fuels, where our environmental policies reflect our ... commitment to preserve that country for our farmers, our fishermen, our children. Sacrifice, conservation, and innovation will be required.

I want to live in an America that has not sacrificed individual liberties in the name of freedom..., where we don’t make excuses for violating civil rights, though we understand the test of liberty is in the moments when such excuses almost sound reasonable.

I want to live in an America where we value work as well as wealth, because we understand that we are only strong because our people work hard, that we are made strong by our longshoremen and autoworkers, our computer programmers and janitors, and disrespect to any of them is disrespect to the values that allowed for America’s greatness in the first place.

I want to live in an America where the difference in our best schools and our worst schools cannot be measured by Newsweek, where those who can teach are encouraged and rewarded and where the world of learning is opened to every child.

Today I will focus on the first of these goals – an America without poverty, but in the coming months, I will address each of these issues that will make such a difference to the country we can be in twenty years.

Finally, the Democratic Party. We should also recognize that our political parties, and what they stand for, are critical in shaping our country’s future. I believe in a Democratic Party of big ideas, with the courage and backbone to translate those ideas into workable policies.

I believe in a Democratic Party that fights for those who have no voice: the forgotten middle class, the poor, those who have labored a lifetime, and all those who speak the truth against overwhelming public opinion...

If we want to lead – and in these times we desperately need to lead in another direction – we have to represent something greater than our own self-promotion. We have to believe that our country is more important than ourselves. These times are critical, so let me be clear: in this battle for the soul of our Party, no less than the future of America and the future of the world are at stake.

As Democrats, we need to speak to these issues with specifics on how America should address them. As Democrats, we need to make clear that hard challenges don’t frighten us, but call us to action. ...

When I talked about poverty in the 2004 campaign, political types said it was futile. They said nobody cares about poverty except for the poor. Not true, and we saw it with Katrina. You’ve heard me talk about the Two Americas? One for those families who have everything they need, and then one for everybody else. Katrina showed us the Two Americas. ...

But if Katrina showed us the Two Americas, it also showed us something else. It showed us the American people want to live in one America. In the months after the hurricane, millions opened their hearts, their homes and their wallets to this cause. ...

America has fought poverty before. Past efforts like Social Security, Medicaid, welfare reform and the Earned Income Tax Credit have made a real difference.

But poverty is still with us. Any effort to address it must face up to the reasons that past efforts have fallen short, and to the new challenges that have arisen.

First, work doesn't pay enough. A single mom with one child who works full-time for the minimum wage is about $2,700 below the poverty line. In 2005, while corporate profits were up 13 percent, real wages fell for most workers.

Second, in too many poor communities, marriage is too rare, and male responsibility is not what it should be. Welfare reform has helped reduce poverty rates among single mothers, but too many young men remain cut off from the hopes and routines of ordinary American life.

Third, the debate of poverty policies is stuck in the old days. One side is driven by guilt, and the other by a deep skepticism of what government can accomplish. In reality, we need both the courage and the confidence to take a new course. And both sides should recognize that our whole economic future depends on making upward mobility universal. ...

In order to get the country on the path to eliminating poverty, we must build a "Working Society," which builds on the lessons of the past to create solutions for the future. At the heart of the Working Society is the value of work. Work is not only a source of a paycheck, but also a source of dignity and independence and self respect.

In a Working Society, we would create new opportunities to work. We would offer affordable housing near good jobs and a million last-chance jobs to people who cannot find work on their own.

In a Working Society, we would reward work. We would raise the minimum wage and cut taxes for low-income workers. We would find ways for workers to not only have but keep their health care and other key benefits, a topic I’ll return to in the future. We would help workers save for the future with Work Bonds and homeownership tax credits. And we would create a million more housing vouchers for working families.

And in a Working Society, we would expect ... everyone who can work to work, for the sake of their country, their families, and themselves. ... One harsh reality is that some people are in poverty because no one will give them a job, either because they have no prior work history, they lack basic skills such as the ability to read, or, the truth is, they have physical and mental challenges.

This is particularly true for young men. Welfare reform asked young mothers to join the workforce and gave them help to get there. Millions of poor women benefited, but poor men lost ground during the best economy we've ever had. In America today, there are communities where half the young men are out of work.

It's time to finish the job of welfare reform by giving low-income men the opportunity to work and challenging them to take responsibility for doing so. ...

If we believe that everyone who is capable of working should work, then we need to make sure that they have the opportunity to do so. I believe that we should create one million "stepping stone" jobs over five years. A good job that will let people work their way out of poverty in the short term, and help them get experience so they can get better jobs in the future. ...

The erosion of the minimum wage is a disgrace; we need to raise it to at least $7.50 an hour – a step that, by itself, would give full-time workers a $4,800 raise and lift more than a million people out of poverty. ...

We also need to give America’s workers a real right to organize. Unions helped move manufacturing jobs into the foundation of our middle class, and they can do the same for our service economy. This week’s Time magazine describes one difference between a janitor making $6.50 an hour and another making $12.50 an hour -- a union. The union itself is the difference between working in poverty and working your way out of poverty.

There’s a saying you may have heard – “income is what you use to get by, but assets are what you use to get ahead.” It’s true, and it’s why we’ll beat poverty by helping every working American build – and protect – their own assets… a savings account they can use to start a small business, money to fall back on in hard times, or a down payment to buy their first home. I’ve previously described a proposal I call “Work Bonds,” which would match low-income workers’ wages with a tax credit to help jumpstart their savings accounts.

In the 1990s, we saw how a new approach to welfare could help millions of families achieve independence. Now it is time for a new approach for another tough issue: housing.

I believe we should radically overhaul HUD in three big steps. First, we need to integrate our neighborhoods economically. Many neighborhoods were once segregated by race; now segregation by wealth is common, often with a racial dimension. If we truly believe that we are all equal, then we should live together too. ...

If conservatives really believed in markets, they'd join us in a more radical and more sensible solution: creating 1 million more housing vouchers for working families over the next five years. Done right, vouchers can enable people to vote with their feet to demand safe communities with good schools. We can help pay for this by cutting back HUD’s role in managing public housing, which it doesn’t do very well and often sticks working families in bad neighborhoods.

Second, we need to put families ahead of bureaucracy. HUD is bloated and has a track record of mismanaging money. ...

Finally, work should be at the center of our housing policy just as it is at the center of our other social policies. We should attach a contract to new housing vouchers: if they don’t already have jobs, recipients must work toward independence, and in return we will help them earn more and save more. ...

I’ve talked a lot about housing in cities, but we shouldn’t forget that housing is a rural problem too – 1.5 million rural homes are substandard – without plumbing or with a crumbling foundation or sagging roof.

The Working Society won’t forget about America’s small towns and rural communities. ... We would invest in community colleges, which are particularly important in rural areas.

We would open rural small business centers, which will provide investment capital and advice to help entrepreneurs get off the ground. ...

In the Working Society, we’d get serious about improving our schools... Good public schools and the chance to go to college meant everything in my life. But even to this day, there’s something that matters more. Family...

In a Working Society, we’ll make a priority of strengthening families. As a start, we would cut the marriage penalty that still hits poor workers... We would also cut taxes for low-income single workers, who are the only Americans living in poverty and paying federal taxes, to draw them into the workforce. And, as I mentioned earlier, we would create opportunities for young fathers to work and take responsibility for their children, and reward them for doing so.

But after that, there’s only so much the government can do. So the real burden of promoting strong families falls to us. All of us—parents, clergy, teachers, public officials—we need to say that it is wrong when young men father children but don’t support them. It is wrong when girls and young women bear children they aren’t ready to care for.

It is wrong when corporate America – through movies, music and advertising – promotes a culture of reckless behavior to our youth. And it is wrong when all Americans see this happening and do nothing to stop it.

Fighting poverty is a job for government, it is a job for communities, it is a job for all of us. ...

    Posted by on Sunday, July 30, 2006 at 02:01 AM in Economics, Income Distribution, Politics | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (5)

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