An open letter to Senator John Edwards

Dear Senator Edwards,

During the primary season leading up to the 2004 presidential election, before you became the Vice Presidential nominee for John Kerry and you were instead seeking the nomination yourself, I served as a delegate for you to the Democratic Convention in Maine. I believed in your optimism, in your populist message, in your stance against poverty. I thought you were the stronger candidate – the stronger leader – than Senator Kerry, and though I was glad you ultimately ended up on the national ticket, I was disappointed you were not at the top of it.

You might imagine then that I was again hopeful when I saw you emerge for another go ‘round in the party politic. Again you carried the message of the common folk, with an importance on conquering poverty and overcoming our deficiencies as a nation when it comes to education and health care. You seem a bit edgier this time, still the optimist, still hopeful, but more willing to make a fight for these important issues. And I was happy to back you for a second time.

But then I read a lengthy report about you and your campaign in the Boston Globe and, as has become custom when it comes to the subject of political leadership in our country, I felt the familiar feelings of dismay and confusion when I sought to reconcile your message with your personal life choices, i.e. your words with your actions. And I am left wondering still if I will ever in my lifetime actually see a candidate with a viable chance of winning a national election be one I can truly support.

I certainly knew you were a millionaire. I knew you had been a successful attorney and enjoyed the riches that came with that success. I knew you had personally financed much of your Senate run. Perhaps I just put this out of my mind during the time I felt so strongly about your presidential campaign. Then and now.

But when I read of the millions more made in consulting for a hedge fund, when I read of your work fundraising millions of dollars to bring in speakers to talk about poverty at the University of North Carolina, and when I read of you and your family’s excitement to build your “dream home”, I was left able to do little more than shake my head in disappointment and helplessly watch the feeding frenzy of my cynical nature begin.

I don’t deny that you make an argument to justify your personal wealth. You hardly renounce it, but instead claim that such wealth – at least the opportunity to seek such – is your real platform. It is the chance at wealth and riches as you’ve obtained – the prospect of them – that you claim is most important. There is no need for apology for accumulating great wealth, only a belief that everyone should have the ability to achieve the same.

But in hearing this, I can’t help but ask, Senator, is this not a pretty poor substitute for a real and sincere message to the poor? After all, what is it that truly causes poverty in our country – in our world? Is there not some connection between this obsessive impulse to obtain things for oneself and the pervasive lack of basic resources for others? Is there not something about the message of our society that condones the behavior to have more and more and more for oneself that perpetuates the poverty you’re preaching against? Why does your dream home consist of your own swimming pool, your own squash court, your own basketball court, and your own stage? Why do we insist on this need to have such things for ourselves when so many are simply in need?

There are entire communities without decent schools, without libraries, without health care facilities, even without recreation centers, yet you feel it’s quite acceptable to have such things just for you and your family. Alone. I’m not saying you don’t share these luxuries with others – I’ve no idea whether or not that’s the case – but the point is that your “dream” consists of a personal stage rather a community theater, and how does this possibly fit with any dream to end poverty in our society?

It sounds like a message I might have learned in childhood, but it seems to be appropriate here. If everyone lived the way you live, what would our country look like? Unfortunately, I’m afraid it would look an awful lot like it looks right now – rampant consumerism, unbridled hedonism, widespread greed and lust and corruption, and the majority of people saying their greatest goal in life is to be famous – pretty much every vice of Pandora’s box unleashed.

And so I’m left to wonder, why should I vote for you? Why should I believe you’ll possibly make things any different? That you’ll make things better?

To quote the Depression-era radical Catholic and contemporary of Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, “The world would be better off if people tried to become better. And people would become better if they stopped trying to become better off. For when everybody tries to be better off, nobody is better off. But when everybody tries to become better, everybody is better off. Everybody would be rich if nobody tried to become richer. And nobody would be poor if everybody tried to be poorest.”

Unfortunately for me, neither of these folks is running for office.

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