John Edwards formally kicked off his poverty tour in New Orleans’s Lower Ninth Ward this week and of course blamed the president for the government’s mishandling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Edwards also played up symbolism by visiting some of the samel cities Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy visited during their famed poverty tours. Edwards may not significantly differ from other Democratic front runners for the White House, although some say he is the only candidate with a truly universal health care program.
Edwards does however stand out from the field of Democratic front runners in terms of actually visiting impoverished locations, although not always to the delight of everybody in the region. In addition, there is not a lot of vote power or political contributions likely to emerge from the places he stopped on his poverty tour. He is often accused of orchestrating a well crafted political strategy for trying to draw attention to the nation’s poor, while attempting to distance himself from recent criticisms of his own affluence and lavish spending. Even in the age of overly scripted politicians he should be given the benefit of the doubt, and acknowledged for raising awareness to a critically important moral issue, although his solutions lack the right method for addressing poverty.
While the language and symbolism of his tour is recycled Great Society rhetoric, it adds a dynamic reminder of the failed attempt at combating poverty through massive federal spending and initiative. Of course, that’s not Edwards’ intention but he helps us recall these failed policies.
Lyndon Johnson in his first State of The Union Address declared “an unconditional war on poverty in America.” The same president vowed to “not rest until that war is won.” The War on Poverty in fact institutionalized poverty by trapping people in a vicious cycle of dependency. No doubt, there won’t be any talk of meaningful tax cuts, deregulation, and economic freedom in the Edwards poverty tour. If there is one legacy the Great Society left, it is that the government is not a job or wealth creator — the entrepreneur creates jobs and wealth. Jesus himself proclaims the “poor shall always be with us,” and so shall well meaning but misguided poverty tours.