Is there one America or two Americas? One and a half Americas?
Hours before lawyer-turned-senator John Edwards was to appear before the convention and deliver the most important summation of his life, I ran into Tad Devine, a senior Kerry campaign strategist, in the bowels of the Fleet Center. I asked if Edwards would reprise the “Two Americas” speech that won rave reviews (at least from me) during the primary campaign. In that speech, Edwards had combined a populist critique of America as a society divided between the privileged (who benefit most from the rules) and the rest (who could use some help) with an upbeat call for various reforms and initiatives to improve the lot of hardworking families.
“Two Americas? I think he’ll be talking about one America,” Devine said. But wasn’t the message of his presidential campaign “Two Americas”? I inquired. “His message will be the Kerry-Edwards message of an America stronger at home and more respected abroad.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’ve heard about that message.” In case you have missed it, Stronger at home and more respected abroad has been the mantra of the campaign. Devine didn’t smile, and he raced off.
As it turned out, Edwards did do a version of his “Two Americas” speech–just not a very powerful one. After praising John Kerry as decisive, strong and optimistic, after recounting his own rags-to-riches-to-politics story, after telling the delegates (and the audience at home) that he had fought against big HMOs and big insurance companies as a trial attorney and had battled “Washington lobbyists” as a senator, Edwards said,
“I stand here tonight ready to work with you and John to make America strong again. And we have so much work to do. Because the truth is, we still live in two different Americas: one for people who have lived the American Dream and don’t have to worry, and another for most Americans who work hard and still struggle to make ends meet. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can build one America.”
“We can build one America where we no longer have two health care systems. One for people who get the best health care money can buy and then one for everybody else, rationed out by insurance companies, drug companies, and HMOs–millions of Americans who don’t have any health insurance at all. It doesn’t have to be that way. We have a plan that will offer everyone the same health care your Senator has. We can give tax breaks to help pay for your health care. And we will sign into law a real Patients’ Bill of Rights so you can make your own health care decisions.”
“We shouldn’t have two public school systems in this country: one for the most affluent communities, and one for everybody else. None of us believe that the quality of a child’s education should be controlled by where they live or the affluence of their community. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can build one public school system that works for all our children. Our plan will reform our schools and raise our standards. We can give our schools the resources they need. We can provide incentives to put quality teachers in the places and the subjects where we need them the most. And we can ensure that three million kids with a safe place to go after school. This is what we can do together.”