Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Edwards Answers Criticism During Poverty Tour" (with video)

WaPo, with video (08:23):
CLEVELAND-Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards defended himself against criticism that his expensive haircuts and lucrative income from a hedge fund undercut his campaign's effort to highlight the issue of poverty in America.
In an interview for the news program "PostTalk" Edwards said his life and career demonstrate the sincerity of his commitment to the plight of low-income Americans and continued willingness to push the issue forward during the 2008 presidential campaign.

"Anybody who's running for president ought to be subjected to serious examination from every conceivable angle," Edwards said. "So theres nothing wrong with that. What bothers me about this is, I don't want whatever personal criticism people have of me to detract in any way from the people whose lives were trying to help. That's the only thing about it that's troublesome."

Edwards cited his work as a trial lawyer defending people against major corporations, the poverty center he started after the 2004 campaign, an after-school center he and his wife Elizabeth created that caters largely to low-income students, as well as a program designed to make it possible for low-income students to go to college.

"This is something I've cared about for a very long time," he said. "Im proud of what I've done. But it is the nature of presidential politics that anything you do is going to be looked at through a microscope. So I expect that."

Edwards was interviewed midway through a three-day poverty tour that will take him from the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans to stricken areas of Mississippi to an inner city neighborhood here threatened by foreclosures to rural communities in Appalachia.

The purpose, aides said, is to shine a light on a problem that Edwards believes the country has too long ignored. He is retracing some of the steps taken by Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy during the 1960s as they sought to highlight the problems of poverty.

During the interview, Edwards outlined policies he would seek to implement to achieve his goal of ending poverty within three decades. He also described what steps he would take if a withdrawal of U.S. combat forces in Iraq resulted in an escalation of sectarian violence or even genocide. He also made clear that he believes he would have a better chance of winning a general election than any other candidate seeking the Democratic nomination.

As the Senate continues debate on a series of resolutions aimed at changing U.S. policy in Iraq, Edwards said he remains committed to his view that legislators should not give in to the White House and should continue to send President Bush funding bills that include a timetable for withdrawal.

Edwards said he opposes a precipitous withdrawal but would like to see all combat forces out of Iraq over a period of about a year. But he also outlined contingency steps he favors to guard against the violence spiraling out of control once U.S. forces leave.

Among those steps would be establishing a rapid deployment force in Kuwait and exploring the stationing of U.S. forces in Jordan, if that government approves. He also said if the situation went totally out of control, he would consider establishing buffer zones around the borders of Iraq and steps to move people out of major population centers.

Edwards said he would not make a judgment about sending U.S. forces back into Iraq if there were a genocide taking place and argued that the rest of the world should step up under United Nations auspices to deal with such a humanitarian crisis.

"I think the very humanitarian crisis and circumstances that exist in western Sudan that have prompted the UN to move forward would exist in Iraq and I think there would be a different environment for bringing others in," he said.

In urging the Congress to resist approving any measure short of a clear timetable for withdrawal, Edwards said Democratic lawmakers should do everything possible to keep pressure on Bush.

"If they continue to submit bills to the president funding the troops with a timetable for withdrawal, eventually the president's going to have to make a decision about what to do because he's not going to have the money to continue the war," he said. "He's going to have to start deciding what to do with the troops, which I think will force a redeployment out of Iraq."

Edwards specifically said Democrats should not vote for the measure offered by Republican Sens. Richard Lugar of Indiana and John Warner of Virginia, calling on Bush to prepare a new strategy, even if that were the only measure that could gain enough support to pass the Congress. "It's not enough," he said.

When he turned to discussing the contest for the Democratic nomination, Edwards dismissed the idea that recent changes in the top levels of his campaign represent any attempt to shake up or rejuvenate a candidacy that has fallen far behind Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.) the race for campaign cash, sagged in some national polls and is struggling in New Hampshire.

"This is nothing but growth," he said of the additions of two former staffers for an anti-Wal-Mart group and the increased role of Joe Trippi, who managed former Gov. Howard Deans 2004 presidential bid. Edwards said he anticipates no significant changes in the campaigns approach or strategy as a result of the reshuffling.

Edwards would not directly address possible weaknesses of Clinton or Obama, the two leading Democratic candidates, as general election nominees. But he stated without hesitation that he would be the Democrat with the best chance of winning.

"I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming that I'm the strongest general election candidate," he said citing his election to the Senate from a red state and his roots in the rural South.

Edwards also sought to clarify a brief discussion with Clinton that was captured on tape in which the two talked about limiting the size of Democratic debates. He denied that he favors pushing others out of the debates. "I am not in favor of excluding anybody from debates," he said.

He added that he would support any mechanism to get away from sound-bite driven debates. That might include formats limiting the number of topics or debates that included smaller groups of candidates, selected at random by the sponsors.

"When you ask eight people standing on a stage what would you do in Iraq and you give them either 30 or 60 seconds to answer, there is no way that any normal person watching that debate is going to be able to keep in their heads the differences or understand in any depth what the differences are and what we believe," he said. "And there are differences, and people need to understand those."

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