One of the most important points Al Gore makes about global warming in An Inconvenient Truth is that it is not a political issue; it is a moral issue. To me, this is one of the most important concepts with regards to the Democratic Party that we should employ more often: moral values aren't just what the Republican Party says they are - after all, they aren't very good at following their own rules - but that they encompass every aspect of our life. A moral issue that we need to address more, especially in light of what has happened since Hurricane Katrina, is poverty. It's an issue that the Bible has to speak about, but sadly, it's something that often gets ignored for whatever reason. Even though the GOP-controlled Senate blocked a minimum wage increase, there's one person who continues the crusade to raise the minimum wage and to combat poverty in America: former senator and vice presidential nominee John Edwards.
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards, a potential 2008 Democratic residential candidate, told supporters of a ballot issue to increase the state's minimum wage that a hike in Ohio would be the first step toward increasing wages across the nation.
"This cause will not end when we are victorious raising the minimum wage here in the state of Ohio," he said. "It will continue next year and the next year and the next year until we are living in a United States of America where every single American is treated the same way."
It's a shame that there are so many things going wrong these days that Democrats can hardly spend their time focusing their energies on one issue. Iraq is the only constant, but right now, the big issue of the day is North Korea. Before that, it was other issues such as the minimum wage, immigration reform, pointless constitutional amendments. However, one must admire Edwards for selecting an issue to focus on after the presidential election - poverty in America - that no one would have taken seriously. In his position as director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina, Edwards has been a tireless advocate of the lower class in America. While campaigning for Ohio's minimum wage increase, Edwards had some good advice for his - and our - party:
Also during his speech, Edwards said the Democratic party should abandon baby steps and focus-group-driven ideas and stand up for those who have no voice.
"I believe in a Democratic party with a little backbone and a little guts," he said.
After the speech, Edwards said a minimum wage ballot issue could help bring more Democrats to the polls. But, he said, he would be willing to give up any strategic advantage at the polls to have federal lawmakers raise the minimum wage across the country.
Big ideas are something that the Democratic Party needs more of. Their congressional campaign agenda, A New Direction, is a good first step - but it's a baby step that's high on rhetoric and low on policy content. While simplifying what we believe in is something that the Democratic Party is in sore need of, there needs to be substance behind the slogans in order to make those of us who closely follow politics enthusiastic about it. That's where something like Edwards' idea of A Working Society comes in.
A copy of his speech distributed to reporters and embragoed until this morning shows that Edwards proposes to "radically overhaul" the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; to create 1 million "stepping stone" jobs over the next five years, to raise the minimum wage, and to refocus the American education system.
"I propose a great national goal, because Americans believe in achieving great things," Edwards plans to say. "Like JFK challenging America to land a man on the moon, a national goal of eradicating poverty will sharpen our focus, marshal our resources and at the end of the day, bring out our best."
This is not some head-in-the-clouds liberalism; this is a pragmatic first step forward in resuming the whole point of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society - to eliminate poverty in America. Strengthening our education system, reforming an inefficient bureaucracy in Washington, raising the minimum wage, and creating concrete jobs in America is a great start. A bold idea is not promising to cut the deficit in half in 5 years - something that sounds good but is neither that remarkable nor realistic, given this adminstration's shitty fiscal record. A bold idea is confronting an issue that no one wants to face and offering fresh leadership on it. Just look at the demographic information for the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, and you will understand that we need to do a better job of taking care of Americans.
The focus on the minimum wage is beginning to produce leadership at the state level. Today, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell signed into law a $2 increase in the state minimum wage. No longer is talk of a minimum wage increase derided as a liberal spending measure; it's now spoken of as common sense and a belief that we should help improve the lives of our fellow citizens. For too long, we have treated poverty just as this Marlon Brando quote puts it: "If we are not our brother's keeper, at least let us not be his executioner." It's time that America collectively shoulders its great obligation to provide for those less fortunate. It should not be a political issue; it should be our moral duty. And it has a great champion and a good man at the front: John Edwards.