Sen. John Edwards (D-NC)
Remarks at House Party
Chris & Kristin Sullivan's Home
Concord, NH
February 2, 2002
Sen. John Edwards made his first visit to New Hampshire as a U.S. Senator from Feb. 1-3, 2002. His major public events were four house parties -- in Concord, Keene, Nashua, and Dover. About 40 people showed up for the first party at the Concord home of Chris and Kristin Sullivan (he is a lawyer and she is a real estate agent). Sen. Edwards spoke for about 13 minutes and then took questions.  Most of the 10 questions focused on domestic concerns: economy; Enron; issues young people care about; money for social programs; definition of a fetus/pre-natal care; long-term chronic care; privatizing Social Security; Afghanistan; broader context of war in Afghanistan; bridging the gap between America and other cultures.

Sen. John Edwards: ...And thanks to Chris and Kristin for hosting this -- appreciate it very much. Thank you all for taking time on Saturday morning to be here. I know you have other places you could be but it means a lot that you are willing to come here and talk about some of these issues that I think we're all interested in.

My wife, Elizabeth, is here somewhere hiding in the back of the room. There she is holding her hand up. I hope you all get a chance to meet her. We've been married for 24 years; we've had four children, including a three-year old, Emma Claire, and a one-year old, Jack, who are now home, I hope pining away for us and missing us.

What I'd like to do with your permission is talk about a few things, tell you a little bit about myself and my perspective on some issues, some of the issues that I care about, and then talk about what you all want to talk about. Any questions, issues that you want to raise, like to discuss, I'd like very much to focus on the things that you're interested in, because I didn't come here just to talk, I came here also to listen and to hear what you all have to say, what you're concerned about and focused on.

First, let me tell you a little bit about me and sort of where I come from and how its affected what it is that I believe in.

I grew up in a small town, like many of you, out in the country in North Carolina, a town of about seven or eight hundred people -- the place is called Robbins -- and my dad worked in cotton mills all his life. My mom had lots of different jobs but her last job was working in the Post Office delivering mail. And I was blessed to be able to be the first person in my family to be able to go to college. And when I was young, I used to go in the mill with my dad, and actually when I got a little older I worked there, when I was in high school and college.

And I still have these very vivid memories, that I carry with me when I work in the Senate, of the men and women who worked in that mill. You all can sort of picture it in your mind's eye when you've seen 'em; they've got their overalls on, they got grease on the side of their face and they got lint in their hair, and they've been working in that place some of 'em for years, some of 'em for decades, and I'm talking about five or six days a week, eight or ten hours a day -- hard, tedious work. And the question is, why?

And I think why is so that their kids and their family could have a better life. And when I was not only lucky enough to be able to go to college and I was able to go to law school, when I became a lawyer, I decided those were the people that I wanted to represent -- the people I'd grown up with, people like them and the families like them all over North Carolina. And then after basically twenty years, a little less than twenty years of doing that, I went to the Senate; ran for the Senate and was elected to the Senate, for exactly the same reason. I mean I believe very strongly that those people were entitled, people like them -- by the way I think they represent most of North Carolina and most of the country -- I felt very strongly that they're entitled to a voice in this process.

And when I got to the Senate I saw some things that are striking. Some good. First of all the things we've all seen happen since September the 11th and the re-emergence of the American spirit, I think that's a wonderful thing. And recently -- I mentioned this to some of you when we were speaking earlier -- I came back from Afghanistan, Senator McCain and I and some of our colleagues went to Afghanistan. I got to visit our troops on the ground in Afghanistan and to Pakistan and go to the aircraft carrier Teddy Roosevelt and saw a bunch of our sailors, including the ones from North Carolina, there. And I can tell you, you would be so proud of these young men and women, and what they're doing, and their feeling of accomplishment in what they've been able to do in the service of their country, and they're very proud of what they've done and we ought to be very, very proud of them. But one of the things I got to do when I was on the ground in Afghanistan was, as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I got to meet with our intelligence operatives. Now these are the folks who are responsible for finding bin Laden. We spent about an hour talking -- I spent about an hour talking to them with Fred Thompson, the Senator from Tennessee, 'cause the two of us are on that committee, and I hope we get a chance to talk about this because what we learned was fascinating and actually what's happened since then has also been fascinating.

But in addition to these positive things, the other thing that I saw when I got to Washington was you can't move without bumping into a lobbyist for some powerful interest there. I mean they're everywhere. And they're very effective, they're very smart, they're very articulate, they're very persuasive -- but I couldn't help, you know, when I start seeing these folks everywhere, I couldn't help but picture in my mind's eye when they were talking to me, you know, on behalf of some very powerful interest, those men and women working in that mill with my dad, with the grease on their face and the lint in their hair, and thinking now wait a minute, who's representing them, I mean who's going to speak for them. Because I guarantee you they don't have a lobbyist in Washington, DC.

And so what I decided was there were clearly an agenda of things that needed to be accomplished, and I'm talking about things that would affect the lives of these people that I've been talking about on a day-to-day basis. And I became during the time I've been there, I still remain [inaud.] enormously optimistic that these things can be accomplished.

Let me just talk about a couple of them, and then I hope we'll be able to talk about others as you all raise questions and issues.

First, an example. There's a fellow from North Carolina named Steve Grissom; he lives in Durham, North Carolina. Steve developed leukemia as a fairly young man, and over time he got to the place that he was so sick that he had trouble breathing. He was seeing a specialist at Duke. The doctor put him on oxygen 24 hours a day because he'd gotten so sick. Well his wife's employer changed HMOs, and some guy sitting behind a desk somewhere said you don't need this; we're not paying for it. And they sent people -- you should hear the story -- they sent people out ot his house to pick up his oxygen containers, and they literally took his oxygen away.

Now we can do something about this -- you know Senator McCain, Senator Kennedy and I were the authors of the Patient's [inaud.], the Patient's Bill of Rights in the Senate, that we got through the Senate, we can and should pass a Patient's Bill of Rights so that people who have health care coverage, that group of people, has more control over their health care decisions. But the question is if we don't, if we don't fight for a Patient's Bill of Rights, who will?

Another example. I picture in my mind's eye a 70-year old woman sitting at her kitchen table. You know it could be in Robbins, North Carolina, it could be in Rochester, New Hampshire, and it's kind of dark and you can see her, you know sitting at the table -- she's got her pills lined up, and she's got a knife, and she's going through one by one and cutting her pills in half because she can't pay for her prescription drugs, her medicine, and pay for her groceries at the same time. Now I'm here to tell you that woman does not care about all the fancy politics inside Washington, DC, and she doesn't care about the lobbyists representing the drug companies walking around in Washington, DC. She wants to know what we're going to do about her day-to-day life so she can pay for her medicine and pay for her groceries. You know it's a pretty simple thing. But if we don't stand up for her, who will? Who will? You know.

The other thing I always think about -- you know we've had lots of discussion of campaign finance reform, which I believe in deeply -- John McCain and I and Russ Feingold and others, with McCain and Feingold leading the way, carried the debate on that issue on the floor of the Senate. And I just have a very simple idea about this; it's really not complicated you know. I think every one of you and every one of the people who grew up in that little town in North Carolina where I grew up and worked in that mill with my dad, they ought to have just as much voice in this democracy as somebody who can write a $100,000 check. Period. But if we don't do something to give them that voice, who will? Who will?

Education. You know I'm a living, breathing example of how important an education is, having been able to go to college and having been able to go to law school, and how important it is in our ability to contribute, you know which everybody wants to do in some way, you know for their family, for their community, for their country, but without a quality education they can't do it. Everybody who grew up in that little town with me and grew up here with you, every one of your kids ought to have as good an education as the richest man in America can afford for his kids. Period. It's what we believe in in this country.

And we've actually done some things in North Carolina. We, being Governor Hunt in North Carolina, put in a Smart Start program, an early childhood development program, which has been very effective using special assistance teams, these SWAT teams that go in and turn around schools that are low performing schools, and as a member of the Education Committee I was able to take Governor Hunt's ideas and put it into the national education bill that just got signed into law. But you know, it's things as simple -- when we just did the education bill, things as simple as full funding of IDEA -- you know all this mess that you all have gone through here with trying to fund your public school system -- a lot of that would be alleviated if we just fully funded IDEA as we're responsible for doing, and we have not done it, and there's no excuse for it; we ought to do it.

And finally I just want to say a word about the economy. You know I just have in my own mind very clear ideas about what ought to be done about the economy and I think they're common sense. First of all we ought to live within our means. And I'm talking about on the revenue side and also on the spending side. You know I think we ought to tell people the truth -- you know, we can't have everything. That's just the truth. And we ought to be willing to tell people that and talk about that. And the third thing is we can't accept deficits as a way of life. And there's a very simple reason for that -- because of the effect it has on people's day-to-day lives. I also by the way have what I think are very clear ideas about what ought to be done about economic stimulus and economic recovery. We ought to do something that has real impact in the short run, that helps the people who've been damaged by what happened on September 11th, that doesn't do long-term damage to the economy. And I have some specific thoughts about that if you all are interested and want to talk about it, I'd love to talk about it.

But all these things, you know what we're talking about with respect to the economy these are things you do in your family every day. I did it growing up. You know our family, we balanced a budget because we had to -- it wasn't a complicated thing. In fact, to tell you the truth my parents were so opposed to debt that when Elizabeth and I got married and tried to go check into the hotel room, I didn't have a credit card -- as a result had trouble paying the bill; we didn't have enough cash with us to pay the bill.

But I think all of us, all of us have learned things from our real life experiences, and those real life experiences ought to apply in Washington, DC. And I've said this before, I believe it strongly, I promise you, that all knowledge does not reside in Washington, DC -- long way from it. You know a lot of the best ideas and the best thoughts and the best values that people have come from places just like this where we're standing and talking right now.

And I also think, I think all of you, I think all of you, in fact all of us, have some place like Robbins for me, in their memory that tells us, tells our conscience, what's right and what's wrong, and what we need to do.

And I spent, you know, most of my adult life fighting for people and standing up for people who I believe played by the rules and were hurt by people who didn't play by the rules. And for me the people who go to work every day at a company or a business and play by the rules, just shouldn't have to worry that somebody up above them who doesn't play by the rules is going to take advantage of them. And people who go to work every day, and see that money coming out of their check every week to go to Social Security, you know they shouldn't have to worry whether it's going to be there when they're finished, when they retire. It's just not -- And people who do right by their family and do right by their country shouldn't have to hire a lobbyist in Washington, DC to get what they're entitled to from their government.

You know I was listening to the President the other night. And he said something that I think is absolutely true. He said, "The American spirit has never been stronger." I agree with that. Now I want to be able to say the same thing about the American Dream.

It really is a privilege to be here with you all. I'd be happy to answer questions, talk about any issues you're interested in talking about, in fact I'd welcome, I'd love to have questions.

QUESTION [Rob Werner]: Can you talk a little bit more about the economy and what you see we ought to do to make sure that we make the right investments and that we don't go back to the large deficits?

Sen. John Edwards: Well let me talk about short term first and then long term. I think first in the short term, in the period of trying to get this economy back on track there are some real specific, very, very specific things I think we can do. There are tax cuts that will work. I think if we provide an incentive for business to buy stuff, you know just accelerated depreciation, to buy things that they wouldn't otherwise buy, I think it creates demand so it can create jobs. I think that's a positive thing. But it needs to be short term. If it's not short term it doesn't work. If you don't say to them you'll get this tax write-off, if you buy it now, but if you buy it three years from now you're not going to get it, then there's no reason they will buy it now as opposed to three years from now.

A second thing that I think is critical is we have to do something for the people who have been hurt, you know, extend their unemployment benefits, that money'll go right back into the economy. Same thing for their health care. The last thing somebody who lost their job on September 11th because of the attack on us, the last thing they need to be worried about when they go to bed at night is that one of their kids is going to get sick and they're not going to be able to pay the bill; it's going to bankrupt them. So we ought to be able to do something for them. I think the tax rebate ought to be in place; I think that makes sense. And last, and far from least, is we got to do something for the states, because state budgets all over this country, including here, are struggling terribly. And there are multiple ways to do it. We can do it by upping the Medicaid reimbursement -- the federal government's responsibility, part of that. So I think there's a group of things, specific things that we can do that will work. But I think we always have to keep in mind that what we're doing ought to have real impact now and not have long-term impact -- not drive us deeper into deficits, not create upward pressure on long term interest rates. I mean those are the things we don't want to see happen over the long term.

QUESTION, cont'd: So what is your long-term...

I think we have to get back to what worked in the 90's, you know. We know what works. What happened in the 80's and what's happening now doesn't work. You know we've learned these lessons. I think it's balanced budgets; it's fiscal discipline. I opposed the tax cut that the president got passed through the Congress in a highly partisan vote. I thought it was irresponsible. To me I go back [inaud.] commonsense. The notion that we were going to be able to predict what was going to happen not only this year or the following year but ten years from now is just comical. I mean it was ridiculous for us to be thinking like that. And we've seen -- You know over the course of the last year, during the first year of this administration, we've seen, what, $4 trillion disappear, I think its four trillion, disappear from the projected surpluses. Now some of that is nobody's fault, don't misunderstand me. Some of it's the result of the war, some of it's the result of recession, but a sizable chunk of it's the result of the tax cut. And I just think we have to get back to doing the things we were doing before -- get back to balanced budgets, not go deeper and deeper into deficits, which is the track we're headed on right now, and be responsible not only on the tax cut side, but we, as Democrats, have to be willing to be willing to be responsible on the spending side.

I have to tell you when this debate began about the stimulus and the recovery, I think both sides did some things wrong. I think the Republicans and their $25 billion give-away in the House bill to get rid of the alternative minimum tax -- you know Enron had avoided taxes for four of the last five years; I guess they wanted to make sure they avoided that fifth year too -- that notion didn't make any sense to me at all. Particularly taking taxpayer money and writing checks to people, those big companies, that was crazy. But, I think on our side, in the beginning -- it's now gone -- in the beginning there was some spending that was more long-term, that would not have had an effect on the economy in the short term, and some of which was probably pork barrel. You know we have to be willing, we have to be willing -- I said a while ago, we got to be honest with people. We got to be willing to be honest as Democrats too, you know. And, we have to live -- I said it and I believe it -- we have to live within our means. And that means not only we don't have irresponsible tax cuts, but also that we don't have irresponsible spending.

QUESTION [Karen Hicks]: Can you talk about what protections we need to take to make sure that workers are protected from situations like Enron recently, and your views on that?

Sen. John Edwards: If I could just say one thing just as a matter of perspective, and I also have some specific ideas about it. One is you know there's [not??] a natural tendency to talk about you know Enron gave money to this political party, they did this at the Administration, they did -- that should not be the focus of what we're doing, you know. The focus of what we're doing is to make sure that this doesn't happen either to the public or to people who work with companies like Enron again.

A couple of ideas. One is clearly we have to do something about accounting practices. I mean the notion that these big accounting firms go in, make these big consulting fees, and at the same time are supposed to provide an objective, responsible audit, it doesn't make any sense at all. And we clearly have to do something about that. That's one idea.

A second idea is requiring that employees buy company stock in their 401(k). When it's not in their best interest, they shouldn't be made to do it. It's about that simple. And a third idea, is anything that locks in the employees -- which I don't think they should be locked in at all -- but if it locks them in, it ought to lock in the people at the top too. The very notion that they were selling off a billion dollars of stock at the top is just, is not acceptable. And by the way its been interesting watching the Washington crowd talking about what happened with Enron. I may be wrong, but I don't think people around this country have any trouble understanding this. They've seen this story before, you know. People, very powerful, politically well connected people at the top took advantage of regular working people; that's what happened. And I think that's where our responsibility in the government comes in, for all those people who don't have somebody up there lobbying for 'em. I think that's the way to deal with it; that's at least some of the things. There may be other things that need to be done, but I think these are some of the things we ought to do.

Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: What really are issues that young people care about? I felt in the last election people were talking about Social Security and things that affected older people, and a lot of young people didn't vote. You've framed education as parents trying to pay, but there are also young people trying to pay for education. They're very interested in environment. What do you think are the issues for young people?

Sen. John Edwards: I think you just mentioned two of the most dominant issues that they're concerned about. I mean they're concerned about -- And can I just also say when I go to schools, which I do regularly, and talk with kids and teachers as opposed to just listening to what people say in Washington, some of the best ideas about what's happening in schools -- For example, testing. I don't want to get us off track, but testing. We all believe, I believe at least, in accountability; its worked in my state of North Carolina. But what's also clearly true, if you talk to the kids and the teachers, is that sometimes testing can become so invasive that all that's happening in the classroom is the teacher is preparing the kids for the test and never preparing for the [inaud.] as opposed to actually learning the things they need to learn. That's something I've learned from talking to kids over and over and over in classrooms.

They care about the environment. They don't care about, they don't care about campaign finance reform as an academic issue; it's more of a visceral thing for 'em. You know, what I hear all the time is -- Because I constantly say, we need you, we need you involved, we need you engaged. You know you have a chance to affect the future; this is your country, you can affect its future, but you got to be in it to do it, got to be in the fight. And what you usually hear is, what difference does it make? Two things. One is, all those people in Washington and who write those big checks and give all the money that's who people are going to listen to. And, number two, they don't listen to us. You know, they think we're too young and we're too naive and we don't understand things. Which by the way is absolute garbage, you know, because what they do, young people do, is they think outside the box. Some of their ideas may not make any sense, but some of 'em make a lot a sense. And particularly for people who've been doing this a long time, I think it's really valuable to have 'em involved. So my notion is I think we have to focus on issues that they care about; that includes things like the environment, education and campaign finance reform. But I think more importantly, they have to feel like people in leadership positions actually listen to what they say. You know if they feel like we're patronizing them, they can spot it a mile away; I promise you they can spot it a mile away. So I think the starting place for this is to actually allow 'em to believe you know that we're paying attention to them, we care what they have to say. I do care what they have to say. But I think that has to be clear to them that people care.


QUESTION [Ignatius MacLellan]: My name's Ignatius, and welcome to our wonderful state. I'll tell you one of my concerns is I kind of feel like we're almost in a Ronald Reagan budget situation where David Stockman admitted that we're going to drive up certain spending to beat down the social programs. And in my kind of volunteer life, in my working life, issues like food for low income folks, welfare to work, dental care, housing are important, and I'm very concerned that we're in the same situation again, where there's going to be out-of-control spending on non-social programs, and then the excuse will be, well there's no money now to do the things we need to do for lower income folks. And I just would be interested to get your sense as, are we going down that road and what can we do to change it?

Sen. John Edwards: I think the answer is, there are some who want to take us down that road, and the question is are we going to have the political will to stand up and fight for the things that really matter. All those things you just mentioned --

If I can just by way of example -- I just last week I traveled around rural North Carolina having town hall meetings, which I do regularly to listen to people, to hear what they have to say. And it was interesting to me, I don't know how many questions I got in all these meetings we did, but very few questions about the war. Now don't misunderstand me, people care about it, but they believe we're doing well. And very few questions about security, you know, homeland defense and personal safety and all that kind of stuff.

This is what people were asking about. You know, the plant just closed; you know what are we going to do to get health care for our kids; all these bread and butter kind of things. The schools -- our school's not doing the stuff that we think it needs to be doing; what are we going to do about teacher pay? I mean all those things that you would expect people to care about. The things that you just mentioned all fall into exactly the same category. You know I think that people who grew up in communities like this, like your community, and grew up in communities where I grew up, I might be wrong about this, but I don't think they get up in the morning thinking about policy issues. I don't think they get up thinking about you know where exactly are we in the war right now. I mean I think that's just not the way -- They get up thinking, you know I got to get my kids dressed and I got to get them to school, you know they haven't done their homework, you know what if one of 'em gets sick, are we going to be able to pay the bills? And what they're usually -- they're just worried that their kids are going to have a chance and be able to compete. And I think they're thinking about bread and butter stuff, and I might add that's what we need to be talking about, that's what we need to be talking about. And that safety net, those safety net issues are crucial, absolutely crucial, particularly with the economic downturn.

QUESTION [Pilar Olivo]: My name's Pilar, and I wanted to ask you about the new executive regulation for the Child Health Insurance Program, which would define a fetus as a child to allow women to get pre-natal care. I'm really concerned about --

Edwards: the definition.

Olivo: Yeah. And I'm wondering what you think about that?

Edwards: I haven't seen the regulation; I've read about it.

Olivo: There are other ways to allow women to get pre-natal care without defining the child.

Edwards: I haven't actually seen the regulation, so it's a little hard for me to talk about it without seeing what they're doing.

Olivo: Well but the general issue.

Sen. John Edwards: But the general notion, there are certainly other ways to make sure. Of course, pre-natal care for women is crucial. But without promoting that agenda, you know the anti-choice agenda. I'm a deep believer in choice, and I think it is a mistake to do anything that would undermine that. [Inaud.] you're right there are clearly ways to provide women with pre-natal care that don't specifically require that.

By the way could I just say something about the CHIPs program, the S-CHIPs program. The other issue we haven't talked about are the uninsured. And there are 40-something million people in this country who are terrified that if something happens to them, they're going to either go bankrupt or they won't be able to get the medical care that they need. And doing more in the S-CHIP program for kids. The very notion that we have kids -- in a country this prosperous, you know where people do as well as they do -- that we have children who don't have health care, have health care coverage is unacceptable; I mean that's just unacceptable. And we ought to do something about that now, right now.

And the other thing we can do is we can expand S-CHIP to include the parents of these kids. And by the way that gets us to about half of those 40-some odd million who are uninsured. By the way you probably noticed the number's been rising; it's not going down its going up. But I think that's -- you know when I think about, I mentioned the Patient's Bill of Rights, the Patient's Bill of Rights is very important, and in fact we're working right now with the White House to try to work out an arrangement that will allow us to actually have a Patient's Bill of Rights signed into law. But that's for people who have health insurance you know. We've got a lot of people in this country who don't have health insurance. And that along with prescription drugs for senior citizens are really dominant issues in our world today that need to be addressed and need to be dealt with.


QUESTION: I'd like to kind of follow up with that, and I'm thinking about a couple of public health concerns, public health issues, that I would think probably if we went around the room, everybody would have a story about a relative or a friend who might have had cancer.

Edwards: Yes, long-term chronic care as an issue.

QUESTION, cont'd: Maybe long-term chronic issues, things like cancer, things like osteoporosis. You know whether you have the health care or not, I think we really need to be looking at what we're doing in our country in terms of research, in terms of early detection, prevention, diagnosis, treatment. And I'm wondering you know in a situation like that that affects so many people, and again probably every one of us in some capacity. And things like osteoporosis where you have $13 billion every year spent just on the medical cost with a preventable disease, what can we do, do you think, to you know really push forward the research agenda, and you know create a situation where maybe we wouldn't have to deal with some of these issues and some of these diseases?

Sen. John Edwards: I think to some extent it's sort of a [inaud.] misunderstanding or a misallocation of where the priorities are today. First of all research dollars are so cost efficient over the long term; prevention dollars are so cost efficient over the long term. One of the things that I find really frustrating is there's been a slowly eroding of the funding for home health care, as an example. And just anybody with common sense knows if you've got somebody at home, particularly a senior citizen, and you've got somebody regularly coming to see them, dealing with their health care issues as they arise in a preventative way, that that's much less costly over the long term than having them get catastrophically sick and go to the emergency room at the hospital and having to get intense medical care at the hospital. But instead, but what happens is we're all so focused politically on the short term you know, instead of thinking, well now what's the right thing to do over the long term.  And a lot of these issues, by the way it's not just health care issues -- it applies pretty much across the board -- a lot of these issues require the willingness to say yes, in the short-term this is painful; this may not be what you want to do over the short-term, but over the long-term it's the right thing to do. And I think that applies on this front, among other things.

The other issue we had a lot of problems with is, and I suspect you all had it here, is because of the balanced budget act that was passed back in 1997, hospitals are having a terrible time, having a terrible time just staying open, and we've sort of made slow progress in that direction, but we have hospitals in North Carolina that are literally having trouble keeping their doors open, particularly rural hospitals, and I suspect that's probably true up here.

QUESTION: I'm a rapidly aging baby-boomer.

Edwards: [inaud.]

QUESTION, cont'd: I'm deeply worried about President Bush's proposals for privatizing Social Security and I wondered where you stood on that.

Sen. John Edwards: I have a one word answer to that: Enron. I mean I think that what we've seen happen with these employees at Enron who've seen their life savings go down the tube, being  invested in Enron stock and the stock market. The privatization of Social Security, in my judgment, Enron is a huge obstacle for them to try to privatize Social Security. The way I think about it is, I think that the Social Security system has to always be there as a safety net for everybody, period. Now the notion of providing financial incentives for people to invest and to save and to save and invest for their retirement is a very good idea, a very good idea, but it ought to be built on top of Social Security not as a replacement for Social Security.

And this Commission you know that came out with this recommendation, that thing was so loaded up from the start; I mean they just basically just picked a bunch of people who already thought that Social Security needed to be privatized. There's some good people on there, but the already had pre-existing views which I think controlled the decision-making process.

Yes ma'am.

QUESTION: I do have a foreign policy question.

Edwards: Yes, fire away.

QUESTION, cont'd: You've just been to Afghanistan, what do you think?

Sen. John Edwards: I think that, several things. When I talked to Karzai, the interim head of the government there, first of all he's impressive, he's very a articulate -- he's just the interim head right now -- a very articulate guy, clear vision, I think, of what needs to be done in Afghanistan. An extraordinarily difficult thing to achieve -- with the warlords and with the Iranians in the western border, I mean it's a very unstable situation. I think it will be impossible for them to achieve stability without long-term involvement of the United States and its allies. And that's a group, not just us, all of us; it can't be done.

I'm going to give you a different example. When we were in Pakistan, I talked to Musharraf about, I said what do you need from us. Tell me what you need from America and its allies. Everybody in this room probably could answer this question already. He said first, economic development. You know we need to get rid of this feeling of hopelessness that our people have. Second, we need education money, because what's happening now is everybody's being educated in these religious schools where extremism is being taught, and we got to give them an alternative to that. And third, this is actually the most interesting, law enforcement. He said you know how in the world are we going to find these terrorists and do something about them if we don't have the resources the people out there in the world [inaud.] our country have to find them. And he said, Senator, just so you get perspective on this, our law enforcement officers out in the rural areas not only don't have transportation, they don't have pencil and paper to write down what people tell them, you know. It's just a different world.

And what you can see is, and you all have all seen this, what you can see is these terrorist groups are going to go to the weakest link. It's just that simple.  If we fix Afghanistan and Pakistan is unstable politically and economically, they'll go to Pakistan. If it's Uzbekistan, they'll go to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan. It's just sort of like trying to put a cap on quicksilver, you know they're going to go wherever the weakest place is and that's where they'll do the best. So, that sort of a long-winded way of telling you I think that ought to stay engaged not just in Afghanistan but in the region, and so do our allies. I think without that -- I do have a little trouble understanding why our peacekeeping force has been so discrete, why it's located only in the region around Kabul. I'm not sure that I understand how we're ever going to have stability out across the country without having some more widespread peacekeeping force. But I think generally we've done the right thing so far; I think particularly Secretary of State Powell has a good idea of what needs to be done.


QUESTION [Steve Rothenberg]: Parallel to Afghanistan again. Since the war started, I think a lot of my peers tried processing it, trying to figure out why we're there, how the American public's going to deal with it. And I read a wonderful article in the Times by Tom Friedman reflecting on how Bush has sort of missed an opportunity to educate people more, to ask more of the American public dealing with this war. Dealing with a sidebar like, think about why you have an SUV and how much gas you're using and how maybe that's a factor in this whole puzzle. And I'd just like to get your thoughts on; your own thoughts on it and then reflecting on how Bush has done with the American public, how he's had America reflect on what's going on.

Sen. John Edwards: Can I add to that our sort of public discourse with the Arab world, which I think is another component of that. Well, let me talk first about the example you gave. You know the whole notion of energy dependence and independence is now not just an environmental issue, it's a security issue; it's a national security issue. And I think in terms of CAFE standards, the governor here has made a proposal about fossil-fuel burning power plants, reducing those emissions. I mean I think there's important work to be done. One of the things that most people I don't think understand is that what Bush is proposing, what President Bush is proposing, I think over the course of 20 years, I saw at least a study that said it would increase our energy dependence, it would double it over the course of 20 years, which is exactly the wrong way for us to go. Energy independence I think is now a national security issue.

By the way, just as an aside, there's a Senator, former Senator from Colorado, Tim Wirth, who heads the UN foundation for Ted Turner, and he's very involved in this stuff. He came to our house the other night, and he's got one of these -- I don't know if you guys have seen 'em -- one of these hybrid cars. He just bought it. And he said, you got to come drive this thing.  It was amazing.  It felt just like a normal automobile; I drove it up and down hills, and I think it gets something like 70 or 80 miles to the gallon. I mean those things have real potential.  It was clear that they have real potential.

With respect to the way the President has handled this, I think generally the President's done a good job on the war. And I think he's been tough when some toughness was required. I think we could have -- you know this is 20:20 hindsight, we all got 20:20 hindsight -- we could have been earlier and more intensely engaged with the Arab world explaining what we were doing, because I think that public dialogue is crucially important over the long term for the folks particularly in moderate Arab countries to understand what it is we're doing and why we're doing it.

And I think one thing that at least I sense when I go around here in the United States and around in my state of North Carolina, I think people are willing to do more than they're doing. I think they will respond very well to being asked to do more. In fact I think a lot of what we see in sort of interviews with people and talking to people, public opinion polls and all that stuff, is that people are, people feel the need and willingness to show some real sacrifice. Well one of the areas we can really show it is the one you just mentioned, you know, doing something about fuel economy.

QUESTION, cont'd: Not necessarily just shop more?

Edwards: No, not just buy more stuff, that's right.

Interjection: One more question.

Edwards: Okay, who's got one. Yes sir.

QUESTION [Jeff]: Kind of a related question. First of all I think the United States is a great country and nothing justifies the acts of September 11th. But at the same time I think that throughout the world we exhibit a great deal of arrogance, and I'm concerned that a lot of people in the United States do not recognize that and that we haven't done enough to bridge the gap between ourself and other cultures. And I wonder if you share that concern, and if you do what you might suggest we do to address it.

Sen. John Edwards: Well some of it is on the front that I just talked about -- public discourse through the media, but a second is at the leadership level. And you know very well before September 11th we were engaging in a lot of unilateral activity from you know Kyoto to our foreign policy to disengaging in a lot of areas of the world that are critical to American interests. And what's happened is, is a result of September 11th we've seen a real shift in this administration. Rightly so. I think we should have been there before then.  But when we don't engage around the world, there's an enormous vacuum.  And for example I was in Israel in August -- we could spend a lot of time talking about that situation -- but without us being engaged there, there's no hope, no hope at all.

So I think the answer to that question is at least on two different levels.  We need in sort of our public dialogue directly with people on the street in these Arab countries, not just in the Arab countries, in Europe and around the world, we need to be constantly in a very rational, thoughtful way explaining to them what we're doing, why we're doing it, and consulting them.  That doesn't mean they control what we do; that's totally different. But if we get their consultation and their advice, they respond differently; just exactly the way you do.  If somebody's going to do something that you're not happy with, the last thing you want to do is find out about it after it happened.  You know if they come and they talk to you about it and they get your advice and they just decide this is something we need to do, you'll be much more likely to accept it.  Exactly the same thing's true with our foreign policy.  Our allies around the world will respond more favorably if we consult with them, if we stay engaged with them --

Example is when we were in Turkey, the Turks were very worried about what we were going to do in Iraq.  And whatever we end up doing in Iraq, which I think is a serious concern -- I think there's some things we do need to do in Iraq -- but I think it's critical that we consult with the Turks in doing that.  And I think they'll much more accepting if they feel like they're involved, they're engaged, and their ideas are being listened to.

QUESTION, cont'd: But do you think the citizens of the United States understand enough about other cultures, because what you're describing is really going to other cultures and asking them to understand --

Sen. John Edwards: I think it would be useful if we -- I think we understand more, much more about the Islamic world today than we did before September 11th. But it's hard; that's hard stuff. I mean just to be honest about it -- we talked about this earlier -- when people are worried about feeding their kids and paying their doctor bills, it's hard to get 'em to focus very much on what's happening half a world away. But, the one thing that I think is true is that one of the results of September 11th is they're going to be much more willing to do that and they see, I think all of us believe, for example, that we're more willing to stay engaged in Afghanistan over a longer period of time, because the American people now see a connection in other places around the world and their day-to-day lives, which I think is crucial to being able to accomplish that.

Thank you all very much for being here.  [applause].

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Copyright © 2002 Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action