John Edwards was in town last night, so I'm going to take a break from my all-BlogHer-all-the-time coverage for a moment. Frank and I were invited to attend an event for Senator Edwards at a private home in Palo Alto. We had arranged for a babysitter, but for some inexplicable reason, she didn't show up. We ended up taking Alex with us, which actually turned out to be a very nice thing for all of us. It's not every day that our boy gets to meet a presidential candidate.
Edwards walked in with little fanfare, and immediately began shaking hands and chatting with people. He seemed very comfortable and friendly, and put everyone around him at ease. This was the same feeling I had when I first met Elizabeth, that there was something very real and down-to-earth about her. I was glad to see this was equally true of him. At first, no one was taking pictures, but I decided to be bold and whipped out my camera and started snapping away.
He walked around the back patio of the house for a bit, answering questions and talking with people individually. I got a chance to shake hands with him, and tell him that I had seen Elizabeth at BlogHer on Saturday. He lit up when I mentioned this. I congratulated him on their 30th wedding anniversary, which Elizabeth mentioned in her speech at BlogHer. They celebrated together on Monday in a small chapel in North Carolina, where they renewed their vows. He thanked me, and then it was time for him to get ready for his speech.
Edwards did his speech from the steps outside the kitchen door. There was something very charming about the notion of him rolling up his shirt sleeves and speaking from the kitchen door. It seemed to be an old-fashioned way of campaigning, going directly to the heart of where people live. He was introduced by one of the organizers of the event, to great applause from the crowd of about 100 or so gathered around the kitchen steps.
He started by telling everyone that Elizabeth was doing well, and that she and the children were on a plane to Italy for a vacation. He said, "Some of us wish we could go, too" and smiled. He noted that "we need her to come back soon, because there are still Ann Coulters in the world."
He noted that he was wearing a "Live Strong" bracelet because he had been in Iowa recently and had the opportunity to take a bike ride with Lance Armstrong. He rode about 10 miles with Lance and said, "my butt is still sore."
After the ride, his 7 year-old son Jack asked if he really rode at the same speed as Lance. He answered, quite honestly, "Yes, I did."
Elizabeth immediately piped up and said, "What he means is that Lance chose to ride at the same speed as Daddy."
Edwards has an easy-going charm that was apparent throughout the evening. He doesn't seem afraid to poke fun at himself, but when it came to talk about the issues, he was all business. He spoke at turns both eloquently and passionately. Although I'm sure he's given this speech or some variation of it a thousand times by now, that did not diminish the strength of conviction in his voice.
He started by saying that Washington is broken. He distinguished himself from the other candidates by saying that he would not negotiate with oil companies and pharmaceuticals on energy policy and healthcare. He was appalled that the pharmaceutical companies drafted most of the Medicare Prescription Drug Bill of 2003.
He remarked that he thought that the other candidates should stop debating with each other on who would sit down with which leaders of foreign countries, and start talking about the real issues. He said it does a disservice to the American people and to the party to deflect away from the change that America needs and the tough issues we face as a nation.
Edwards said that America needs to change, or else the planet we live on may cease to exist. He said that we owe it to our children to take action on global warming, by capping carbon emissions, investing in wind, solar, and bio fuels, and creating more fuel-efficient vehicles. He said we don't need to build any more coal-powered utility plants, and on the idea of investing in nuclear power, he said, "Are you kidding me?"
I have to say, this statement made my little anti-nuke heart go pitter-pat. My very first demonstration was a march on Three Mile Island in 1980.
He said that people in this country "need to become patriotic about something other than war."
He cited the great movements of the twentieth century--Civil Rights, Anti-War, Anti-Apartheid--and said that we have to create a movement that involves all people to save the planet. We have seen great change come when people band together for a singular cause, he noted. "We can do it again."
On healthcare, he stated that the current healthcare system is "dysfunctional" and related the story he told during the YouTube debates about James Lowe, a 51 year old man he met on the campaign trail. Mr. Lowe had been born with a cleft palate, and was unable to speak clearly until he had corrective surgery at age 50. "For five decades," Edwards said, "because there was no universal healthcare, a man in our country was unable to speak. I cannot believe this happens in my country. This is an outrage."
The speech really picked up steam when he said, "When are we going to express some outrage? When will we be outraged that people are held at Guantanamo with no due process of law? When will we express some outrage that the Bush Administration is spying on citizens in their homes? When will we express some outrage that people like James Lowe have no healthcare?"
He mentioned that he had been on a poverty tour across America recently. He said that reporters ask him all the time why he talks about poverty, when that issue is not likely to get him elected. He said, "The issue of poverty is not about winning a campaign, it's about speaking out for the 37 million people who live in poverty in this country."
Again, another issue that struck a deep chord with me. I worked as a poverty lawyer in the Bronx, in the poorest congressional district in the nation, when I first got out of law school. If anything, the situation in the inner city and in rural areas of Appalachia have gotten worse since I was a young, idealistic civil rights lawyer in the 1980's. I'm glad someone is finally talking about this, and talking as though every American mattered.
He ended on a positive note, saying that we should "think about the good America could do" throughout the world, if we have a clear vision and are strong again. If we show the world compassion, and that we value diversity, we could one day lead the world not by might, but by the strength of our vision of what is right.
Edwards said that he comes to events like this, because admittedly, he wants us to contribute "God knows I want you to contribute," but also because he believes that "the power in American is not in the Oval Office, but in places like this."
"Your country needs you," he said. "Especially in a place of ideas like this, your country needs you in the worst way."
He paraphrased Gandhi in saying, "Be the change you believe in."
He said, "If you listen to Bush and Cheney, and I try really hard not to, what they are saying, is 'Don't worry, just watch TV. Shop. We'll take care of you.' What I'm saying is that's the wrong message."
He thinks the message should be that we should all be what we are capable of being. We should, as JFK said, "Ask not what your country can do for you..."
Edwards ended by saying that believes that we can change America through the strength of our character, courage, and principles.
After the rousing speech, he took questions from the audience. Here are the ones I caught:
- Work to eliminate nuclear weapons around the globe. "It's no longer just us and the Soviet Union.";
- Eliminate missile defense programs and the F-22 fighter jet programs to save money.
- Invest in aid to veterans and their families, and in supporting military families.
How would you go about excluding the pharmaceuticals and other special interests?
Edwards said that the President has a bully pulpit that is not being used to speak out against lobbyists and special interests. He would work outside the norms of Washington and infuse new ideas into the system.
How would you make the US more competitive in the global marketplace?
- Increase NIH funding for medical research.
- Work to drive young people to pursue math and science in school to use in their later careers.
- Install broadband all over the US and make it less expensive to give access to more people.
- End the ideological caps on stem cell research and allow it to go forward.
What can individuals do to help stop global warming?
Edwards said that his website has a list of things individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint, but that he welcomes ideas from Californians who are at the forefront of this issue.
Is Al Gore running?
Edwards answered, "Well, he told me he's not running about a week ago. I talk to Al all the time. I'm apparently the only one who talks to him. Hillary sure doesn't."
Previous Democratic Presidents tried to change things in Washington, and were met with opposition from their own party. What would you do differently?
Edwards noted that people who have been in Congress for 40 years or more are not likely to be "instruments of change." He thinks it's time to infuse new Democratic blood into the House and Senate.
I was extremely impressed with John Edwards. I found him to be more charismatic than Obama, and at least as informed as Clinton. He was more at-ease with the crowd than either of them had been, and seemed genuinely interested in meeting and talking with the people there. He touched on many of the same issues that they did, but with a sense of urgency, coupled with hope. I can certainly see why he must have been an excellent litigator. He was persuasive and powerful, without being larger than life.
I believe that if he was able to win the primaries, he would probably be elected President over Giuliani, Romney, or any of the other Republicans.
At the end, he was kind enough to pose for pictures with Alex. That alone might win him my vote. As we all know, the fastest way to a mother's heart is through her kid.
On Wednesday, August 1, John Edwards is speaking at a fundraiser in San Francisco at noon. The cost is $15. For information, see his website.
Photos: All photos are originals taken by me. To see more, go to my Flickr account.