Storm Lake, Iowa
John Edwards brought his Southern revival speech to the Iowa State Education Association's convention here last month, before a crowd that lapped him up along with sweet corn and chicken on a stick.
The former senator, and John Kerry's 2004 running mate, drew five standing ovations from the obviously friendly gathering as the North Carolinian challenged the union members to wipe out poverty in America.
He is the first presidential hopeful to visit Storm Lake in the 2008 election cycle. The teacher's union plays a huge role in the Iowa caucuses because it can turn out delegates on a cold February night who will hang in there for the entire caucus evening.
Being coy about White House ambitions is all part of the game. Still, Edwards shook every hand he could in the Siebens Forum at Buena Vista University, had all the time in the world for the TV cameras, and talked of reshaping the Democratic Party.
"I wanna see my party get a little backbone and spine!" Edwards told the teachers who jumped to their feet in applause. "We used to be the party of big ideas. We're better than this. I wanna see a party take on the great moral issues of our time."
He delivered a veiled dig at the middling Democratic Leadership Council whose prominent adherents include Hillary Clinton and Tom Vilsack. "Incrementalism is not about leading, it's about following," Edwards said.
The great moral issues as he sees them are:
Ending poverty within 30 years.
Providing universal health care for every American.
Providing free college to any student who will work 10 hours per week.
He says the funds are available if the government quits subsidizing oil companies and worldwide military forays.
"Thirty-seven million people wake up every day in America worrying about what they will eat or what they will wear," Edwards said. "They're terrified of when the next hammer will fall, about when they will go in the ditch again.
"I'm here preaching the gospel of doing something. We have to inspire this country again. We need to lift people up again."
Edwards maintains that America should lead the world in ending poverty. He visited India where children sleep amid sewage and roaming animals. Sudan is a slaughterland. Somalia is at war. The poverty and oppression of he Middle East breed radical terror groups.
"The world does not see your character. They don't know what you're made of," Edwards said. "Where is America, the America we all believe in? ... There is a genocide happening right now in Sudan. After Rwanda we said never again. We're better than this."
Edwards also spoke of the poverty of New Orleans exposed by Hurricane Katrina. It is a poverty not unique to cities in America, he said. He talked about economic and social segregation that keeps the poor down.
"Do we actually believe in a country where everyone is of equal worth? I believe that's what it is to be American. I believe that in my soul. When are we going to start living it?"
Art Cullen is managing editor of The Progressive Populist, and is editor of The Storm Lake Times.
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