Rest in peace, Elizabeth Edwards

Elizabeth Edwards has died of breast cancer at the age of 61. Her cancer was diagnosed in the fall of 2004, and recurrence was found in March 2007. Click here for the New York Times obituary.

Many Iowans got to know Elizabeth well during John Edwards' two presidential campaigns. I saw her speak many times but met her only once, at a crowded fundraiser in a private home during the summer of 2007. My kids were with me in a stuffy, overcrowded basement, and Elizabeth spent a surprisingly long time entertaining my bored four-year-old. I remember thinking it was above and beyond whatever time she needed to spend to acknowledge everyone while "working the room." She was good with kids. I feel sorry that the last few years of her life were so difficult for her and her family, as if fighting cancer weren’t stressful enough.

My thoughts tonight are mostly with her surviving children, especially Emma Claire and Jack. When I was about their age, I lost my mother to cancer. Elizabeth's death will always affect their lives, although other family members may ease the blow if they step up to the plate in the coming years. I feel for Cate, who as a teenager had to cope with her only sibling's death, and now will need to help her two younger siblings deal with a major bereavement.  

The Edwards family has asked that memorial contributions go to the Wade Edwards Learning Lab, a non-profit they set up in memory of their son Wade, who died in a 1996 car accident. I never knew before tonight that a few weeks before Wade died, he received an award at the White House for writing this essay.

Elizabeth Edwards posted a "farewell" message on Facebook this week, and I've reproduced it after the jump, along with reaction from various Iowa political figures.

P.S.– Elizabeth reportedly advised her husband to vote against the resolution authorizing the use of military force in Iraq in October 2002. If he’d had the guts to listen to her advice, he may have become the Democratic nominee in 2004, as a more electable alternative to the main anti-war candidate in the field, Howard Dean. Elizabeth also said in the summer of 2007 that she thought same-sex marriage should be legal, although her husband disagreed.

UPDATE: The Edwards family created a new website where people can share memories of Elizabeth, whether they knew her well or only met her once.  

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Why does Latham support McCain's health care plan?

During Monday’s radio debate between Representative Tom Latham and Becky Greenwald (podcast available here), Latham did his best to run away from the Republican label and the failed policies of George Bush’s administration. In fact, he was eager to remind listeners of the only time in recent memory that he didn’t vote for something Bush wanted (the bailout).

Latham didn’t go out of his way to link himself with John McCain either, which makes sense, since McCain is going to lose Iowa. When one caller asked him about McCain’s health care plan, Latham hedged before acknowledging that he supports the concept of that plan.

Greenwald wants him to explain his position:

 October 8, 2008                                                                                          

Greenwald Calls on Latham Says to Explain His Support of John McCain’s Radical Healthcare Plan

Over 217,000 Iowans Would Lose Coverage Under McCain’s Radical Plan

Waukee, IA – This week, on the WHO 1040 AM radio debate, Tom Latham was asked if he would support John McCain’s radical health care plan. After skirting the question, Tom Latham said “…the general concept of it I would be supportive of.” In a conference call today, Becky Greenwald called on Latham to explain his support for a plan that would cost over 217,000 Iowans their healthcare.

“Tom, how can you support a radical healthcare proposal that would cost over 217,000 Iowans to lose their health insurance?” asked Becky Greenwald. “This is a classic Washington bait and switch. Tom Latham and John McCain would give you a tax credit with one hand, but raises your taxes with the other to pay for it. With Iowans being squeezed from all sides, we literally can’t afford two more years of Tom Latham.”

John McCain’s plan will tax health care benefits and lead 20 million workers, 217,346 in Iowa alone, to lose the coverage they get from their employers. He only offers a $5,000 tax credit to families to buy health insurance, but according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average family health insurance premium is over $12,000. McCain also said that he supports deregulating healthcare, just as he and Tom Latham did with the financial markets that have led to our economic crisis.

McCain’s Plan to Give American’s More Cost and Less Coverage

Over 215,000 Iowans Would Lose Their Coverage Under McCain’s Health Plan. In September 2008, the Economic Policy Institute, in their analysis of John McCain’s health care plan reported that up to 217,346 Iowans could lose their health coverage under McCain’s health care plan. [Economic Policy Institute: McCain Plan Accelerates Loss In Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance A State-By-State Analysis, 9/26/08]

McCain’s Health Plan Could Result In Tax Increase For Some Americans. McCain’s campaign “acknowledged…that the health plan he outlined…would have the effect of increasing tax payments for some workers, primarily those with high incomes and expensive health plans.” According to the New York Times, “the campaign cannot yet project how many taxpayers might see their taxes go up.” [New York Times, 5/1/2008]

McCain Wanted to Deregulate the Health Insurance Market.  In Contingencies, a publication by the American Academy of Actuaries, McCain said, “Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.”  [Contigencies, Sept./Oct. issue via New York Times, 9/19/08]

The Cost For Employer Based Family Health Coverage Is $12,680. The Kaiser Family Foundation stated, “Premiums for employer-sponsored health insurance rose to $12,680 annually for family coverage this year.” [Kaiser Family Foundation release, 9/24/08]

McCain’s Plan May Increase Health Costs. “Critics of McCain’s plan say it would not make insurance cheaper or more available and might prevent people with pre-existing conditions from getting coverage.” Harvard Business School professor Regina Herzlinger “feels the plan does little to address the high cost of health care.” In addition, “McCain and his advisers say that giving health-care consumers more options will lead to substantial cost reductions, though they have yet to provide any figures.” [Reuters, 4/29/2008; Business Week, 4/29/2008; Bloomberg, 4/29/2008]

McCain Plan Would Cause 20 Million People to Lose Employer-Based Health Insurance.  Health Affairs reported in September 2008 that, “Eliminating the tax exclusion would greatly reduce the number of people who obtain health insurance through their employers.  This decline would be driven by three factors: the effective price of employer-sponsored coverage would increase, the nondiscrimination rules would no longer apply, and low-risk employees would have less incentive to remain in employer-sponsored groups…the elimination of the income tax preference for employer-sponsored insurance would cause twenty million Americans to lose such coverage. [Health Affairs, 9/16/08]

I challenge any family to shop for a private health insurance plan that costs $5,000 a year. That is a joke. Even young, healthy individuals often can’t get insurance for that price. I know this firsthand, because my family pays for our own health insurance.

The point about McCain wanting to tax health benefits is also important. I’m glad to hear Greenwald echoing the message that Barack Obama’s campaign is conveying through television ads, door-to-door contacts and direct-mail pieces.

If this issue comes up in Friday’s radio debate, I would encourage Greenwald to mention one more problem with McCain’s plan.

If you have a pre-existing condition, you may not be able to purchase health insurance for any price. Elizabeth Edwards pointed out six months ago that McCain’s plan does nothing to solve this problem.

Speaking of which, in a conference call last week, Elizabeth Edwards made the connection between our inadequate health care system and our economic problems:

she said that problems with payments of medical bills often lead to home foreclosures, a major factor in the current economic downturn. Elizabeth Edwards also said that residents without health insurance often are less productive because they miss work as a result of a lack of access to preventive care or early treatment for illnesses. She said, “Reform of our health care system is a very important part of the answers we’re going to need to solve our economic woes.”

Democratic candidates for office at all levels need to keep connecting those dots. Obama answered the health care question well in last night’s debate with McCain.

I will have more thoughts on the Latham/Greenwald debate once I’ve had a chance to listen to the 80-minute tape again.

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One precinct captain's reflections on the John Edwards story

Like many people who volunteered for John Edwards last year, I’ve been working through conflicting feelings this weekend.

Natasha Chart voiced some of my frustration in this piece about our ridiculous standards of public morality. Ethical lapses that affect the lives of thousands or millions of people are not career-enders for politicians, but marital infidelity is supposed to be–if you’re a Democrat. Once again, it’s ok if you’re a Republican.

Many Edwards supporters are angry about the publicity surrounding this story. It’s infuriating to see journalists more interested in Edwards now that he has admitted to an affair than they were when he was a presidential candidate talking about substantive issues.

David Mizner loathes the “American sickness” of needing to know about the sex lives of politicians, adding:

I supported Edwards not because I loved him and not because I thought he had sex with only his wife. I supported him because I believe in progressive populism.

Many bloggers I respect, from TomP to MontanaMaven and RDemocrat made similar comments on Friday. After all, we were backing Edwards for president, not husband of the year.

Ellinorianne put it well:

What John did in 2006 has no bearing on Universal Health Care.  What happened in 2006 does not make poverty in this County any less of an urgent issue.  The corporate media would love to believe that what John did in 2006 would mean one less powerful voice talking about the strangle hold that corporations have on every facet of our lives in this Country.

Nothing can take away from these issues unless we let it happen.

On one level, I relate to what Ellinorianne wrote, because Edwards undoubtedly put topics on the agenda that would barely have been discussed had he not run for president. While he was in the race, at least one candidate was talking about the excesses of corporate power. After he dropped out, that issue disappeared from political discourse.

For that reason, I never regretted the time I spent volunteering for Edwards. Of course, I was sorry that Iowans did not give him the boost he needed in the caucuses. I was disappointed that I failed to deliver a third delegate for him from my own precinct. But watching the campaign devolve into identity politics in February and March, I was more convinced than ever that helping this longshot candidate was worth the effort.

These past few weeks have caused me to question for the first time whether I would back Edwards if I had it to do over again. Edwards’ policies and rhetoric were a necessary condition for my support, but they would not have been sufficient had I not also believed that he was the strongest general election candidate. Otherwise I could have backed Dennis Kucinich, who was even closer to me ideologically than Edwards.

Here and at other blogs, I advocated for Edwards as the most electable candidate because of his communication skills, his appeal to small-town and rural voters, his way of evoking broad themes in his answers to specific questions, and so on.

Speaking to potential caucus-goers, I often noted that Edwards had faced intense national scrutiny for years, making it unlikely that the Republicans could spring any “October surprise” on us.

Now I realize that the whole time, Edwards was hiding a story that would have reinforced the most devastating narrative about him: he’s a phony who talks about one set of values but lives a different set of values.

How damaging was this narrative? Last year I used to joke that if I ever came into possession of a time machine, I would go back and persuade John Edwards to hire Sarah Susanka (the Not So Big House woman) to design his Chapel Hill home.

It appears that Edwards had no game plan other than to hope that Rielle Hunter wouldn’t tell anyone and/or that journalists wouldn’t pick up on the rumors as long as he lied.

I empathize with Elizabeth Edwards, who wrote on Friday:

This was our private matter, and I frankly wanted it to be private because as painful as it was I did not want to have to play it out on a public stage as well.

I agree with BruceMcF, who observed that our country would have lost a great leader if sexual immorality had ended Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s career.

But presidential candidates have to run in the world that is, not the world that used to be or the world that should be. I simply can’t imagine how this affair could have remained under wraps throughout a long campaign.

To my mind, Edwards owed it to all Democrats to either step aside or find some way to make this story old news. I understand the desire to avoid a media circus, but it wasn’t realistic to hope that journalists would cover for him or that Hunter would keep a secret.

Responding to a commenter at Daily Kos, Elizabeth Edwards wrote on Friday:

Each of us has a day we wish we could take back. We are all imperfect beings, Denny. Here’s what I know, looking back: poverty, a truly aggressive and progressive environmental platform, universal health care would not have been part of the discussion if someone of force and vision had not been there to make them part of the conversation.

An imperfect man with a truly progressive vision who spoke to and for those whom others ignored? Yes, that is who I supported.

An imperfect man who had come to face his own imperfections and was seeking to redeem himself to those closest to him? Yes, that is who I supported.

With the Supreme Court and so much more riding on the outcome of this election, helping someone redeem himself to his family is not high on my priority list. Ultimately, I have to agree with Ezra Klein:

No one forces you to devote your life to national advocacy of important issues. But if you decide to do follow that path, with all the plaudits and moments of roaring applause it entails, you have to make certain sacrifices, and shoulder certain realities. Among them is that if you falter, you can harm all that you’re advocating and deny help to all whom you claim to represent.

If Edwards wanted to face his imperfections, he should have found some vague way to disclose marital problems that he and Elizabeth had worked through. Let voters decide whether that should be a deal-breaker or whether his potential contribution to American life outweighs the mistake.

If he could not bear to get ahead of the story, the least he could have done was to tell the truth when first asked about rumors of his affair. DrFrankLives (who has devoted far more volunteer hours to Edwards than I have) hit the nail on the head in this diary:

I want to know two things.  How the hell could you, a man who ran everything through a careful filter, allow that to happen during a political campaign in which so many people had so much riding on you?  And what the hell were you thinking when you denied it when asked about it?  You’re a lawyer.  You know that questions keep coming.  And nothing delights a cross-examiner like a false answer.

Which candidate would I have supported knowing what I know now? Probably I would have held out for Al Gore for a few more months. Maybe I would have settled on Chris Dodd or Joe Biden. Neither of them were as strong on my key issues as Edwards, though. I suspect that I would have come around to Edwards eventually if the affair had been revealed early in the campaign. It wouldn’t be the first time I voted for someone who was unfaithful to his wife.

Had I known that Edwards was recklessly hiding a story with the potential to destroy his campaign, I would have found a different candidate for sure.

What makes me more angry than anything else is that this scandal appears to have derailed Elizabeth Edwards’ plans to speak at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. We need her voice on health care reform.

Feel free to share your own reflections in the comments.

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Elizabeth Edwards to lead ad campaign on health care reform

I expected great things when I heard that Elizabeth Edwards would be working on health care issues as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

But I am even more excited to learn that she will headline a $40 million ad campaign promoting universal healthcare, which will be unveiled next Tuesday.

Healthcare for America Now coalition includes a who’s who list of liberal organizations such as MoveOn.org, the housing group ACORN, Americans United for Change, the Campaign for America’s Future, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the National Education Association, Planned Parenthood, the Service Employees International Union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, United Food and Commercial Workers, and National Women’s Law Center.  Many state organizations are also participants.

Many of these are also participating in John Edwards’ Half in Ten Poverty Initiative.

By the way, today is Elizabeth Edwards’ birthday. Many happy returns to her and her family!

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Elizabeth Edwards critiques superficial campaign coverage

Poligirl wrote a good diary about an op-ed piece by Elizabeth Edwards in today’s New York Times: “Bowling 1, Health Care 0.”

She slammed the media for its superficial coverage of the presidential campaign during the past year, and particularly during the weeks leading up to the Pennsylvania primary:

Did you, for example, ever know a single fact about Joe Biden’s health care plan? Anything at all? But let me guess, you know Barack Obama’s bowling score. We are choosing a president, the next leader of the free world. We are not buying soap, and we are not choosing a court clerk with primarily administrative duties.

Political junkie that I am, I do know something about Joe Biden’s health care plan (no thanks to the mainstream media). Elizabeth Edwards tells it like it is:

What’s more, the news media cut candidates like Joe Biden out of the process even before they got started. Just to be clear: I’m not talking about my husband. I’m referring to other worthy Democratic contenders. Few people even had the chance to find out about Joe Biden’s health care plan before he was literally forced from the race by the news blackout that depressed his poll numbers, which in turn depressed his fund-raising.

And it’s not as if people didn’t want this information. In focus groups that I attended or followed after debates, Joe Biden would regularly be the object of praise and interest: “I want to know more about Senator Biden,” participants would say.

But it was not to be. Indeed, the Biden campaign was covered more for its missteps than anything else. Chris Dodd, also a serious candidate with a distinguished record, received much the same treatment. I suspect that there was more coverage of the burglary at his campaign office in Hartford than of any other single event during his run other than his entering and leaving the campaign.

Who is responsible for the veil of silence over Senator Biden? Or Senator Dodd? Or Gov. Tom Vilsack? Or Senator Sam Brownback on the Republican side?

The decision was probably made by the same people who decided that Fred Thompson was a serious candidate.

I said many times last year that if Biden had the media hype Obama was getting, he would be a strong contender for the nomination. He had a great stump speech and performed better in every debate than Obama did, but all you heard from the leading analysts was that Biden was a gaffe machine.

Thanks again to poligirl for including a link to an audio interview of Elizabeth Edwards talking about her op-ed piece.

How many presidential campaigns will our infotainment complex get wrong before they finally give people the news coverage they deserve?

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Delusions of the people-powered movement

A while back I stopped reading the “Edwards should endorse Obama” diaries at Daily Kos, because I was tired of getting drawn into arguments with Hillary-haters in the comment threads. Moreover, I really don’t care whether John Edwards endorses a candidate–it wouldn’t change my feelings about either of the contenders.

When Elizabeth Edwards recently confirmed that she prefers Hillary’s health-care plan and will appear alongside Clinton when she campaigns in North Carolina, some of the Obama fans at Daily Kos went ballistic. Again, I avoided those diaries, because I am tired of trying to explain to people that yes, many health-care experts agree that some form of individual mandates are needed in order to provide truly universal health care.

Today longtime Edwards supporter Benny put up a rant at the EENRblog about somebody’s open letter pleading with Elizabeth Edwards to endorse Obama. I wasn’t planning to read the diary Benny was complaining about, but edgery highlighted an amazing assertion that prompted me to click over.

This statement in Bcgntn’s diary is what grabbed my attention:

Senator Clinton may believe without Lyndon Johnson the Civil Rights Act 1964 would not have come into being.  I recall those years.  People were out on the streets in protest.  The community concluded it was time for a change.  The President merely signed the papers.  

I’ve written before about how annoyed I was in January when the Obama campaign took Hillary’s comments about LBJ and twisted them into some allegedly racist remark denigrating Martin Luther King Jr.

But that’s not my main point today. What that Obama supporter wrote reflects a fantasy shared by too many Obama supporters, in my opinion: namely, that if he is elected, Obama is going to do what his people-powered movement demands.

One of my biggest concerns about Obama has always been that he seems likely to make far too many concessions to the Republican agenda or to DC pundits’ conventional wisdom. He has chosen not to lead on some of the key battles in the U.S. Senate. He talks a lot about finding consensus and bringing people together. His strategy for winning the open-primary states has been to maximize his support among Republicans and independents who cross over.

When you look at his very cautious voting record and avoidance of leading on any controversial issue, it seems highly unlikely to me that he will govern like a progressive. There will be many days when Obama has to choose between doing what Tim Russert and David Broder would like, and doing what the Obama fans at Daily Kos would like, and I think the Kossacks will be the disappointed ones on those days.

I’ve raised this point with several thoughtful Obama supporters, such as Populista, the 14-year-old who will probably be a great progressive leader someday. The consensus seems to be that if he gets elected, Obama will have to listen to the activists who have done so much to support his presidential campaign. He has empowered people who are the change we’ve been waiting for.

This to me seems as deluded as saying that the civil rights legislation of 1964 happened because the “community concluded it was time for a change.  The President merely signed the papers.”

I am not old enough to remember 1964, but I challenge any Obama supporter to find me one historian of that period who will agree with that contention. The fact is, LBJ dragged Congress kicking and screaming to do much more on civil rights than probably any other president could have gotten passed.

Don’t discount the importance of presidential leadership. People were out in the streets protesting the Vietnam War for years before we finally got out of there.

If Obama gets elected, he will not have the clout with Congress that LBJ had. But even if he did, I simply don’t see Obama as the kind of leader who would go to the mat to push a strong progressive agenda through a resistant Congress. He seems more likely to move halfway toward the Republican position, then declare victory.

Like I always say, I would love to be proven wrong if Obama does manage to get by John McCain. But don’t imagine that the people-powered movement will be calling the shots, and President Obama will just be signing the papers.

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