By David J. Silverman, Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS - Stopping in Maryland to promote his new book, Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards came bearing a warning for his newly empowered Democratic colleagues: don't pop the champagne corks yet.
"What really happened was people said, 'look at what's happened the last six years, America's better than this both at home and abroad...and we may as well give the other guys a chance,'" he said, cautioning Democrats not to let their sweeping victories in both the House and Senate allow them to grow complacent and corrupt. "The question is now, will we step to the plate and meet our responsibilities?"
Edwards was in town to promote his new book, "Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives," which looks at the values various Americans received while growing up in their homes. But questions quickly turned to politics and whether the former North Carolina senator plans to run for president.
Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential candidate in 2004, said he "might very well" run and coyly told the audience to check his Web site in the coming weeks for "something new and interesting."
Standing on a makeshift stage at a suburban bookstore, Edwards decried what he described as the pervasive "toxicity" and lack of candor in American politics.
Positioning himself as someone who will be honest with voters, he said that Americans are no longer falling for politicians who misuse their power and fail to come clean to the American people.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the results of last week's midterm election, he said, where voters dealt Republicans a resounding defeat. Exit polls conveyed strong voter dissatisfaction with the GOP over Republican ties to a series of scandals.
Edwards's assault extended to President George W. Bush, whom he criticized for not being truthful on Iraq, another issue that propelled Democrats to victory.
"The truth is, it's a very difficult, difficult situation right now. Anybody who says to Americans that 'this is the path and if we follow it there will be success' is not being honest," he said, urging the president to acknowledge that all choices in Iraq are between "bad and worse."
Edwards made similar attacks on Bush during this fall's campaign season. He said he stumped for virtually every Democratic Senate and House candidate in a closely contested race.
But now that Democrats are finally in power, he said the stakes are too high to behave irresponsibly.
"The danger is that we do what we saw happen to them," he said of Republican ties to corruption and scandals. "If our leaders or our party allow power to corrupt us, it won't be just the Democratic Party that pays the price, it's America and the world that will pay the price."
The current director of the University of North Carolina's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, Edwards also said the country needed a leader to refocus attention on the nation's poor, whose plight has fallen off the radar screen since Katrina.
But it was his focus on honesty that seemed to resonate most strongly with several in the crowd, many of whom waited in line after his speech to have their books signed.
"Most politicians follow a package that sells, and I'm tired of being lied to," said Jan Chapman. "He's genuine and I don't think he can be bought by special interests. That's very rare."