John Edwards: 'My Faith Came Roaring Back'
In the first of a series of interviews with presidential candidates, Edwards discusses how faith affects his decisions.
BY: Interview by David Kuo
Before I ever got in politics, I served on the board of Urban Ministries in Raleigh, North Carolina, which is a group set up by a consortium of churches. So I know how important faith-based groups are.
So the answer is I think is that in an Edwards presidency faith-based groups, I believe, could be used. But I think it is also tricky business. I think you have to be careful about how you implement it for all of the separation of church and state issues, because you don't want discrimination. You don't want federal money going to any organization, including a faith-based group, that's discriminating. So, you have to be very careful about that.
And then secondly, I would just be concerned from what I've seen practically about the burden that comes with getting federal dollars--you're going to have accountability, you're going to have audit systems, and you just need to be certain that the faith-based groups are prepared for that, because I think some are not. And that's not the way in which they're used to operating, and I think it could cause a lot of trouble and cause a lot of disenchantment.
But, the bottom line is, if you can work through these problems, I think there is a great potential delivery system there.
I realize that this is a bit of a strange question but do you think that candidates are almost to the point of talking too much about their faith? President Bush in 2000 and 2004 garnered a lot of support by simply telling evangelicals that he was a devoted Christian. Now candidates galore seem to be wearing their faith out front. Is there too much of that going on? Is politics corrupting religion?
Faith is not a political strategy, and should not be a political strategy. If it is being used as a tool to garner votes, to convince people they should support one political party or the other, I think that is a huge mistake. I believe with every fiber of my being that God is not a Democrat or a Republican and does not support either party.
If you're being asked about how you make decisions, what are the things that affect you when you make decisions, I think it's perfectly reasonable under those circumstances to give honest answers about your faith and how your faith affects your value system and what you believe and what you care about.
You asked me very early in this interview whether faith plays a role in my views about poverty and what to do about poverty. It does. It plays a very powerful role. So I think it's one of those things that is not a black and white. It's one of those things where you have handle it the right way and with honesty. But I think it's offensive to see any politician, or potential politician, using faith as a political strategy.
I want to go to the controversy that you've experienced in the last few weeks about bloggers. Lots of different people were surprised, shocked, and offended by by the things that the bloggers wrote. Did you really grasp the depth of that? Do you think that you made a mistake somehow in how the situation was handled?
Yeah. Well, it was a very difficult decision for me about what to do. Because as anybody who was participating [in] it would have heard, people start off yapping about politics and what's going to happen here and what's going to happen there. But every one of these people will tell you what I said to them is, I want to do what's right. And so, I'm going to tell the truth about what it is they have said before they came to work for me. And then I want to talk to them. And if I believe that they're being honest with me and they're asking for forgiveness, which I believe in, then we will keep them on. And I was troubled by some of the things they had said, and I was also troubled by the way it was brought to the forefront, which was from some people who had a clear ideological agenda. And I did not think these women should be made to suffer because they were being attacked by that agenda.
So, I wanted to hear what they had to say. I wanted to find out whether they, in fact, were trying to denigrate a particular religion. And when I had those conversations with both of them--and I had them and my wife Elizabeth did the same--I came away with a feeling that, number one, they did not intend to demean anyone's faith.
And number two, to the extent people read it that way--because they did use a lot of hot rhetoric, as often happens in the blogosphere--that they were sorry for that. Under those circumstances, I decided to forgive them and stand by them, knowing there would be potential political consequences for that.
You've been critical, obviously, of President Bush. But, where do you give him the most credit? What do you think he's done a really good job?
You know, I have to be honest about this. I no longer give him much credit. Because I feel like a lot of what the president has done has been either ideologically driven or, in some cases, ego driven. And I don't think he's been open and honest with America in the way that I believe he should have.
I do applaud how he responded in the immediate aftermath of September 11th... I think America was in a difficult place and he was strong for a short period of time after that. But beyond that, it's very hard for me to find [much credit to give]--the cutting away of nutrition programs and so forth from the most needy people in America and taking away funds for kids to be able to go to college. I couldn't personally live with that. I don't know. And it troubles me. It troubles me.
And I think he's very personally invested in his definition of success in Iraq, which I think undermines good judgment about what we ought to be doing under these circumstances.
Last question. In this season of Lent, what's your focus? Are you giving something up? Are you trying to focus on something? Are you trying to fast from something or pick up a new habit?
I haven't done any of those things. You want an honest answer, so I'm going to tell you I haven't done any of those things. What I intend to continue to do, though, if I can bring us full circle back to the beginning of this discussion, is no matter whether anyone asks, no matter whether any other candidate ever raises the issue, as long as I'm alive and breathing and as long as I am a presidential candidate, I will be speaking up for the little guy. And I think that a lot of that has been lost in American politics for strategic political reasons. And their voice needs to be heard--desperately needs to be heard. And if I do nothing else, their voice will be heard through me.