Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards called on Americans to resist President Bush's planned troop escalation in Iraq, echoing a plea by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 40 years ago to end the Vietnam War.
Edwards addressed about 1,200 parishioners Sunday at Riverside Church, a multiracial, politically active Manhattan congregation where King delivered his famous "Beyond Vietnam" speech on April 4, 1967. King was assassinated exactly one year later.
Edwards spoke from the same wooden pulpit King used and was introduced by King's son, Martin Luther King III. The younger King said his father would have admired Edwards' commitment to fighting poverty.
The former North Carolina senator and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee touched on poverty issues in his speech, as well as AIDS in Africa, energy independence and a proposed boost in the minimum wage.
But he saved his strongest words for the troop increase in Iraq, invoking King's condemnation of the Vietnam War as a betrayal of American values.
"Silence is betrayal, and I believe it is a betrayal not to speak out against the escalation of the war in Iraq," Edwards said to a sustained standing ovation.
It was a high-profile appearance for Edwards on the home turf of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic presidential front-runner who has been decidedly more cautious in speaking out against the war and the proposed troop escalation.
Several of Clinton's allies attended the Edwards speech, including fellow New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, who has already endorsed Clinton's likely presidential bid.
Democrats on the road
Clinton spent the Martin Luther King holiday weekend traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Two other Democratic presidential hopefuls, Delaware Sen. Joe Biden and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, attended King remembrances in South Carolina. Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, who could join the presidential field as early as this week, was observing the holiday weekend with low-key appearances in Chicago.
Underscoring his previous calls for a troop rollback in Iraq, Dodd said Sunday at a memorial service in Greenville, S.C., "It is time now that we say we have done enough."
Edwards, who declared his candidacy in late December, said Americans must not wait for a change in presidential leadership to demand that American forces be drawn down in Iraq. Bush announced last week he would send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq in an effort to stabilize the war-torn country; Edwards has called for 40,000-50,000 to be removed.
"We need to show we are serious about leaving, and the best way to do that is to start leaving," he said to applause.
Edwards voted in 2002 to authorize military action in Iraq, as did Clinton, Biden, and Dodd. All but Clinton have forcefully recanted their votes.
Edwards also called on Congress to withhold funding for the troop increase, echoing a proposal announced last week by Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy. Kennedy's plan has been embraced by some other Democrats, including Dodd, but viewed warily by others who see it as unworkable and potentially harmful to troops already serving in Iraq. Clinton and Obama are among those who have not yet indicated they would support Kennedy's approach.