Eyeing middle-class votes, Edwards channels the social contract

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) on Friday announced in Iowa his plans to modernize the social contract, a concept developed over 200 years ago by the intellectual fathers of the American and French revolutions.

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Edwards believes it is still highly relevant on the 2008 campaign trail and has seized on contract theory to sound a theme that has become popular among Democrats: Middle-class America has suffered under Republican policies, which in turn have advantaged the wealthy disproportionately.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) also cited the need to strengthen the middle class when he announced Thursday a new tax plan that would grant tax relief to 90 million Americans while shifting the burden to higher earners, including the managers of private-equity and hedge funds.

Edwards highlighted a litany of policy proposals to benefit the middle class, such as portable retirement benefits, universal health insurance, and the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier for union leaders to organize workers by dispensing with secret-ballot requirements.

He unveiled a new series of proposals to enforce corporate responsibility. Taking center stage Friday was Edwards’s call for corporations to give shareholders greater oversight powers. Specifically, Edwards has proposed giving shareholders the right to vote on executive compensation.

Edwards also proposed a $1 million cap on the amount of tax-free deferred compensation offered to corporate executives.

In the area of corporate transparency, Edwards has unveiled a “corporate citizen” disclosure law that would require businesses to report to shareholders and the public their lobbying activities and political contributions.

“We don’t need any more empty promises,” said Edwards in a statement. “We need to restore one promise — the promise of America, the social compact that built the greatest economy in the world. It takes strength to say ‘no’ to the lobbyists and special interests — but I will never compromise my principles for the sake of politics.”

Strengthening the middle class has also become a mantra for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), the Democratic presidential front-runner.

Under Edwards’s portable retirement benefits plan, employers would be required to offer a new universal retirement account to all workers who do not have a pension plan. Edwards has also called for a prohibition on corporations denying workers accrued benefits because of corporate reorganizations.

Under Edwards’s universal insurance plan, businesses would be required to cover their employees’ healthcare costs or purchase coverage for them. All Americans would be required by law to have insurance.

The former senator’s announcement came as part of his weeklong “Stand Strong” campaign, a tour touting his willingness to advocate on behalf of “hard-working families.” The tour will travel to New Hampshire on Sunday and spend four days in the Granite State.