Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts narrowly won the Wisconsin Democratic party by a margin of 40 – 34 over Senator John Edwards of North Carolina. And although many are arguing that Kerry is the presumptive nominee, Edwards’ better than expected finish in the most recent contest not only demonstrates that the race is far from over, but also that Edwards is a powerful player on the national Democratic stage with a unique blend of talents that other candidates in this race lack. However, it is not Edwards’ charming appeal as a good ol’ southern boy, his good looks, or his clear general electability that should catch our attention. Rather, Edwards’ candidacy is important because of his insistence on passionately speaking about and fighting for the issues — jobs, health care, education, poverty — that really matter to us, no matter how dark the picture may be. He is the only one who has brought to the forefront those issues that must be thoroughly debated in order for us to choose our next president.
Certainly, the candidates’ focus on national security is important, but all of the remaining candidates will almost surely do what is required to ensure our defense (not to would be illogical and politically suicidal). And of course, candidates are going to rail against the special interests to which their opponents are supposedly beholden to. This issue, though, is used more as a political weapon against one another, rather than as a way to improve the lives of Americans.
What really needs to be discussed is the inequality that continues to plague our country. To steal John Edwards’ line, we live in a country of two Americas. Now, more than ever, we have a system in which those with money dominate our culture, our economy, and our politics. Currently, about one percent of the population holds approximately 40 percent of the wealth; and things are only getting worse. In his New York Times Magazine article “For Richer,” Professor Paul Krugman cites statistics that indicate that, over the last ten years, the income of the wealthiest Americans has increased 157 percent; during that same time, the income of middle class Americans increased a meager 10 percent. And as of August 2003, the United States economy had lost more than 2.5 million jobs since 2001, according to the New York Times. When it comes to health care, over 40 million Americans go each day without basic health coverage, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It is unfortunate enough that America cannot match the standards of our western European counterparts and provide social benefits, like health care, welfare, and education, for all of its citizens, regardless of class. It is even more deplorable that these topics rarely seem to make it to center-stage in our political elections. Recent American political competitions have been centered on tactics of negative campaigning and polarization. Most of the time, all we hear about is what the other guy has done wrong, not how the new guy feels about the issues.
Throughout the 2004 primary season, Democrats have utilized the anger in their party to have a seemingly united attack against the Republicans. But only on a few occasions have these candidates been able to motivate voters to join their movement because of the passion they have for what they believe in. Surely, Kerry and the others have presented hundreds of policy papers detailing how they would solve our country’s problems; and Howard Dean continually brought his record of health care for all as governor of Vermont. But these candidates never show us why those of us who are lucky enough to have comfortable lives would want to join the cause.
Except for John Edwards. Maybe it is because he is the son of a mill worker and the first in his family to go to college. Or maybe it is because he is an incredibly skillful trial lawyer capable of swaying the mind of any juror. Regardless, Edwards has found a voice that reaches all of us. His stump speech about our “two Americas” has resonated across the electorate and changed the shape of the debate. No longer are Democrats looking just for calls to remove Bush because of his failures as Commander-in-Chief. They now want to hear about the jobs we are losing to those overseas because of our trade policies. They want to do something about the tax cuts that make the rich even richer and the poor even poorer. They want to find a way to make sure that everyone who needs the attention of a doctor is able to receive it. And they want to create an escape route for those kids who are stuck in a vicious circle of violence, poverty, and educational inadequacy.
Whether or not his policies are the best, and whether or not he would make the best president, John Edwards has changed the focus of this year’s presidential race. It isn’t just policy proposals or good looks or experience or charisma that will win you an election. What matters more, or at least should matter more, is for whom our president will fight.
Ravi Agarwal is a sophomore in Branford College.