Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Anti-Poverty Candidate

People who know me intimately know that I'm pretty passionate about ending poverty. I'll get teary-eyed when I spit out sad statistics, curse efforts that increase poverty, curse when common sense solutions are ignored, and ask most politicians I meet pointed questions on poverty. It occassionally makes me callous to other people's problems, sometimes even my own. Given that, one would imagine that I'd run to sign up for John Edwards campaign. But I didn't. And I won't.

I am glad that Edwards talks a lot about poverty. To me its a serious moral and practical problem and it should be discussed. I was excited when Edwards started a poverty center in North Carolina--a truly noble goal. Unfortunately, I never noticed anything in Edwards's Senate career that showed the same level of concern for anti-poverty measures as he's pushed in his presidential campaigns. What's worse is looking at the events calendar on the UNC Poverty Center website. Perhaps there are events missing, but the last event noted on the website took place November 9, 2006. That's three and a half months ago! The last press on the website was from October 11, 2006--over four months ago.

I don't mean to question the people at the center, but this, along with his lack of effort in the senate on these measures, makes me question the real level of commitment that Edwards has when it comes to poverty. What's more, I don't get a feeling from listening to Edwards talk about poverty that he truly understands the situation or the solutions. I don't care that he's wealthy because wealthy people can understand the burdens of poverty as well as the solutions. FDR wasn't exactly poor, but he set up Social Security which dramatically decreased poverty amongst elderly Americans. A truly heroic feat.

I've never met or talked to Edwards so he may very well possess a deep understanding of what it takes to combat poverty. But I have yet to see that in anything he has said or has done.

But I have met Wes Clark. And, yes, I asked him one of my impassioned and pointed questions on poverty. What really surprised me was that he skipped the talk about what poverty is like--sparing me details that I'm quite aware of--and jumped right into the meat of possible solutions. I'm not one to be overly impressed with famous politicians--after all, I am a couple minute walk from more than one Nobel Laureate--but I was struck by his candor and his depth of knowledge on practical solutions. We talked about community and neighborhood based financial planning programs, microcredit, fair trade policy and national cultural impediments. A far cry from "we can do better". That he was willing to discuss some of the hurdles in addressing this issue demonstrated that he knows what he's talking about.

I won't enumerate or elaborate the solutions discussed right now--I'll save that for after he announces--but I just want to mention that as a person who cares very deeply about reducing poverty, Wes Clark is my clear choice as the anti-poverty candidate. Not platitudes, but practical solutions. Not just hope, but tangible solutions.

I know he most likely won't read this, but if so, I hope he runs because I want a real anti-poverty candidate. I'm sick of slogans and gimmicks. And, frankly, I've been hoping for a long time and that doesn't cut it either.