Searching for America's Heart: RFK and the Renewal of Hope

Peter Edelman

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN 10: 0395895448 / ISBN 13: 9780395895443
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Synopsis: Peter Edelman has worked as an aide to Robert F. Kennedy, a lawyer, a children's advocate, and a policymaker. He has devoted his life to the cause of justice and to ending inequality. But in 1996, while serving in the Clinton administration as an expert on welfare policy and children, he found himself in an untenable position. The president signed a new welfare bill that ended a sixty-year federal commitment to poor children, and as justification invoked the words of RFK. For Edelman, Clinton's twisting of Kennedy's vision was deeply cynical, so in a rare gesture that sparked front-page coverage in the New York Times and the Washington Post, he resigned from the administration. The nation, he believed, had been harmed.
Drawing on Edelman's vast personal experience with the issues and many of the key figures, SEARCHING FOR AMERICA'S HEART shows that in an age of unprecedented prosperity, Americans have in many respects forsaken their fellow citizens. While we daily break economic records, we have largely given up our vision of social and economic justice, leaving behind a devastatingly large number of poor and near-poor, many of them children. Edelman shines a bright light on these forgotten Americans. Also, based in part on a firsthand look at community efforts across the country, he proposes a bold and practical program for addressing the difficult issues of entrenched poverty. Edelman focuses on novel ways of braiding together national and local civic activism, reinvigorating our commitment to children, and building hope in our most shattered communities.
Surveying the American landscape at the beginning a new presidency and a new Congress, SEARCHING FOR AMERICA'S HEART lays the foundation for a newly conceived politics, a vision true to the legacy of Robert F. Kennedy.

Review: In the tradition of men like Dennis Thatcher, Peter Edelman may be best known to the public because of his better-known wife: Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund. Yet Edelman himself made headlines in 1996, when he quit his job as an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services to protest President Clinton's signing of a welfare bill. This election-year law, written mainly by Republicans, marked a "fundamental break with the longstanding commitment of the Democratic Party to protect poor children." To make matters worse, in Edelman's view, Clinton quoted the words of Robert F. Kennedy at the signing ceremony. Edelman had worked for RFK, and he was outraged: "President Clinton's misuse of Robert Kennedy's words highlighted a stark difference between the two young leaders. One pressed for social justice whenever he could. The other, originally projecting a commitment to renewing national idealism, ended up governing mainly according to the lowest common denominator." (Edelman did not actually oppose Clinton's reelection: "I have never believed that worse is better. Clinton was always fortunate in the quality of the enemies he attracted.")

Searching for America's Heart is not primarily about the Clinton presidency, but it is about the evolution of American liberalism from RFK's heyday in the 1960s to the prosperity of the 1990s, and Clinton necessarily plays a large role in this story. Edelman intends to ignite what he calls "the new progressivism," which he believes is in keeping with RFK's legacy. He still wants to fight and win the War on Poverty. His views are suited for the left-wing of the Democratic Party: some will consider them a return to the failed past; others will think they offer hope for the future. Whatever the case, Edelman is probably correct when he writes that much is up for grabs right now: "This is a time of particular opportunity. The prosperity of recent years, the ensuing surpluses, the increase in local activism, and the effect of the new welfare law in deflating anger at the poor come together to offer opportunity." The question is, in which direction? Edelman has strong opinions on this matter, and he shares them with force and eloquence in these pages. --John J. Miller

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Title: Searching for America's Heart: RFK and the ...
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: GOOD

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