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Edwards Reflects on Campaign Deja Vu, Plight of the Middle Class

As part of an ongoing series of in-depth interviews with presidential candidates, former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C. explains his views on the Iraq war, the status of the middle class in America, and running for president for a second time.

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  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Senator Edwards, welcome back to the NewsHour.

    FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), Presidential Candidate: Thanks for having me.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    You said, "Poverty in America is the cause of my life." First of all, what does that mean? And, second of all, what can the president of the United States do to alleviate poverty?

  • JOHN EDWARDS:

    Well, I think it's the great moral issue facing us inside the United States. The war in Iraq is, obviously, a big issue. But having 37 million people, by the federal government's definition, who wake up every day worried about feeding and clothing their children is not OK.

    And I think we as a nation have a responsibility to do something about it, and I think it says something about our character, what we're willing to do about it.

    The question of, what does the president have to do with it? The president has a lot to do with it. The president can lead on this issue. The president can bring the plight of millions of Americans who are struggling to the attention of the rest of America, much as did the situation in New Orleans after the hurricane hit in New Orleans, and we saw the Lower Ninth Ward and the struggles that people were going through there.

    So there are lots of things that can be done. The president can lead on raising the minimum wage, expansion of the earned income tax credit, changing the laws to strengthen the rights of unions to organize in the workplace, pushing national legislation to get rid of or at least regulate predatory payday lenders, changing what I think is a dysfunctional national housing policy that feeds the cycle of poverty.

    We have people waiting five, seven, eight years for a Section 1 housing voucher — Section 8, excuse me, housing voucher. And the result of that is they're either homeless or they're living in shelters. I think we ought to have at least a million new Section 8 housing vouchers. And I think we need to restructure the bureaucracy with inside HUD.

    And then, also, I think that we have millions of kids who want to go to college, and it's become increasingly difficult for them to go to college. So my idea is called College for Everyone, where we pay for the tuition and books for young people who are willing to work when they're in college. So we make it easier. We knock down some of those obstacles.

    And I think that on a different front, but a more difficult front, there are clearly societal, cultural components to the cycle of poverty in this country. And the president can at least use the bully pulpit to talk about it, to bring people together to address those issues.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    But as a presidential candidate, you're talking to a country, an electorate, where the vast majority of people are not poor.

  • JOHN EDWARDS:

    That's correct.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    And you're asking them to care, and you're asking them, in effect, to go somewhere with you in order to change it. Is the country in 2007, 2008, in that kind of mood to listen to that message?

  • JOHN EDWARDS:

    Well, it's going to be the message, whether they listen or not, because I do believe deeply in it. I don't think poverty is the only issue facing the country. I think the middle class is struggling dramatically. We're becoming a country made up of a few rich people and everybody else.

    People are having trouble paying for their health insurance, their gasoline, their college tuition, which we spoke about a few minutes ago. Their income is not going up and the cost of everything that they have to spend money on is, in fact, going up.

    But I don't think we can ignore, because somehow they're supposed to be forgotten and invisible, the millions of people who, in fact, live in poverty every day in this country.

    And I'll go one step further: I actually believe that it is time for the president — and I would do this as president — to ask Americans to be patriotic about things other than war, to say, "We're in this together. What we do together matters. And you have to be willing to sacrifice."

    I mean, if you want your country to be what it's capable of being, then whether it's on energy conservation, whether it's on reaching out and helping your fellow Americans who are struggling, that collectively we are powerful, and what we do as a national community really matters.

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