An anonymous poster was kind enough to provide me with a link to the text of Edwards' speech. Having had a chance to peruse it I think I'm now firmly in the "not visionary" camp, at least as far as his views on eliminating poverty and education reform. Edwards says
I do not believe in a Party obsessed with incrementalism, half-measures, and positions based on yesterdayÂs polls.
But, frankly, a lot of what he's proposing looks like incrementalism. He spend a lot of time talking about incentives and vouchers and reforming HUD, all of which have the feel of today's permutation of yesterday's ideas. I get the feeling that he's tinkering with the existing system rather than proposing a new system. I'll get into specifics in a second, but first I want to give him props for the following:
I want to live in an America that is once again looked up to and respected around the world; an America that is an inspiration to common people everywhere who want to make their lives better. That means working to restore our legitimacy by strengthening international institutions or creating new ones; it means leading on the great challenges before us: whether itÂs preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ending the genocide in Darfur, or fighting extreme poverty and diseases that ravage societies. It also means a plan to substantially reduce our presence in Iraq, by at least 40,000 troops immediately, and to continue that reduction so that the Iraqis can take control over their own lives. As we do so, we should call upon the other countries in the region who have expressed an interest in securing the stability of Iraq to step forward. Restoring our credibility and legitimacy is absolutely essential if we are to defeat global jihadists.
Yes, and yes, and yes. I'm ambivalent about the immediate troop draw-down, but other than that, yes. Now, on to some specifics.
Early in the speech he makes the following statement:
We all pay a price when our people turn to crime because they have no other hope. HarvardÂs Richard Freeman estimates that growing incarceration costs and unemployment of ex-offenders costs 4 percent of our economy, each and every year.
Ok, Mr. Edwards, you want to be visionary? Try these words on for size: "The war on drugs has been a failure". How many people, directly and indirectly, are incarcerated because of the US government's ridiculously blindered drug policy?
Drug policy cuts across so many of the topics that Edwards would like to fix: crime, poverty, bad schools, incarceration, etc.. How can he talk about these deeply intertwined issues and not even mention drug policy? I suspect that "yesterday's polls" are to blame, at least in part. Coming out against the war on drugs, now that would be visionary, but I'm almost certain it would scuttle any chance of him even making it to the primaries.
His ideas about employment also seem to be missing the big picture. With regards to his plan for "stepping stone" jobs:
These jobs could change the face of our hardest hit communities. Workers could serve with non-profit organizations working wonders, building parks and keeping our neighborhoods clean. They will bring opportunity to neighborhoods where jobs are scarce and hope is sometimes even scarcer.
First criticism: "building parks and keeping our neighborhoods clean" sounds an awful lot like code for a bunch of menial, low skill maintenance jobs. Sure, these might provide employment, but I'm skeptical as to his claims that these jobs will help make people more employable and let them work their way out of poverty.
Additionally, the bit about "hardest hit communities" makes it sound like he's acknowleging that one of the problems with blighted neighborhoods is that there's little local employment to be had. But later on in the speech he says, in relation to the problems of segregated housing, that
These policies cut willing workers off from entry-level jobs, which are often created in the suburbs, far from public transportation.
He suggests providing low income families with housing vouchers so that they can move to better neighborhoods. This whole approach strikes me as particularly incoherent. You have downtrodden neighborhoods with little local employment, and people living in those neighborhoods who need jobs. The solution to this problem isn't to move some of those people to the suburbs; once those people are left you still have the bad neighborhoods with an employment problem. Again, if you want to be visionary, why not kill two birds with one stone?
Ask the question "Why are there no jobs to be had locally?", and then tailor policies to fix the problems that asking such a question reveals. If you can create jobs locally then not only do you solve the problem of local employment (perhaps even creating some meaningful "stepping stone" jobs in the process) but the increase in economic activity could improve the general quality of the neighborhood as well.
He goes on to talk about, among other things, the minimum wage, wanting to raise it to at least $7.50 an hour. As I've previously noted
this approach to the minimum wage seems to be more of a bandaid than anything else. Why not just pick a reasonable wage and then index it for inflation?
Again, all of this seems to support my contention that he's ignoring potential long-term fixes, perhaps because they'd be too revolutionary. I feel like his approach to education reform is a particularly egregious example of this tendenncy. He suggests creating "second-chance schools" for students who have dropped out, a policy that implicitly accepts a high dropout rate as normal and unavoidable. Wouldn't it be better to fix the problems which lead to a high dropout rate in the first place?
Again, if he wanted to be revolutionary he could fix problems with inequities in school funding... wait... no... that's a state issue. How about teacher pay, he could ensure that teachers are paid a decent wage... nope... state issue there as well. I've got it, revolutionary! Nationalize the @^%$# education system! One of the reasons that the US is so messed up education wise is that we have 50 different educational beauracracies, some of which have demonstrated continuing incompetence, plus the federal government. Again, such a suggestion would be visionary, but would probably ensure his non-electability.
And then there's this item, way towards the end of the speech, which kind of gives me the heebie jeebies:
It is wrong when corporate America - through movies, music and advertising - promotes a culture of reckless behavior to our youth.
What, exactly, does he mean by that? Anytime someone starts sounding like Phyllis Schlafly I started to get a little worried about their intentions.
So, in summary, not visionary. Its possibly slight bolder than yesterday's shit, but that's about all you can say about it.