Candidates for political office, especially presidential candidates, are often short on specifics. Everyone knows the routine: a candidate promises a fresh start, new ideas, a way out of bad prior policy decisions, a strengthening of vaguely defined values, and a host of other proposals that sound good but lack specificity. Perhaps the best example of this was Richard Nixon's promise in the 1968 campaign of a "secret plan" to end the Vietnam War, which he would only disclose if he won. (He did, and there wasn't any, as he later admitted in his memoirs.)
Edwards, the former senator from North Carolina and former vice-presidential candidate, seems as fed up with that kind of campaign as the rest of the country. In the few short months since it began, his campaign has released detailed plans for health care reform and combating climate change, among other proposals. He was the first to call for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign, prompting responses from the other candidates. His campaign declared itself carbon neutral recently, presenting a standard for the others to match. He was also the first Democrat to pull out of a Nevada debate that was being run by Fox News, known for its hostility to Democrats. Other candidates followed suit and eventually, the Nevada Democratic Party dropped Fox. Whether he is ultimately successful or not, there is no denying Edwards is strongly shaping this election.
While President Bush is sticking with his idea of voluntary measures to combat global warming, this week Edwards proposed mandatory caps on the emission of heat-trapping gases and stricter standards for auto emissions as well. Not only does Edwards reject the idea that these proposals will harm the economy, he said the government could help in creating a new energy-based economy with the benefit of adding one million new jobs, a feat that the Bush administration hasn't come close to in their years in office. The League of Conservation Voters recently issued a statement praising the Edwards plan, along with a similar bill that is in Congress. The League said Edwards' plan shows "he understands the magnitude of the challenge before us."
Meanwhile, Edwards' health care plan has drawn praise from Princeton economist and New York Times op-ed writer Paul Krugman, who called it a "smart, serious proposal." ("Edwards Gets It Right," New York Times, Feb. 9, 2007.) Long on specifics, the Edwards plan would guarantee insurance for all citizens and monitor insurance companies who "game the system" by only insuring healthy people. Edwards even went so far as to say he'd pay for this program by eliminating the Bush tax cut on the wealthiest of Americans, which would simply put them back where they were during the Clinton years. No other candidate has been bold enough to say anything of the kind.
Which is not to say they won't. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson may yet come out with detailed plans to rival Edwards', but so far they haven't. (Krugman quotes Clinton as saying she is "not ready to be specific.") The same goes for the Republican candidates. And it's worth keeping in mind that Bush's plan for health care includes taxing the middle class on their "golden" plans -- an idea that was dead in the water as soon as he presented it.
The Edwards campaign, so far, is the only one talking about poverty in America, and around the world. While he hasn't used the "Two Americas" theme of his 2004 campaign extensively this time around, Edwards has been a constant voice on this subject. The Boston Globe said in 2005 that "Edwards got it right about poverty."
Yet every time the issue comes up, the Republicans cry that the other side is trying to wage "class warfare," which is their way of not talking about the subject. If any party's policies have created warfare among the classes, it is the Republicans, who for more than 25 years have adopted economic policies that have hurt working people. Meanwhile, Edwards - who ran the poverty center at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill - recently said confronting global poverty would actually make the U.S. safer, since terrorism thrives in failed states.
We wish John and Elizabeth Edwards the very best in their latest struggle. We hope her health remains as good as it appeared yesterday for many years to come. And we hope to see both of them stay on the campaign trail as long as they can, running a different kind of campaign and, in the process, creating a legacy of which the nation can continue to be proud. Whether or not they end up in the White House in January 2009, the Edwardses have already presented a better presidential campaign.
More info: Edwards Gets It Right (NYT, subscription required)