Candidate Edwards Lays Out an Early Gameplan
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
I spoke with John Edwards soon after his announcement today. He was in the home of Orillia Tyler, her house is being repaired by volunteers while she lives in a FEMA trailer out front. I asked Senator Edwards about the clear symbolism of announcing his candidacy in New Orleans.
Mr. JOHN EDWARDS (2008 Presidential Candidate): I think there were two things that were important why I chose this place. First is this is a great example of the two Americas that we'd talked about in the last campaign, and the issue of poverty that I've been working on the poverty center I run at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The more important issue is the second one, which is that I've seen since the last election that not just identifying a problem but actually taking the action to change it or correct it, is what's needed in this country. And so I was here with lots of young people who have been down here working in the 9th Ward and this is - these are all just perfect examples of what America can do when we as Americans take responsibility and we take action, and we help, instead of leaning back and complaining to somebody else is not doing what they're suppose to do. So that's - this is a call to action.
BLOCK: You've talked before about cutting poverty by a third in 10 years. I didn't hear you mentioned that today. But do you think that's a realistic goal, if you were president that you could actually cut poverty in this country by a third within a decade?
Mr. EDWARDS: Yeah, and to be precise, I said cut it by a third within a decade and the effective elimination of poverty in 30 years. And the answers I know it can be done. But it can't be done unless we take it on in a comprehensive way. I mean, there's simple things like minimum wage, organizing workers into unions so that they can be part of the middle class. We have a housing policy that's complete disaster. We need a radical overhaul of our housing policy in this country. Access to college, we've created a program that provides college to kids who are willing to work for it. I mean those are the tools that allow families to get out of poverty, and most of them are work-based. I mean, they're based on the idea that people who are working should not be living in poverty, which I believe strongly.
BLOCK: There would be people, senator, who would say that the notion you can eliminate poverty in this country is a dream. It's an admirable dream maybe, but it is a dream.
Mr. EDWARDS: I would concede it's a dream. I - and I would concede it will be very difficult to totally, a hundred percent, eliminate poverty. But I would not give up on it. And I know we can dramatically reduce it. And I think if we make this progress, I think we do actually have a really shot of eliminating poverty over a course of three decades, that's a long time. America needs to be the example on the great life for the rest of the world. And we could - it's very difficult for us to do that when people know that you have 37 million people who worry about feeding and clothing their children in the richest nation on the planet.
BLOCK: For voters, who might be thinking about the results of 2004, would you be able to tell them that you're offering anything different than what you had to offer in the last election?
Mr. EDWARDS: Yes, I mean number one, what I'm talking about doing now is not identifying problems but taking action to solve them. Second, we are galvanizing. I hope millions of people to take the action that I'm talking about is not counting on just one political leader to solve the country's problems. And just on a personal level, you know, for me, the desire to run for president of the United States should be driven by a desire to serve.
BLOCK: When you talk about galvanizing people, and a lot your - your announcement this morning was talking about what you want other people to do, you don't necessarily need to run for president to do that though. So I think, it might - people might be wondering what is he offering? What is his role in this?
Mr. EDWARDS: My role is to be the leader. My role is to be the leader of this grassroots campaign of what I think has the potential to be a movement over the long term, which is I think the way to bring real change in this country. We've waited too long for political leaders in Washington to solve our problems by themselves. It just won't work. Now, government, don't misunderstand this, government plays a crucial role, but we don't have two years to stand by and hope something good will happen after the election. There are things we can do right now, some of which I talked about today. And making - transforming America the way it has to be transformed on all of these issues that we've been talking about. Our leadership role in the world is going to require all of us, not just one political leader or a small group of political leaders in Washington. That's what's fundamentally wrong right now. The real power in this country doesn't come from them. It comes from out here in America among our people.
BLOCK: Senator Edwards, thanks for talking with us.
Mr. EDWARDS: Thank you very much.
BLOCK: That's John Edwards speaking with us from New Orleans, where today he announced he is running for president.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.