Sunday, July 22, 2007

Is John Edwards the Next Robert Kennedy?

Newsweek By Jonathan Darman

Outrage came easier in that optimistic America. On a 1967 trip to the Mississippi Delta, Kennedy found windowless shacks filled with poor black children, starving to death. He was stunned and so was the nation. 'Seeing those children with distended bellies and sores that wouldn't heal on the 'CBS Evening News' that night,' recalls Peter Edelman, one of Kennedy's close aides, 'the country was really shocked.'

There are fewer distended bellies in Edwards's America but there is also less outrage. Today's middle class is driven by its own economic insecurity. Educated professionals worry about health-care costs, mortgage payments and simply getting by. Sensitive to this reality, Edwards says that when he talks of "two Americas," he means not the rich and the poor but the rich and "everyone else." Indeed, many of the cornerstones of Edwards's economic agenda, like universal health care and federal penalties for predatory lenders, have appeal on both sides of the poverty line. But even Edwards admits working Americans have trouble swallowing the notion they have more in common with poor people than they do with the affluent.

Edwards also faces a credibility gap in a country grown cynical since Kennedy's death. ... But to a weary nation worried about the war in Iraq, the threat of terror and the health of the planet, his words sound like more empty promises from a politician.

Edwards is most believable, most like Bobby Kennedy, when he simply listens. At a forum in Wise, Va., on the final day of the poverty tour, he became visibly moved as he took in the tales of poor Virginians and Kentuckians who'd lived most of their lives without health care. "Are you all listening?" he demanded as he turned to his press corps with a searing, and genuine, rage. The reporters did not respond. Neither has the country, yet.

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