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Tarnished by Sex Scandal, John Edwards’ Absence Reduces Focus on Poverty at Democratic Convention

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John Edwards’ recent admission of an extra-marital affair effectively removed him from the 2008 campaign and jeopardized his political future. With his and his wife Elizabeth’s absence goes the Democrats’ leading voices on poverty in the United States. Chris Chafe, who served as a senior adviser to Edwards’ campaign says, “This is about a movement…We have to continue moving forward with all the values and strength and the policies and the leadership he brought to this race.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.


Chris Chafe, I want to move to one other subject that I have to ask you about. You were a top person with John Edwards. What was your position with John Edwards’ campaign?

CHRIS CHAFE: I worked as a senior adviser with the senator.

AMY GOODMAN: So, John Edwards and — John Edwards was supposed to be here at the convention. He was expected to speak. His wife was expected to speak. Their platform on poverty very, very important. But they’re not here because of the sex scandal, because he had an affair. What are your thoughts right now? Are you in communication with him?

CHRIS CHAFE: I think the most important thing about John and Elizabeth Edwards is, for all the people that worked for them, for all the people that supported them, they were doing that because they wanted to stand up and fight against 37 million people living in poverty in America. They were doing that because they agreed with John Edwards’s positions on unionization and the rights of workers. They were there because he understood and took a strong position about the importance of preserving and strengthening Social Security. They were there because he was the first politician to admit that he was wrong about his vote on Iraq. And all of the things that all of us valued and worked so hard for, those fights go on.

We miss him being here. He’s an important voice in our party. He has been someone that I think set a very valuable bar for the Democratic Party to address a lot of the core economic issues that American workers care deeply about. And he was a wonderful example, and I hope will be in the future, of someone who’s willing to step into the trenches, so that when someone has come home from a Wal-Mart captive audience meeting, they know that there’s someone in public life who is going to stand up and call out that company for breaking the law, to stand with folks in organized labor and the six-and-a-half million members of Change to Win unions and the 17 million members between Change to Win and the AFL-CIO, and with allies at American Rights at Work and so many other places, that this is not going to be tolerated. So we want him — we believe that his agenda carries on.

AMY GOODMAN: And does it carry on in this convention without him?

CHRIS CHAFE: I think it’s — you know, I just was watching your footage of Dennis Kucinich’s remarks. Clearly, the congressman, I think, made a wonderful set of remarks yesterday. I think it’s not as firm, perhaps, as it might be, but I think that you’re going to hear a great deal of talk — Anna Berger, last night; Gloria Craven, who’s a worker that I represented in Eden, North Carolina, fifteen, sixteen years ago, speaking out about what’s happening to workers when the plant closes; so many members of the Teamsters, SEIU, UNITE HERE and so many other unions who are on the platform talking about workers’ issues. I think that matters.

AMY GOODMAN: Right. But what about people on his staff and the fact that Elizabeth Edwards has terminal cancer? This would have been such an important moment for her to be here, and they’re wiped out, the platform that he represented, perhaps some of it being brought up, but not like it would be if they were both speaking.

CHRIS CHAFE: Well, it’s certainly a loss. And it’s a moment when all of us who have put so much into this have to recognize, as something that Danny Glover said a couple of days ago in a conversation that I had with him, this is not about a campaign. This is not about this particular moment. This is about a movement. We have to be stronger. We have to have a reserve within ourselves. We have to look within ourselves in a moment of crisis. When we have someone of symbolic and strong value and leadership who takes a fall, we have to pick it up. And we have to continue moving forward with all of the values and strength and the priorities and the policies and the leadership that he brought to this race. We have to carry that forward and far beyond this election season. We have to be able to do this.

I mean, I think that one of the things that Change to Win, for example, is focused on, November 5th is the beginning of something; it’s not the end of something. We’re going to maintain our field operations, because we know that when Barack Obama is elected president, we’re going to be in a fight of our lives in order to pass the kind of legislation that speaks to the incredible urgency and demands of the working people.

AMY GOODMAN: But we all know what power politics is about, and one of the reasons he was holding out before he endorsed Barack Obama was to get concessions to start incorporating some of this in. And that also is what happens at the convention, the conduct we’re seeing between Clinton and Obama. But Edwards isn’t here to do it.

CHRIS CHAFE: That’s right. But a lot of us are, and a lot of us are deeply involved in a very healthy, constructive dialogue with the Obama campaign and are very excited.

AMY GOODMAN: Is he dialoguing with Barack Obama right now?

CHRIS CHAFE: I have no idea. I couldn’t speak to that.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did he say to you personally?

CHRIS CHAFE: I — that’s a private conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this a very disappointing time for you, for his staff?

CHRIS CHAFE: It’s a challenge. It’s certainly a challenge.

AMY GOODMAN: Are most of you incorporated into the Obama campaign?

CHRIS CHAFE: I think in a variety of ways — perhaps not directly with the campaign, but there were many of the strongest, best folks in the progressive political world who came to that effort and are now continuing to make a major contribution, whether through the labor movement, through Center for American Progress, through the Obama campaign. There are scores of our folks who are now in congressional and Senate races and many who are helping with the Obama campaign, as well. So, you know, this is a group of people who are leaders in their own right, and they — we went through and ran our race, and now we’re part of a broader race, because this is not simply — you know, electoral politics is just one piece of this puzzle, and all the people who stepped up and stepped into that role understand that. And so, we are making our contributions in a very strong way throughout the rest of the progressive world and in electoral politics from now through November.

AMY GOODMAN: Is more going to come out on the Edwards?

CHRIS CHAFE: I really couldn’t say, and I hope not.

AMY GOODMAN: That could also actually damage Barack Obama’s campaign?

CHRIS CHAFE: I really — you know, like I said, I hope not, and I think that what is very important for your viewers to remember, I think, is that this is a distraction, this is an effort to — we cannot allow for the stark challenges that we face to be lost in the way in which our culture tends to want to focus on personal scandal. And we’re better than that. And we have to be stronger than that. And we have to keep our eyes on the prize, in terms of the fact that all of us carry a responsibility, in the labor movement and the progressive world, to speak — you know, every day, when I wake up, I’m thinking about the 12 percent of the American workforce that’s organized, but I’m obsessed about the 88 percent that’s not, who don’t have the power, by their own capacity, to run their own organizations. And so, it’s things like that that I think we have to recall and realize that most of our media coverage is going to try to focus this and make this a Hollywood scandal.

And really, the scandal is the fact that 37 million people are in poverty in America. And that’s what we have to focus on, and that’s what we need to do, to make sure all of this energy and urgency about this campaign is translated into an ongoing action. There are so many millions of people that have come into the American public arena for the first time, because for the first time they feel like there is someone who’s reaching out to them. We have to harness that. This is the greatest opportunity for organizing in my lifetime, certainly, and I want to make sure that it is a watershed moment to bring so many folks into tangible, hardcore, good organizing that produces tangible results.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Chafe, thank you very much for being with us.

CHRIS CHAFE: My pleasure.

AMY GOODMAN: Change to Win executive director, served as senior adviser to John Edwards’ presidential campaign.

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