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How Edwards Can Really Rehab Himself

The Charlotte Observer's Jim Morrill's reports on John Edwards's first, tentative steps toward political rehabilitation: a debate in San Francisco with Karl Rove and a speech at Indiana University ("about politics and poverty . . . for which he was paid $35,000").

Here's the thing: other than serving one term in the Senate (much of which was spent running for the White House) and two unsuccessful presidential campaigns, what has Edwards really done to warrant a national platform? I mean, even put aside the whole adultery thing; Edwards hasn't exactly accomplished all that much to warrant the prominent place in national life he clearly desires.

If eliminating poverty is truly "the central cause" of Edwards's life--as he's told me and countless other reporters, and as he told the Indiana students earlier this week--then there are plenty of ways he can act on that cause. He could return to UNC's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity that he helped start in the years after his 2004 presidential bid--and which he promptly left once he embarked on his 2008 campaign. He could restart the non-profit Center for Promise and Opportunity, which he set up after his '04 defeat and which helped with post-Katrina relief work in New Orleans (among other things)--and which he then shuttered during the '08 campaign. Or he could just reactivate his College for Everyone Program, which he founded after his '04 defeat to give college scholarships to graduating high school students in an impoverished county in eastern North Carolina--a program he said would serve as a national model--but which he promptly abandoned after he lost the '08 race. Or he could even do something new--like putting his weight behind the creation of the SouthEast Crescent Authority, which would be modeled after the Appalachian Regional Commission and which would do a helluva lot more to end poverty in North Carolina (and, eventually, elsewhere) than debating Rove in San Francisco and speaking to college students in Indiana.

If Edwards did any or all of these things and actually worked on them for a few years, he wouldn't only be doing something about elminating poverty. I'd imagine that, in the process, he'd go a long ways toward rehabilitating his public image and, perhaps more importantly, gaining the prominent role in our public life that he so clearly seeks--a role he has yet to earn.

--Jason Zengerle