I’d say Edwards accomplished what he set out to do with his speech: he put forward a broad and attractive plan, shared a set of sympathetic values, and projected energy, confidence, and optimism. No big surprises, but I don’t think there were intended to be (there are all manner of big surprises I would’ve liked to see, generally falling into the category of John Edwards morphing into John Lewis). “Two Americas” works as a unifying theme, contrary to the grousing of the National Review crowd, because it speaks to a reality which most Americans intuitively recognize and implicitly sets forth an ideal most Americans are ready to work and sacrifice for. Glad to see Edwards at least intimating the connections between different forms of social, political, and economic equality in this country – in education, in healthcare, and such. And it was heartening to hear this graph:

We can also do something about 35 million Americans who live in poverty every day. And here’s why we shouldn’t just talk about but do something about the millions of Americans who live in poverty. Because it is wrong. And we have a moral responsibility to lift those families up. I mean the very idea that in a country of our wealth and our prosperity, we have children going to bed hungry. We have children who don’t have the clothes to keep them warm. We have millions of Americans who work full-time every day to support their families, working for minimum wage and still live in poverty. It’s wrong. These are men and women who are living up to their bargain. They’re working hard, they’re supporting their families. Their families are doing their part; it’s time we did our part.

And that’s what we’re going to do, that’s what we’re going to do when John is in the White House. Because we’re going to raise the minimum wage. We’re going to finish the job on welfare reform. And we’re going to bring good paying jobs to the places where we need them the most. . And by doing all those things we’re going to say no forever to any American working full-time and living in poverty. Not in our America, not in our America. Not in our America. Not in our America.

Obviously, it’s urgent to assert that the New Deal is something which creates a middle class, not something which saps it, and certainly anyone running for office in this country should speak to a strategy for expanding and securing the middle class. But that said, the ongoing invisibility of the American poor in Democratic party rhetoric of the past decade is disgraceful. It’s a tragic abdication of the responsibility of a real social contract. As Edwards reminded Kerry during the primary campaign, while Kerry was heading off voluntarily to war, Edwards was trying to figure out how to afford to go to college. And as Sharpton reminded Edwards, not everyone then – or now – could get a job as a mill worker. So the recognition of the plight and the promise of the working poor in the Vice Presidential acceptance speech is a step in the right direction, even if “finishing the job on welfare reform” sounds somewhat macabre. Let’s hear more about the working poor from Kerry tomorrow.

Hope is a winning theme. “Hope is on the way,” is a frustrating formulation though. Some of us who’ve had the pleasure of several rallies with the Rev. Jesse Jackson like to joke about the frequency with which the “Keep hope alive” slogan is repeated, but that’s fundamentally a good slogan because it offers an urgent, achievable imperative. “Hope is on the way” is inherently top down, and Edwards’ use of it – tell each of the beleaguered people you know that hope is on the way – reinforces the idea that the Kerry-Edwards ticket is some sort of superhero flying through the city saving victims. I’d like to hear less about hope being on the way and more about how we’re going to join together to take on the work of bringing it into being.


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