I believe John Edwards. I believe his passionate statements on behalf of the poor. I believe that the faith he says animates him is real. I believe that he has made quiet and selfless trips to care for the suffering around the world. I believe he knows what poverty is like and that his faith in Jesus requires him to care for the poor. I believe that those who criticize him for living in a huge house while talking about the poor should shut up – by that standard should only the sick get to talk about health care? I really, truly, absolutely believe John Edwards.
But I’m skeptical. Blame President Bush for that.
I walked away from a long meeting with Gov. George W. Bush in early 1998 believing certain things – that compassionate conservatism motivated him, that his talk of “racial, social and economic justice” was sincere, that he really was a “different kind of Republican.” I believed it so much I went to work for him and ended up spinning the facts so I wouldn’t have to have my beliefs disturbed. I’ve been set straight.
John Edwards has many distinct advantages over the George W. Bush of 1998. Bush had been moved by a single question asked him by a young man in a juvenile detention facility. “What do you think of me?” He didn’t have an answer but nobly wrestled with it and out of the wrestling came his compassionate conservatism. Like Jesus’ parable of the seed and the sower, however, it sprung up quickly but had no roots and just as quickly it died away.
Edwards has more than anecdotes. He actually did grow up poor as he has talked about perhaps a bit too much. But more than that he has put himself in suffering’s way. Casual mentions of trips to some of the world’s poorest places mingle with talk of the suffering he has experienced in his own life – the loss of a son, his wife’s breast cancer. To John Edwards combating poverty and fighting for the poor isn’t a novel idea – there isn’t any starry-eyed talk about solving poverty, just a firm resolve to address it. That is good.
He is also less brazen about his faith. He obviously understands the great political benefits (and increasing necessity) of talking about it – this very successful litigator knows how to win a case after all. Still, there is a striking and attractive reticence for being too spiritually naked. Then again, that may simply be the trial lawyer judging the jury.
Ultimately, however, the proof will be in the actions. Will he continue to make the poor a center of his agenda? With increasingly success – if it comes, and I believe it will – will he still display that same passion? And, if elected, will he actually follow though on his promises? That is the only question that ultimately matters. Promises to the poor are sacred promises, a test of character and of faith because they depend more than most promises on the person making them. There are no great lobbyists who push the poor, no Fortune 500 companies throwing parties for candidates who support the poor, in fact, no one really cares about the poor in politics except for those who make the promises.
Is John Edwards real and genuine? He may have the chance to prove it.