Saturday, July 01, 2006

Cool! A debate already?!

Well, probably not. Newt Gingrich has issued a challenge to John Edwards for a debate on the issue of poverty. Edwards has made poverty his signature issue, and he has a lot of very interesting ideas for how to alleviate poverty. As well as some impressive goals, involving ending poverty in 30 years. I'd say that's impossible for many reasons which I'll go into in another blog post if I feel like it.

Anyway, Edwards' camp has declined the debate. Which begs the question of why? Edwards did debate the far less formidable Steve Forbes in Nov. 2005 on a variety of issues. It was pretty boilerplate stuff, with Forbes touting America's still robust social mobility and Edwards pointing out that current policy values wealth over work.

So why avoid Gingrich? Probably because Gingrich is first, an outside the box thinker who will throw some very unpredictable curveballs Edwards' way. Second, Gingrich states correctly that education is the single biggest reason for poverty, and Edwards' ideas on that subject are a bit sparse. Gingrich says it's because Edwards won't take on the teachers' unions. He is probably right. Edwards, while a great ideas man, has never shown a willingness to take on the Democrats' special interest groups. Nor is he particularly good at answering tough questions. Gingrich of course also has faults, but there is no doubt he is every bit Edwards' equal as an ideas man and isn't beholden to special interests.

Probably the most amusing part of the Edwards' camp response was that Gingrich should have done something about poverty when he had the chance, rather than jawing about it now. That's probably the best softball ever tossed by an opposing campaign and Gingrich can hit it out of the park by citing his accomplishments as Speaker: Welfare reform, free trade agreements, and sharp reduction in poverty during his term. What did Edwards do in his six years in the Senate? Not that he was a bad Senator, he was a very good Senator. But all he really did was support steel tarriffs(a bonehead Bush move that may have cost 50,000 jobs in other industries due to the higher steel prices), and favor extending unemployment benefits while our unemployment was only 6%.

Edwards should accept the chance to debate. He should apply his formidable intellect to the problems of public schools and propose solutions, some of which will inevitably anger the teachers' unions. He should also sell his other ideas on poverty.

Win or lose, this debate would raise the profile of both candidates at a time when they both need to rise in the polls. And what's more, it would be good to see two of the brighter intellects in politics talk about poverty.