Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Third time's a charm?

Kentucky ranks at the top of world-class lists in just three areas.

We got world-class horses.

We got world-class bourbon. (By federal law, if it ain't made in Kentucky, it ain't bourbon.)

And we got world-class poverty.

And not just any old world-class poverty. World-class presidential-candidate-attractin' poverty.

Robert Kennedy found us first, back in the '60s (although Eleanor Roosevelt knew about us in the '30s.)

Bill Clinton came a-callin' in the '90s, not being above stealing a good Kennedy idea.

And today it's John Edwards.

Don't get me wrong; I'm a strong Edwards supporter. If Elizabeth Edwards were a religion, I'd have to convert from Pastafarianism.

But Appalachia is the Iraq of the War on Poverty. Sure, the intentions are good, but the policy is weak, the strategy non-existent and the tactics akin to emptying the ocean with a teaspoon.

Not to mention the utter bloody-mindedness of the natives, who are less than appreciative of the economic, environmental and social devastation wrought by the various "foreign occupiers," including the timber industry, the coal industry, the pharmaceutical industry (Oxycontin) and bottom-feeding "employers" like telemarketers and chicken-processing plants.

Life in Eastern Kentucky, even for the poorest, is certainly far better than in was in 1962, when Harry Caudill published his passionate expose Night Comes to the Cumberlands. But it still lags far behind the rest of the nation, as the Herald-Leader explains.

The Herald's poll has 59% agreeing that Edwards' visit is a publicity ploy. I agree, but I don't think it's publicity for himself. I think it's publicity for the issue of deep-seated poverty, which hasn't registered on the national radar for more than a quarter-century, since Ronald Reagan taught us that only rich people really matter.

John Edwards isn't making speeches on this Poverty Tour - he's listening to people's stories, hoping to publicize the crisis and maybe gain some insight. So that's a step forward.

And I believe that John Edwards sincerely, genuinely, passionately wants to end poverty in this nation and will do his damndest to succeed.

If a visit to Eastern Kentucky doesn't dash his hopes on the cold, stony ground of Appalachian reality, then he's got a level of progressive determination this nation hasn't seen since FDR.

Who actually DID reduce poverty in Eastern Kentucky.