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July 9, 2006
Er, What Resumé? (Updated)

Leave it to Newsweek to burnish the reputation of a single-term politician with no legislative record whatsoever to report that the presidential candidate has a "retooled resumé". John Edwards has hit the presidential campaign trail again, making him perhaps the only politician in US history to have twice as many runs at the presidency as terms in any electoral office:

It's Friday night in Iowa and an old politician is trying some new tricks. John Edwards is back—back, with the familiar deep drawl, dark tan and honeyed hair. Gone, though, are the old catchphrases—"two Americas" and "hope is on the way." In their place: a long meditation on America's moral obligation to confront the plight of its poor. "Thirty-seven million of our people, worried about feeding and clothing their children," he said to his audience. "Aren't we better than that?" It's not the stuff of great sound bites, but it's part of Edwards's new political plan: a presidential campaign with fighting poverty as a central plank. It's a risky strategy in today's Democratic Party—Edwards may be the most viable national candidate since Bobby Kennedy to tie his destiny to a fight for the destitute. "Yeah, I heard all that stuff: 'Who cares?' or 'It's a dead end'," Edwards tells NEWSWEEK. "Well, it's what I want to do."

Rebel outsider is an odd role for the Democratic Party's most recent vice presidential candidate to play. Yet Edwards's 2008 presidential campaign—still hypothetical but proceeding at high speed—is all about breaking with the established script. He's largely opted out of the buzz primary—leaving candidates like former Virginia governor Mark Warner and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh to convince Beltway insiders and media types that they're the best alternatives to front runner Hillary Clinton. Instead, he's using the name recognition he built up in '04 and hitting the campaign trail early and often—quietly raising $6.5 million in 105 appearances for Democrats running in 2006.

"Rebel outsider" is a ridiculous role for John Edwards. The single-term Senator got the Vice Presidential nod largely on the basis of his looks and the utter lack of any legislative record in the Senate. Even calling him a single-term Senator overstates his record; he spent the entire last third of his term running for President and later VP, hardly attending sessions of Congress at all. Edwards won the hearts of Democratic kingmakers because he looked young, spoke well, and made John Kerry's record of a Senate dilettante look good by comparison. Now he wants to run again for the Presidency when his own state would have sent him home from the Senate had he run for re-election, and offers the same tired platitudes about poverty as he did the first time around.

Let's talk about poverty. Where did John Edwards get his numbers? The US Census Bureau has a ready table on poverty and near-poverty, and the number 37 million has no relation to those below the poverty line. (See update -- I'm wrong on this point.) If his basis is worry, well, that tells us nothing; what parent doesn't worry about putting food on the table and clothes on the children, except for rich personal-injury attorneys? That threshold is meaningless.

The real numbers tell a more interesting story. The percentage of people in poverty and near-poverty (125% of the poverty line) has actually decreased over the last 15 years. Even in real numbers, the highest number of people in near-poverty or worse came in 1992 (19.7%), 1993 (20%), and 1994 (19.3%), topping 50 million in each year. Interestingly, the percentage of people actually below the poverty line has remained almost constant over that entire period. Here are all percentages:

Year % Near Pov % Poverty
1990 18.0 4.5
1991 18.9 4.7
1992 19.7 4.9
1993 20.0 4.8
1994 19.3 4.7
1995 18.5 4.7
1996 18.5 4.8
1997 17.8 4.6
1998 17.0 4.3
1999 16.3 4.4
2000 15.6 4.3
2001 16.1 4.4
2002 16.5 4.4
2003 16.9 4.5
2004 17.1 4.4

In fact, from what we see in this progression, economic expansion is the greatest tool in the war on poverty. We saw the same numbers in the 1980s (check the link), where poverty and especially near-poverty rose and fell depending on the growth in GDP and the overall health of the economy. In the 1990s, this trend got a boost from welfare reform, which hit in the mid-1990s along with an economic expansion.

If John Edwards wants to solve poverty, he can begin by cutting government spending, reducing bureaucratic overhead on private enterprise (starting with Sarbanes-Oxley), and introducing more free-market approaches, rather than the tired, failed top-down government programs that the Democrats have espoused since Lyndon Johnson's Great Society promised to end poverty in America. First, however, John Edwards might want to actually have something on his retooled resumé other than ambulance chaser and empty suit.

UPDATE, 7/11/06: No, I'm wrong and Edwards is right about the 37 million. Thanks to Commander Bob for the correction, even if it was a bit rude. The first column shows everyone below 125% of the poverty line; the second shows the gap between 100% and 125%. The difference is 37 million. My mistake, and I apologize for it.

However, the number of people in poverty still peaked thirteen years ago, even on a full-number number basis. Those who claim that more people are poor now either can't read or has worse math skills than I did on Sunday.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 9, 2006 11:41 AM

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» Captain Ed Weighs in on John Edwards' Campaign from SingleMind.Net: Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is LIBERTY!!!
07/09/2006: I've always considered John Edwards a snake-oil salesman. He is a slick ambulance chaser who sweet-talked his way into one Senate term in 1998. He ran on the Kerry ticket, but he had no chance of winning re-election to the Senate. Today,... [Read More]

Tracked on July 9, 2006 5:59 PM

» Edwards In Iowa from Iowa Voice
Gotta love the title of this Newsweek article: "One Hug At A Time". Because Democrats are soooo compassionate and caring. Anyway, on to the article: It's Friday night in Iowa and an old politician is trying some new tricks. John Edwards is back—b [Read More]

Tracked on July 10, 2006 5:03 AM


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