The Washington Post takes a whack at explaining why, despite his ardent efforts on behalf of poor Americans, John Edwards seems to be making so little headway in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Like some left-wing bloggers, the Post’s primary explanation is the adverse publicity Edwards received about his 28,000 square-foot house and his $400 haircuts.
But it’s not as if these fairly recent developments have eroded Edwards’ support. He’s been pushing his two-Americas theme essentially non-stop since 2003 and has never gained any real traction. This is probably because Edwards is so transparently phony, a reality that was apparent long before the mansion went up and the haircuts were exposed.
Indeed, it’s amazing that anyone ever took seriously Edwards’ attempt to own this issue. Barack Obama worked as a community organizer in low-income neighborhoods in Chicago before he entered politics. Hillary Clinton was strongly associated with liberal anti-poverty causes for years before she entered politics. John Edwards can point to no pre-political credentials on the anti-poverty issue nor, so far as I know, to any distinctive efforts in this area as a legislator. His credentials consist of speeches and photo opportunities undertaken in conjunction with his presidential campaigns.
But the Washington Post suggests that Edwards also has good ideas. Thus, Perry Bacon, Jr. writes: “Most of the ideas Edwards is offering to end poverty, such as increasing the minimum wage and integrating neighborhoods so they don’t have lare concentrations of low-income people, have long been advocated by policy experts. . . .”
Bacon does not identify these experts. Moreover, the evidence is that using the minimum wage in this fashion will lead to significantly higher rates of minority unemployment, and that gains among those who don’t lose their jobs will likely be offset by a reduction in hours.
As to Edwards’ pet idea of integrating neighborhoods, a prior Washington Post article (this one by Alec MacGillis) acknowledged that a major federal experiment started during the Clinton administration shows that dispersing poor families in this fashion does not improve earnings or school performance. The Post also reported that when this inconvenient truth was brought to Edwards’ attention during his November 2005 symposium on poverty, he had no answer.
But with Edwards it’s not about answers or ideas. It’s about finding a niche — the same quest that impels him to the left of Clinton and Obama on the war, which (unlike Obama) he supported when that position was popular.
I’m not surprised that some lefty bloggers (who are also highly niche-conscious) tend to buy, or at least accept, Edwards’ act. How Post-man Bacon got sucked in is less clear.
JOHN adds: All true. I would add that very few Democrats care about poor people. The Democrats’ core constituencies are all above average in income. All Democratic candidates shed ritual crocodile tears for “the poor,” but a candidate needs to have a more tangible appeal to the party’s real constituencies to make any progress.
PAUL adds: African-Americans are a core Democratic constituency with a below average income. But Edwards never had a shot at this group, and not because of haircuts. When it comes to the core constituency Edwards is mainly after, the anti-war left, John is right, I think.
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