Posted by: Jeff | March 22, 2010

A (Sincere) Thank You to John Edwards

For obvious reasons, it’s not easy to say nice things about John Edwards these days. But it’s worth pointing out, especially in the morally infantile world of politics, that we all contain multitudes. Even the worst offender in one area of life can do genuinely great things in another area. So I’m glad to see Matt Yglesias give Edwards his due:

Fundamentally, though, anyone in the public arena has a bigger impact on the world through his or her impact on the policy process than through impacts on people he or she personally interacted with. And—especially since I work with several veterans of the campaign—I think it’s worth pointing out that an important part of Edwards’ legacy is as one of the primary agents for driving universal health care to the center of the Democratic Party’s agenda.

He was hardly the only one, of course. Key conceptual groundwork was laid by policy thinkers. And below the surface the main issue is that the SEIU was indicating that it wanted candidates with any shot at its endorsement to unveil plans for comprehensive coverage. Repeatedly throughout his campaign, Edwards served as a useful progressive foil. He was never really up there with Clinton and Obama, but he was always close enough that they couldn’t simply ignore the possibility that his efforts to appeal to the base would work. So when Edwards unveiled is four point plan for achieving universal coverage—a plan based on exactly the pillars of ObamaCare—it made a huge difference and swiftly became the benchmark by which Clinton and Obama were judged. […]

The see-saw of the political expectations game is such that by the Spring of 2010 many people had convinced themselves that this approach to health care was a disappointing sellout. But back in the Spring of 2007, it was considered radical—a left-wing idea by the standards of a Democratic presidential primary.

Obviously, Edwards was calling for a public option and the bill that passed the House last night doesn’t include one. But as you can see it’s simply not the case that the public option was the core of Edwards’ idea, it was one of a laundry list of subsidiary items to a plan based on the principles of mandated, subsidized, regulated health insurance. Three years ago, few thought it was politically realistic. Tomorrow, it will be signed into law. But the whole thing easily could have never been taken up if not for the pressure Edwards put on others to shift in his direction.

Whatever the man’s other flaws – and God knows they are numerous – Edwards did critical political yeoman’s work in the early months of the 2008 campaign to get a serious health care reform bill on the agenda. Yesterday’s passage of that bill is a reality in no small part due to the groundwork he laid, and for which he will almost certainly go unsung. So whatever else may come, or may be said of him, Edwards has that feather in his cap. And we Americans really do owe him a debt of gratitude as a result.

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