We have spent a lot of time here at Reality Check finding flip-flops and inconsistencies in candidates’ statements, but an accurate track of consistency would also reward conviction of beliefs. No candidate has been as consistent on the issue of poverty as John Edwards. He has been talking about the problem of poverty for as long as he’s been in the public eye and continues to talk about it today in virtually every speech he gives. In 2004 when he was the Democratic nominee for vice president he stressed the importance of the “two Americas”
We still live in a country where there are two different Americas… one, for all of those people who have lived the American dream and don’t have to worry, and another for most Americans, everybody else who struggle to make ends meet every single day. It doesn’t have to be that way.
After losing the election he founded a think tank at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to research poverty and his One America Campaign, the idealized solution to the idea of “two Americas” was devoted to speaking out on poverty issues.
Before Hurricane Katrina hit, John Edwards was one of the lone political voices speaking out against poverty. After Katrina, at a time when he could have easily said “I told you so” he refrained commenting instead on the Bush policy of mobile homes for Katrina victims as temporary housing saying; ”If we know anything from a half-century of urban development, it is that concentrating poor people close to each other and away from jobs is a lousy idea.” In the wake of Katrina he argued that “Poverty is the great moral issue of our century.” Edwards continued to speak out against American poverty, In June of 2006 he spoke at the National Press Club saying;
On the America we want to achieve in the next twenty years, I don’t think the picture is hard to draw. It is an America where we are well on our way to ending poverty. It is an America where every American has health care coverage — not access to health insurance or other wiggle-word ways we try to describe something less than health coverage for every American. It is time. It is an America where businesses and working people thrive in a competitive and fair international marketplace. It is an America where everyone can join the middle class and everyone can build a better future than their parents had.
Into 2007 he continued and continues to speak about poverty at almost every public event.
In an interview with Beliefnet.com he was asked what the biggest moral issues facing America were, he answered:
There are several. One is here within our own borders. The fact that we have 37 million people who live every day worrying about taking care of themselves and their family, living in poverty, I think is a huge moral issue.
In March he spoke in Manchester, New Hampshire saying:
In the richest country in the history of the globe, we have more millionaires and more billionaires that ever – but we also have more Americans living in poverty – 37 million people unable to fulfill their basic needs of food and shelter, no matter how many jobs they work – not less.
And just this past week he spoke at the National Action Network and outlined, further his views on poverty reduction in America:
Well, I can tell you, I have traveled all over this country and I have been in the places where people’s bootstraps are worn to a thread from all the pulling they’ve been doing. Places where all the hard work in the world hasn’t helped to pull them out of poverty—because the system discriminates and opportunity isn’t equal. But if we come together and are honest about it, we can change that and build an America that gives every American an equal chance.
There is no question in my mind that intolerance is a direct cause of one of our greatest and most threatening problems: the growing disparity between rich and poor, between haves and have nots, between working people and all those powerful forces who do not have their best interests in mind.
Edwards is a little less clear on practical solutions to the problems he raises and the blogosphere has been critical of the hypocrisy of him speaking about poverty while getting a $400 haircut. But in terms of Edwards’ public statements, he has been remarkably consistent in his belief that poverty is a major problem for millions of Americans and that makes it a problem for all Americans. Edwards’ populism has struck a chord with many voters from all sides of the political spectrum. Says Edwards:
no matter whether anyone asks, no matter whether any other candidate ever raises the issue, as long as I’m alive and breathing and as long as I am a presidential candidate, I will be speaking up for the little guy. And I think that a lot of that has been lost in American politics for strategic political reasons. And their voice needs to be heard–desperately needs to be heard. And if I do nothing else, their voice will be heard through me.