Does the Ninth Ward in hurricane-devastated New Orleans prove John Edwards's "Two Americas" thesis?

He thinks so. There he was today, against a backdrop of African American young people, calling for "action" and "responsibility" and announcing his candidacy for Activist in Chief.

Intent on "transforming" America, Edwards could have been reading from candidate George Bush's playbook, when he praised "faith-based groups, charitable groups and volunteers" for taking action and making a difference in New Orleans. Holding forth in his blue jeans and open-at-the-neck dark blue button-down, Edwards exuded youthful energy and earthy common sense: "don't wait for government. The people know what to do. Let's take action and responsibility now."

His Platform:

1. Leave Iraq NOW! No escalation.

2. "Take the lead on genocide in Sudan and Darfur."

3. Stop Global Warming by conserving energy.

4. Universal healthcare for all Americans (to start).

5. Eradication of Poverty.

My Analysis:

Edwards is an interesting person. The attending media, however, seemed cynical about his chances. I am too. I think he turned out to be a dud in the 2004 general election campaign, and I concur with the conventional wisdom that the race is already down to two candidates (and he is not one of them).

On the other hand, Edwards is attractive. He connects. He artfully blends his stolid progressive political menu with conservative rhetoric and personal charisma. Watching the C-SPAN coverage of him after the press conference reveals a candidate who has a Bill Clinton-like ability to press the flesh. He was the great surprise of the 2004 campaign. He could certainly exceed expectations again.

Having said that, Edwards is more likely the Gary Hart of this campaign (Monkey Business aside). He is the guy who seemed so fresh four years ago, but you cannot quite remember why exactly you were so impressed back then.

His main problem is that aside from his charm and winning smile, he doesn't offer much in the way of new ideas. As Walter Mondale asked of Gary Hart in 1984: "Where's the beef?" How exactly do we go about eradicating poverty and curtailing global warming? How do we pay for universal healthcare?

Well, we are going to raise taxes on the wealthy and shut down the government largesse to the oil companies. That is a big applause line--but is it a real solution? Since Edwards kicked off his campaign in South Louisiana, I suppose it is appropriate to remember Huey Long, who promised to make every man in America a king. When numbers crunchers, scratching their heads, asked him how he would pay for it, Long replied: "You don't have to understand it; just shut you damn eyes and believe it."