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                                       politics + culture

Thursday, September 22, 2005

John Edwards on the 'Working Society'

From a speech given at the Center for American Progress:

"There is a powerful hunger for a sense of community in this country again, a sense of national community, a sense that we are all in this together, that there is a higher purpose for our national community. People understand. They get it. They understand that they’re supposed to work hard and be responsible for themselves and for their families, but they know there’s more to America than them taking care of themselves. This administration may think that every single American is an island, but Americans know that Katrina’s victims shouldn’t have been out there on their own, and that no American should be out there on their own...[snip]

To be true to our values, what our country needs to build is a working society; an America where everyone who works hard finally has the rewards to show for it. In this working society, nobody who works full-time should have to raise their children in poverty or in fear that one more healthcare emergency or one more layoff is going to put them right in the ditch. In the working society, everyone who works full-time will at least [have] something to show for it: a home of their own, an account where their savings and paychecks can grow. In the working society, everyone willing to work will actually have a chance to get ahead. Anybody who wants to go to college and is willing to work for it will be able to go. In the working society, people who work have the right to live in communities where the streets are safe, the schools are good, and jobs can be reached. In the working society, everyone will also be asked to hold up their end of the bargain, to work, to hold off having kids until they’re ready, and to do their part for their kids when the time comes.

[snip]... At a time when millions of people have been displaced, many already poor before this storm ever hit, when the only shot many people have is a job rebuilding New Orleans, this president intervened to suspend Davis-Bacon so that people who are working there could at least earn a decent wage – the prevailing wage in the area for a hard day’s work. You know, I might have missed something, but I don’t think the president ever talked about putting a cap on the salaries of the CEOs of Halliburton and the other companies who are bidding on these contracts. No, this president, who never met an earmark he wouldn’t approve or a millionaire tax cut he wouldn’t promote, decided to the slash wages for the least of us, for the most vulnerable."

3 Comments:

  • John Edwards is always up to something underneath the surface. Here he puts forward a mix of familiar themes, with Katrina for context. I like his "hunger for community" and his insistence on pointing out the Davis Bacon rollback and linking it to corporate pay and profits. However, am I the only one who finds his vision of the "working society" small both in name and ambition?

    "Everyone who works full-time will at least [have] something to show for it a home of their own, an account where their savings and paychecks can grow."

    or

    "In the working society, people who work have the right to live in communities where the streets are safe, the schools are good, and jobs can be reached."

    The way Edwards frames work and poverty and what 'America' means represents a counterpoint to the GOP. Edwards is always trying to dig out motivations that have been branded "conservative" or "Norman Rockwell-esque" and use them to advance straight ahead Democratic ideals. That is an Edwards m.o.

    I get the sense Edwards is really speaking to the suburbs while talking about the poor. I get the impression that if we implemented this vision we all would likely keep living in the same neighborhoods, that no one would get pushed from their "comfort zones" ...ie. Edwards' message is, on some level, a Democratic version of compassionate conservatism.

    Where is the bold vision? Where is the language of the digital age? Where is the global viewpoint?

    Fwiw, we don't just want our kids to work, we want them to thrive...we want them to have the skills to rebuild America, and become leaders in the global economy.

    We want a new vision for all of America. We want to talk about responsibilty...not just for poor people...but everyone's responsiblity in building this new America, and everyone's stake in it.

    Imo, we don't need the language of a "working society" that yields some mininum to its deserving least...but a society that works for everyone, where we all understand our obligations and we all benefit from an innovative economy that is committed to inclusion, where all us achieve at the highest level of our abilities.

    We can only do this if we break out of our comfort zones; but if we do, it benefits every last one of us.

    By Blogger kid oakland, at 9:42 AM  

  • i'm glad somebody else saw that, it's been bugging me about edwards from the moment i started paying attention to his primary stump speeches in south carolina. his "we" that "lifts people up" does not include the poor as subjects, but patronizingly treats them as objects to be saved. it's a message that the suburbs desperately needs to hear if we are to move this country back to a sense of greater community, but it isn't the core of what the democratic party as party of the people ought to be IMO, and it doesn't move us into the future as much as try to recover the halcyon days of the unionized postwar past (which would be an improvement, to be sure).

    that same speech would be far more powerful were he calling on the poor, both working and unemployed, to be masters of their own destiny in aligning with the suburban middle class in building a world where people don't need handouts or hands up, but who have the dignity to live honest working lives in good communities. the collapse of unions is telling, in that the whole concept of solidarity and the weak banding together to collectively wrest power from the strong is conspicuously absent from our political discourse.

    our "we" has got to include the poor and the left out as full and equal subjects, if we are to engage their attention and efforts. hell, we should be recruiting leaders from the poor, registering them to vote the way we do college kids. edwards is on the right track, but his suburban blinders stand in the way of making that working society.

    i'd rather live in your future than his, kid. we need to dream again.

    By Anonymous wu ming, at 1:49 PM  

  • "I get the sense Edwards is really speaking to the suburbs while talking about the poor. "

    There you go, Kid. Nail, meet hammer. You've articulated something that's been nagging at the corner of my comfort with Edwards.

    I get the same feeling about the DLC.

    Something about all this has been stewing in my head for a week and I think it's about to come out.

    By Blogger NYBri, at 5:57 PM  

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