Impressing Those Who Heard, Senator Edwards Urges Change

By MIKE SECCOMBE

John Edwards came out swinging not only against Republicans, but also against his Democratic opponents during his Friday night campaign stop on Martha's Vineyard.

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Mr. Edwards, struggling behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the contest for the party's nomination, said Mrs. Clinton was uncommitted to the big changes America had to make, and Mr. Obama was too conciliatory in his pursuit of change.

In a strongly-worded speech that ranged across a broad range of policy areas, he portrayed himself as the most radical of the Democratic contenders, the only one both willing and able to take on the vested interests standing in the way of reform, of the health care system, of energy policy, of the military and of the economy.

He was not interested, he said, in being another corporate Democrat negotiating with vested interests in Washington for incremental change.

"I mean, do we really want to replace one crowd of insiders with another crowd of insiders?" he asked the crowd of about 300 gathered on the darkening Chilmark lawn of Alex MacDonald and Maureen Strafford early Friday evening. "That will never bring about the change that we need in this country."

The fundraiser was a relatively small affair, attended by only about one tenth of the 3,000-odd who went to the Clinton affair the following night. It was less of a show, basically just Elizabeth and then John Edwards talking and then Mr. Edwards answering questions. Staking out his position.

Mr. Edwards dismissed anyone who had been a Washington insider for more than 10 years - he did not mention Mrs. Clinton's name - as part of a corrupt process and he said the Democrats had only two candidates who wanted major change: "Senator Obama and me."

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The difference, he said, was that Senator Obama would do it by "compromise and bringing people together... [and] I think you've got to fight for change." He also said:

"We don't have universal health care because drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists prevent us from having universal health care.

"The same thing is true in addressing the crisis of climate change . . . oil companies, gas companies and their lobbyists stand between us and the change we need. And the notion that you compromise and sit at the table and negotiate with these people? You give them a seat at the table, they'll eat all the food, that's what'll happen.

"We've had a enough careful political calculation. It is time for us to show a little backbone."

Then he enumerated the many issues where he said big change was needed, starting with universal health care.

The fundraiser was organized by 10 doctors who, Mr. MacDonald the host noted in opening remarks, agreed with Paul Krugman of The New York Times, that Mr. Edwards's health plan was the best on offer.

Mr. Edwards recounted his outrage after meeting a man in a small Appalachian town, who had been born with a cleft palate but could not afford surgery to fix it.

"It could have been fixed at any time in his life . . . and somebody had finally volunteered to fix it . . . when he was 50 years old. He lived for 50 years in America not able to speak because he didn't have the health care he needed," he said, adding:

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"When are we finally going to have a President of the United States who will stand up for these people and make sure that the American people get what they deserve?"

On Iraq, he said he favors the withdrawal of 40,000 to 50,000 troops immediately, and all troops to be out within 10 months.

He promised engagement with all the countries of the region, including Syria and Iran, in containing the Iraq war, and he spoke candidly about the possibility of the war overflowing into other regional nations, or becoming a genocide, like Darfur. There are, he said, no good options, but the crisis will have to be solved by the broader international community, not just America.

But extricating its troops from Iraq is only part of the answer to improving America's international standing, he said. The world still thinks of the U.S. as selfish and bullying.

"Suppose that instead of spending $500 billion on this mess in Iraq that America led an effort to make education available in the world to 100 million children who have no education at all?" he said.

"Suppose America led an effort on simple things that we take for granted. Sanitation, clean drinking water. We could make an enormous difference in the spread of disease, economic development. Micro-lending."

"It is so much in our own short-term and long-term selfish interest . . . there's an entire new generation of young people in the Muslim world today, sitting on the fence. On one side is bin Laden and Al Qaeda and on the other side is us. And the question is which way will they go?

"If we're a bully, if we're selfish we will drive, sure as I'm standing here, in the other way."

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The world view of America also was influenced by the way it saw the country treating its own citizens. Pictures out of the ninth ward of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina showed a government which turned its back not only on the world, but on its own people, Mr. Edwards said.

He called for more social justice at home. The federal minimum wage ought to be a minimum of $9.50 an hour instead of the current $7.25 and it ought to be indexed to go up with inflation, he said. Laws should be changed to strengthen the right of unions to organize in the workplace.

On energy policy, he cautioned that there was no alternative to conservation. He proposed spending $1 billion to assist the car industry to make more efficient vehicles, but also said some sacrifice in lifestyle is inevitable, because America ultimately must reduce its carbon emissions by 80 per cent. And he said he would not encourage nuclear power as an alternative.

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He advocated a national cap on carbon emissions which he would ratchet down every year.

On immigration he made three points: one, secure the border; two, crack down on employers of illegal labor; three, provide undocumented workers with a path to citizenship, provided they learned English and paid a small fine.

"I don't want to live in a country that's made up of first-class citizens and second class workers," he said.

Mr. Edwards nominated cuts for the Pentagon budget, including scrapping the missile defense system and stopping the development of any new nuclear weapons.

He promised to lead an international campaign for the elimination of all nukes.

He decried several recent decisions by the Supreme Court as examples of "the lengths they're prepared to go to take away rights, civil rights, all the rights that are so important to the American people."

And on he went, ranging across issues from women's rights to AIDS in Africa, setting down the policy reasons why he deserved the support of those Democrats who want big change.

He cited two other reasons why he should be the party's candidate for President. The first was a somewhat convoluted one - that the recent criticisms of Mrs. Clinton by former chief Republican strategist Karl Rove were intended to encourage Democrats to rally around her, rather than the candidate the Republicans really feared, John Edwards.

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The second reason he advanced was that he is the only candidate who is saleable around the whole country.

"If you want a candidate who can go everywhere in America and compete," he drawled in his Carolina accent, "you need someone who talks like this."

"If it's me against Romney or Giuliani, we're going to win a lot of southern states," he said.

He fielded questions until it was time to get back to his plane.

The subjects were diverse but perhaps none was bigger than that posed by a seven-year-old girl in the front who wanted to know if it was true people in Africa had no money.

It was true they didn't have much, he said. "And that's why countries like America and our friends in Europe . . . need to help people in Africa who are having trouble just having food to live.

"Don't you think that's the right thing to do?"

She nodded.

"So do I."