What Should John Edwards Do Next?

As Alice Bonner explained so eloquently at The Root, I was looking forward to voting for John Edwards. The reason, in a one word: class.The manifestations and disparities of class give rise, Hydralike, to aspects of American society as varied as race, health care, education, taxation, housing, even environmental issues. The reality of class, the prevalence of poverty, is something that few in this country care to contemplate. Poverty is decidedly unglamorous, after all, so much so that people avoid even acknowledging it, as if doing so meant risking contamination. It is, for many, evidence of moral failing - thus the emphasis in some quarters on helping the "deserving" poor. In a culture where the virtues of wealth, attainment, and upward striving are extolled from cradle to grave, the notion of two disparate Americas separated by wealth is, well, a political clunker. To say nothing of being - in the age of The Apprentice, Paris Hilton, ad nauseum - a real media downer.

A presidential candidate with the courage to push class front and center, given the culture's hostility to the concept, was an easy pick for me.

Of course, Edwards' campaign was doomed from the start for that very reasons. Other circumstances (like being a plain old white-guy-running who lacks the compelling historical/rockstar interest of a Clinton or Obama) seem incidental in comparison. The sad fact is that forty-four years after the declaration of the War on Poverty - and incredibly, two years after Hurricane Katrina - this society simply isn't ready for the core message Edwards brought in his two White House campaigns: that policy, not charity, is the path to helping the poor.

Edwards' chief role in the 2008 presidential race had been that of progressive conscience/gadfly to the two frontrunners. His presence in the race served to prompt Clinton and Obama into making, at the very least, supportive noises on poverty issues. As it turned out, that was the best Edwards could hope for - and that alone would have justified voting for him. What interests me, though, is what happens now that the lights have gone dark and Edwards has retired his campaign.

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