A lasting change for Edwards?

June 5, 2012 

Time will tell if John Edwards’ homily on the federal courthouse steps in Greensboro was the first action item of a public rehabilitation plan, or the first step toward genuine personal redemption and introspection.

As he always does, Edwards touched all the bases on Friday. He expressed love for all his children. He praised his parents. He claimed responsibility.

Then he uttered the phrase that caught my ear. “I don’t think God is through with me.”

If I were God, I wouldn’t be through with Edwards either, given the harm he’s done to so many. The federal campaign corruption trial exposed the extent to which Edwards used and deceived his family, friends and professional associates to further his palpable political ambition.

But on the flip side, those who were used and deceived by Edwards, including his late wife Elizabeth, aren’t without responsibility. Blind faith in Edwards at some level was either a personal or professional investment they hoped would pay dividends if the former senator became president, vice president or a Cabinet secretary. Those who enabled Edwards’ behavior with their money and actions simply lost out on their gamble.

As devastating as these personal wrongs were to his family and professional associates, Edwards’ greatest sin was committed against the poor. His “Two Americas” rhetoric was appealing, but empty. I have yet to meet a poverty-stricken person whose life was permanently transformed by an Edwards’ program or action, or a poor person who beat the odds because they were inspired by his words.

Edwards reveled in speaking about the poor, but rarely did he listen to them. He was a master at giving them hope, but never came close to fulfilling it. When he spoke about poverty, often it was in upscale settings.

That’s why his words from last Friday are critical. If they were spoken as part of a planned public rehabilitation, they will prove to be as hollow and meaningless as his political career. If he said them as part of a path toward personal redemption, then John Edwards’ best days may still be ahead of him.

If Edwards truly believes God is going to use him as a tool against poverty, he is about to learn the greatest lesson of his life. He will learn that a faith-based approach to poverty, grounded in love, not programs, is the key element to achieving the economic justice he endorses.

A mountain of research shows that much of poverty in America is self-inflicted through one or a series of bad choices, such as dropping out of school, having a child out of wedlock, or succumbing to an addiction. Reversing the effects and circumstances that led to those bad choices is a herculean task. Providing government-funded training and remedial education, child care and rehab isn’t enough in most cases. And this is why government programs tend to subsidize poverty rather than eradicate it.

Commitment is what’s required for a personal and financial turnaround, a commitment that is often fueled and bolstered by love.

This is a truth nearly all of us have experienced. How many of us depended on the material and moral support of a loved one to get through hard times? How many times have we slogged through a difficult task because we didn’t want to disappoint someone who loved us?

Why do we sacrifice our own time and treasure so someone else can prosper? Fundamentally, it’s because of love as expressed through caring for our fellow man.

Government programs can help an individual, but they can’t love or inspire that person to succeed and, in turn, help others the same way.

If God still has big plans for John Edwards, he’ll learn that helping our fellow man must be grounded in a spirit of self-sacrifice and not in the political calculation of self aggrandizement and indulgence.

Contributing columnist Rick Martinez ( is news director at WPTF, NC News Network and

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