Edwards brings early presidential campaign to town

by Amy Kingsley

In a gymnasium in Greensboro’s southeast corner, a teacher arranged about two-dozen elementary school students in a row against the backdrop of an American flag.

About 10 minutes earlier the children, armed with John Edwards campaign signs, had huddled next to a freestanding stage. Only tiny ponytails and placards bearing the slogan “Tomorrow Starts Today” peeked out over the edge of the structure.

After the careful rearrangement and a musical interlude performed by the Bennett College choir, John Edwards arrived – about 25 minutes late. He took the stage hand in hand with his two small children, Jack and Emma Claire, after an introduction by Greensboro City Councilwoman Yvonne Johnson.

Edwards used his appearance at Bennett College, one of only two all-female African-American colleges in the United States, to sketch the broad outlines of his presidential platform. The main planks include implementing an international policy that emphasizes aid over military action, establishing universal health care, reducing carbon emissions, promoting diversity and raising the minimum wage. He said global stability depended on America leading international humanitarian efforts.

“It is not enough to be strong,” he said. “We also have to have the moral authority to lead.”

Edwards said the money currently being spent on the Iraq war would be better invested in a global primary education system.

The former senator from North Carolina also announced in Greensboro that his campaign would, from that point forward, be carbon neutral. Edwards said he would buy carbon offsets, available online through companies like Terrapass, to compensate for emissions generated by the campaign’s cross-country travel.

“It’s time for the president of the United States to ask America to be patriotic about something other than war,” he said. “It’s time for the president to ask them to conserve.”

Edwards, who in 2004 campaigned on a “Two Americas” theme highlighting the gap between the rich and the poor, unfurled several policy proposals that would make it easier for people to climb out of poverty. He mentioned his universal health care plan, recommended raising the minimum wage to $7.50 an hour, proposed a work-study program for low-income college students and suggested that the government encourage savings by poor citizens by matching funds in bank accounts.

Edwards ended his speech with an appeal to college students at Bennett and beyond.

“I have seen young people on college campuses change this country,” he said. “During Civil Rights and the Vietnam war, young people on college campuses changed this country.”

Kelli London, senior class president at Bennett College, said she supported Edwards’ presidential run and particularly liked his emphasis on diversity and social justice.

“He hit on the issue of healthcare for the elderly and more support for students,” she said.

Tim Peters, an economics major at Guilford College, said he thought Edwards had the best chance out of all the Democratic presidential contenders to win the race.

“He’s talking about really moving America into being more responsible,” he said.

Peters also said he admired Edwards’ focus on poverty and healthcare.

In a short press conference after the speech, Edwards took questions about his decision to support the president’s Iraq war resolution in 2003. A forthcoming memoir by political consultant Bob Shrum portrayed the vote as politically calculated.

“I voted for this war and I should not have voted for this war,” he said. “It was not a political calculation; it was a mistake.”

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