Edwards Sees Role in Future
Former presidential candidate John Edwards told The Washington Post last week that he has few illusions about the way many Americans view him, but he said his marital indiscretions should not hurt the fight against poverty.
The story was the first public word from the former North Carolina senator who grew up in Robbins since he spoke briefly with Oprah Winfrey at the outset of a book tour by his wife, Elizabeth Edwards.
John Edwards told the newspaper that he has been doing humanitarian work in El Salvador and spending time with his children and cancer-stricken wife at their home in Chapel Hill. He declined to discuss his former mistress, Rielle Hunter, her child, his wife's memoir or a federal investigation that is looking into whether his campaign funneled money to move Hunter and her baby to California.
"The two things I'm on the planet for now are to take care of the people I love and to take care of people who cannot take care of themselves," he told The Post.
In the story, Edwards questioned whether anyone had taken up his advocacy for the poor, a central theme in his presidential bids in 2004 and 2008. He touted his roots, growing up as the son of a millworker in Robbins, where his parents still live.
"What happens now?" he asked The Post. "If you were to ask people during the campaign who's talking most about [poverty], it was me. The president's got a lot to do. He's got a lot of people to be responsible for, so I'm not critical of him, but there does need to be an aggressive voice besides the president."
He also said he worries about the concessions that may be made on health-care reform, which he said he was promoting more aggressively than anyone on the presidential campaign trail.
'You Just Keep Your Head Down'
Edwards' voice on poverty has mostly been silenced since he acknowledged last summer his extramarital affair with Hunter, who was hired by his campaign in 2006 to produce videos of him as he prepared to make his second run for president. He told The Post that he is not yet ready to say it was a mistake to run for the White House, calling that a "very complex question."
Democratic activists have questioned why Edwards launched his run around the time he was having an affair. His wife said in her memoir that Edwards first acknowledged the affair to her in the opening days of the campaign and that she had initially wanted him to drop out.
Just a few months later, she revealed that her cancer had returned in an incurable form, but the couple pressed on with the campaign.
Last month, Elizabeth Edwards went on a media tour for her new memoir. John Edwards had left the country for much of the book tour. He was in El Salvador, helping a group called Homes From the Heart with its work building houses and clinics and distributing sewing machines, according to The Post story.
Edwards told The Post that he has no plans to try to restore his name
"The only relevance of it at all is my ability to help people," he told The Post. "That's the only reason it matters. I'm not engaged in, or interested in, being in a PR campaign."
He also told The Post that he would not rule out returning to politics, but that it was too early to say what the future held. He did say that an advocacy role, similar to what former Vice President Al Gore has done since his failed run for the presidency, is more likely than elected office because of the scandal.
"Sometimes you just keep your head down and work hard and see what happens," he said.
A Meteoric Career
Edwards' meteoric rise began in 1998 with his election to the U.S. Senate, after a successful career as a trial lawyer. He made his first bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, launching his campaign in front of the now-closed mill where his father, Wallace, once worked and where he worked during the summers as a teenager.
Despite a strong showing in the early primaries, Edwards bowed out of the race. But Sen. John Kerry tapped Edwards to be his vice-presidential running mate, allowing Edwards to keep his anti-poverty message in the forefront of the campaign.
After losing a hard-fought election, Edwards soon began working toward making another run for the White House in 2008. He launched his campaign in Hurricane Katrina-stricken New Orleans in late 2006.
But Edwards' luster was suddenly overshadowed by another rising star in the Democratic Party, then-Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Edwards finished second to Obama in the Iowa caucuses and dropped out of the race. He endorsed Obama -- who won the party's nomination and ultimately the White House -- and the talk started about the possibility that Edwards might again be tapped for vice president or attorney general.
Then came the tabloid scandal and confirmation of the affair. Edwards dropped from sight before Obama's coronation at the Democratic National Convention in Denver that summer.
Edwards rejected the notion that his damaged credibility would hurt future efforts to combat poverty. But The Post story listed several of Edwards' programs that he stopped sustaining that had been aimed at helping the poor, such as his College for Everyone initiative. He told The Post that he did what he could, including spending some of his own money.
"Helping the poor was never about me, and never should have been and isn't today," he told The Post. "Whether I did extraordinarily superhuman things or had frailties has nothing to do with people living in the dark every day of their lives."
An anti-poverty think tank that Edwards created in 2005 at his alma mater, the University in North Carolina in Chapel Hill, remains in existence. It is now led by law professor Gene Nichol, who puts on occasional events and oversees student fellowships
Edwards told The Post that he plans to return to El Salvador next month.
"Whether I'm digging a ditch or hammering a nail, I don't have any pride in this anymore, I just want to help," he said in the story. "If I can help the most by working quietly, that's what I'll do. If, as time goes by, I can be more helpful with a public role, that's what I will do."
He said that any cynicism about his motives on fighting poverty was "complete foolishness."
"There's a reason why it's been many years since a politician made this issue central to him -- and, I might add, I didn't get elected," he told The Post. "There aren't many votes in helping poor people."
He told The Post that most of all he wants his supporters to believe that the central theme of his campaigns was real, despite the later revelations about the affair.
"It was real, 100 percent real," he said in The Post story. "I want them to be proud of what I stood for, and of what the campaign stood for. The stands were honest and sincere and idealistic. They were what America needed then and needs now."
Contact David Sinclair at 693-2462 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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