‘Two Americas’ in Aspen | VailDaily.com

‘Two Americas’ in Aspen

Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times"What about the rest of us?" asked former U.S. Sen. John Edwards as he addressed an Aspen audience.

ASPEN ” Former U.S. Sen. John Edwards might have gone “Aspen casual” on Thursday with his attire, but his positions on the state of the country were far from relaxed.

Edwards, a Democratic presidential hopeful, addressed a crowd at the Aspen Institute, laying out his economic vision for America. As soon as he took center stage, he immediately noticed he was the odd man out.

“Am I the only person wearing a tie? What is wrong with me?” he asked.

Edwards took off his coat and tie, and loosened his shirt. Then he got down to business.

“I think we need change in the worst way,” Edwards said, adding that the next president and the United States will have to spend enormous energy undoing what President George W. Bush has done in his two terms in office.

If elected, Edwards said, he will close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay the first day he can. There will be no more secret prisons, people will not be held without a trial, there will be no torture of prisoners and no illegal spying on the American people.

“Isn’t it staggering that a candidate for president has to say these things?” he asked. “That is how far we’ve come.”

Edwards began the day clarifying his “Two Americas” concept by explaining that the division between the rich and poor has grown exponentially as a result of Bush’s policies on everything from tax breaks for large corporations to the proliferation of paid lobbyists in Washington to ignoring the health-care crisis.

America’s problems ” and there are many ” are all connected, Edwards said. Health care, energy consumption and the structural problems with the economy are related, and they everybody.

“[President Bush] has taken a circumstance, which is globalization, where there is winners and losers, and he is accelerating the winners,” Edwards said. “He has no basic understanding of what is happening.”

Poverty in America is not just an economic issue, it’s also a moral one, Edwards said. The U.S. is experiencing the worst economic inequality since the Great Depression.

“It says a lot about our character,” Edwards said. “Most Americans who live in poverty work full time. … They live on the edge of the razor every day, and once they get into the ditch, they can’t get out.”

Most importantly, Edwards said, Americans ought to be concerned about the country’s top judges, who are setting the country back decades with their rulings. He pointed to a recent decision on integrated school systems that basically reverses Brown v. the Board of Education.

“If you worry about the election, worry abut the direction the U.S. Supreme Court is going,” he said.

Edwards believes the U.S. has an uphill battle in restoring its relationship with the rest of the world.

There are many in the Muslim world who are sitting on the fence on which way to act in the future: those who lean toward America and those who could side with, and join, the terrorists.

“We can drive them the other way,” he said. “If they see us as a bully and selfish, they’ll go that way.”

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland attended a fundraising luncheon for Edwards after the hour-long talk. Ireland said Edwards talked about where he stands on global warming.

“The guy has a good agenda, and it’s good for Aspen. He talked a lot about social consciousness,” Ireland said.

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