The Washington Post has a good piece about John Edwards’ plans to combat poverty. Edwards has made his program to “end poverty in 30 years” in this country his signature domestic issue. The Post story, by Alec MacGillis, provides insight into both Edwards and the issue.
The centerpiece of the Edwards plan is to do away with public housing projects and replace them with one million rental vouchers through which to disperse the poor into better neighborhoods, closer to good schools and jobs. However, as the Post explains, a major federal experiment started during the Clinton administration shows that dispersing poor families in this fashion does not improve earnings or school performance. When this inconvenient truth was brought to Edwards’ attention during his November 2005 symposium on poverty, he apparently had no answer.
I also wonder whether Edwards can explain (except by reference to political calculation) why he favors vouchers that would enable poor families to relocate but opposes private school vouchers. If the idea is to give poor families choices through which they can improve their lives, it’s difficult to see why school choice should be off the table. Moving poor people close to good jobs they lack the skills to perform is meaningless. The key is education, but Edwards is not interested in maximizing educational opportunities. Nor, he admits, is he interested in talking, as Barack Obama, does about the need for the poor to take more personal responsibility. That message, he says, won’t play well coming from him.
Given his reliance on a program that has been shown not to work, and his rejection of a program that’s consistent with the general approach he espouses, one can’t help suspect that, for Edwards, it’s not about defeating poverty; rather it’s about positioning himself to the left of his main rivals. Is there any evidence that, for Edwards, it’s ever been about anything other than positioning?
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