The Candidates: Sen. John Edwards

Sen. John Edwards
Democratic Candidate for President, Former U.S. Sen. (D-N.C.)
Thursday, October 18, 2007; 2:00 PM

The Concord Monitor, Cedar Rapids Gazette and will host a series of live discussions with Republicans and Democrats running for president to give readers the opportunity to share thoughts and questions directly with the candidates.

Sen. John Edwards was online Thursday, Oct. 18 at 2 p.m. ET to take your questions on the campaign and his vision for the United States.

The transcript follows.

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Edwards is a one-term Democratic U.S. Senator from North Carolina. This is his second race for the presidency, following a primary and general election contests 2004, when he was the running mate of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Prior to being elected to the Senate, Edwards spent 20 years as a personal injury trial lawyer.


Des Moines, Iowa: My question is on No Child Left Behind. NCLB has brought lots of standardized tests into the daily lives of students and educators, but no real help in terms of improving the learning conditions in our schools. What would you do to address these issues? And how do we put an end to teaching to the test? Thank you.

Sen. John Edwards: First let me say I'm so glad to be here with you today. Thank you for joining me for this online discussion. Let's get right to the questions.


Alta, Iowa: How do you drive a campaign to focus on the issues, as opposed to polls and how much money a candidate has raised? It seems to me that you have set the agenda in terms of policy (health care specifically) but there doesn't seem to be any coverage on policy. Thanks for your response.

Sen. John Edwards: This question goes directly to why Iowa and New Hampshire are so important. In Iowa and New Hampshire caucusgoers and primary voters focus on specifics and substance, and as we get closer to the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary, the focus increasingly will be on who has specific ideas to address the country's problems, who is ready to be president and who can win in the general election. We will have an election, not an auction. Celebrity and money will not decide who the next president of the United States will be.


Creston, Iowa: So many of our legislators owe so many campaign promises that nothing is getting done in Washington. It appears that they are more concerned about what will be good or bad for their records and are more worried about getting re-elected than they are at getting anything accomplished while they are in office. My question: What are your thoughts on this, and how will you break this cycle when you are president?

Sen. John Edwards: America needs a president who is willing to push a strong, principled agenda with bold ideas. We are past the time for poll-driven, cautious politics. America needs more than that -- America needs a leader who takes strong positions and stands by them, without worry about the political consequences.


Sen. John Edwards: I wanted to go back and answer this question that I opened the discussion with.

I would radically overhaul No Child Left Behind. First, the Federal Government should meet its funding responsibilities for NCLB, which George Bush has completely ignored. Second, no child ever learned anything from filling in bubbles on a cheap, standardized, multiple-choice test. Or, as a friend of mine likes to say, "you don't make a hog fatter by weighing it."

We need to expand the criteria for evaluating the progress of the students, including evaluation of analytical and critical thinking skills. We need to involve the teacher in the evaluation process much more extensively. We should measure the progress of each individual child from the beginning of the year until the end of the year as opposed to, for example, one group of fourth-graders against another group of fourth -raders.

When we identify a school that's struggling, we should provide the resources and expertise to turn the school around. In North Carolina we use what I describe as education SWAT teams, which go into the school and provide help in turning the school around.


Manchester, N.H.: What are the major differences between your health care plan and Hillary Clinton's plan? Do you see your plan as a step in the evolution to a single-payer system? By the way, you are definitely my choice for president in 2008.

Sen. John Edwards: The most important difference between our health care plans is that I'm actually willing to take on the broken system in Washington to make sure we finally get universal health care. I don't believe you can sit down at a table with drug company and insurance company lobbyists and negotiate your way to universal care. They are dead-set against this, and it's going to take a president who can take them on and beat them, and that's what I've been doing my whole life. That's also why I think it's so important for our party to send a powerful message to the American people by joining me in saying "no more" to Washington lobbyist and PAC money, and end the stranglehold of special interests in Washington.

When I am president I am going to submit legislation to Congress that says that if they don't pass universal health care by July of this that year, then they and members of my administration are going to lose their health care. There's no reason politicians in Washington should have health care when the American people don't. They work for you.


North Liberty, Iowa: Republican candidates, Mayor Giuliani in particular, are going to be campaigning strongly for tax cuts. Everybody likes the sound of lower taxes. How are you going argue against more tax cuts?

Sen. John Edwards: When I'm on the stage with the Republican nominee in the Fall of 2008, I will go at all these issues directly. I will say to voters: "If you want the war in Iraq to continue, vote for him. If you want this war to end, you should vote for me.

"If you like what you're paying for health care, you should vote for him, because he will continue the broken system. If you want real health care reform that will drive down costs and cover everyone, you should vote for me.

"If you believe that tax breaks should be focused on the richest Americans, and somehow it will benefit everyone, you should vote for him. If you believe we need a fair tax system, where we reduce the tax burden on the middle class and lower-income workers, you should vote for me.

"If you believe we finally should value work, not just wealth, in America, you should vote for me."


Des Moines, Iowa: With so many great Democratic candidates this year, I am having trouble deciding who to caucus for. How do you distinguish yourself from Sens. Clinton and Obama?

Sen. John Edwards: One important difference between Sen. Clinton and me became clear in recent weeks. There was an important vote in the United States Senate on whether or not to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist group. We've all seen George Bush and Dick Cheney rattling the saber on Iran, and we've seen this before in the lead-up to the Iraq war. So when the Senate voted, it was crucial not to give George Bush even an inch -- because we've seen with this president that if you give him an inch, he'll take a mile. I learned that lesson the hard way.

Sens. Biden and Dodd deserve credit -- they voted no. Sen. Clinton voted yes. And I wonder, six months from now, if George Bush moves militarily against Iran, are we going to hear her again say "if only I knew then what I know now"?

But bigger than that, the American people made clear in November of 2006 that they want change. To bring about real change -- universal health care, energy transformation, ending poverty in America -- we must take on a system in Washington that is broken, corrupt and rigged against the interests of regular people.

We also need a president who believes that bold, strong ideas are required to solve the country's problems. Triangulation, calculation and half-measures aren't going to get us there.

And we need a president who is willing to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war. I will be the president who will ask Americans to sacrifice.


Sen. John Edwards: I want to thank you all for joining me today. This election is so important: We have a real opportunity in 2008 to nominate a Democrat and elect a president who can bring about real change for this country. But to do that, we can't just trade a bunch of corporate Republicans for a bunch of corporate Democrats. We need a president who is ready and willing to take on the entrenched interests in Washington -- because they are standing in the way of the change that we so desperately need. We can do this, but it's going to take all of us. Thank you.


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