A bit more on that lengthy New York Times magazine article on John Edwards and his policy proposals to deal with poverty:
To liberals, historically, taking on things like parenting skills and self-discipline veers dangerously close to blaming people for their own poverty — which is what they charge conservatives with doing. Instead, Democrats in the era since Bill Clinton have settled on a delicate formula for talking about poverty: they make concrete proposals in the economic realm (job training, tax credits, a higher minimum wage) while sternly deploying code phrases (“personal responsibility,” “playing by the rules”) that suggest that those in need also have to make better choices for themselves and their children. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Edwards follows this same basic regimen. While he talks about making people “take responsibility” and emphasizes the value of work, his antipoverty agenda contains little that is new or innovative to encourage better parenting or to impart more useful life skills.
When I asked him about this, Edwards assured me that he understands the scope of the issue. He told me that he had visited more than 100 antipoverty and neighborhood centers around the country since the last election and that what he saw in some of those places stunned him. “When you’re sitting with a woman who’s working two or three jobs and having a terrible time making ends meet, and she tells you that her 14-year-old girl is having her third child, it makes you weep inside,” he said, with obvious emotion. “I mean, where’s the hope? They are absolutely doomed to poverty.”
Still, Edwards rejects the idea that government can get involved in the way people live their lives and raise their children. “The government has nothing to do with this,” he said. “And I’m not sure the government should have anything to do with this.” Instead, he told me, part of a president’s job is to encourage the community-based groups that deal with issues like teenage pregnancy and absentee fathers. I asked him how, exactly, he would do that. “By meeting with these people,” he said. “Lifting them up.”
His answer almost makes me weep inside. You can see Edwards coming so close – the bad choices of this family are dooming them to a life of poverty – and yet he pulls back at the last second, because he can’t reconcile himself with the idea of the government saying one choice is better (morally right?) than another, that the poor should be discouraged from having children that they cannot care for.
I’ll meet the lefties halfway. I’ll admit that sometimes a lack of opportunities, a failing education system, and just plain bad luck can partially explain why people cannot escape poverty… if they’ll admit that the poor often find themselves in these circumstances because of bad choices – a choice to drop out of school, to not apply themselves in school, to have children out of wedlock or before they’re capable of caring for them, or to not marry the partner they have children with. Often, a choice to drink or turn to illegal drugs. A choice to think about today and not worry about the consequences tomorrow.
(Oddly, the discussion of poverty in the article skips over the biggest domestic policy change of the 1990s, welfare reform, and the success story that it represented for so many of the poorest Americans.)
Also, I would mention to the Edwards campaign that when New York Times magazine writers are mocking your excuses, you’re in trouble:
When the Fortress story first surfaced, for instance, he told Nedra Pickler of The Associated Press that he joined the hedge fund partly because he wanted to learn more about the way markets affected inequality. This is rather like saying you hired a stripper in order to better understand the exploitation of women.
Another line in that article that stood out to me:
Predistribution Democrats dispute the notion that the effects of globalization are inevitable; to them, the decline in American industry was inflicted on the country through policies that favored business at the expense of wage earners. And they think it’s still possible, by reversing those policies, to live in a country where a guy with a high-school degree can have a rosy economic future.
Wow. It’s been a while since we had an economy where an American with only a high school education could have a rosy economic future, huh? And our friends on the left want to go back to that? The way I figure it, you would have to ban just about all imported goods (since foreign labor can generally produce these materials cheaper), raise the minimum wage to a “livable wage” ($10/hour?), deport all illegal immigrant labor (well, some folks are probably now applauding), roll back certain technological advances that have replaced labor in some areas (get rid of ATMs, so people need to use bank tellers again)… They want to turn back the clock, and yet somehow they call themselves progressives?