Edwards and Obama Draw Contrasts on Health Care Reform


In my most recent article on John Edwards, I wondered if Edwards’ strident anti-corporate message, courageous and admirable as it may be, would turn off voters in the general election.

Yesterday, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek answered with an emphatic yes.

How many 20th Century American presidents have been elected on a populist platform? That would be zero… millions of Americans still work for corporations or aspire to do so and bashing them wholesale is a loser politically. It works sometimes in Democratic primaries with a heavy labor vote (though not for Dick Gephardt). But not in general elections. The last two Democrats elected president—Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992—also campaigned during recessions. Both were smart enough to reject populism in favor of a responsive but upbeat message.

Alter also discusses the differences Obama and Edwards have on health care. Obama says that he will initiate health care reform by sitting down at a big table with patients’ advocates, health care economists, insurance companies, and other interested parties. Everyone would have the right to state their priorities, but the meeting would be CSPAN and the American people would know who is motivated by greed, who is negotiating in bad faith, and who is working against the interests of everyday Americans. Alter writes, “having triumphed over the drug and insurance companies in the court of public opinion, the legislative victories will follow.”

Edwards says it is “a fantasy” to expect insurance companies and drug companies to negotiate their power away at a table such as Obama’s. The only real option, Edwards says, is to exclude these corporate interests from the discussion and “take” their power away. How he plans on doing that is never quite articulated.

It’s worth pointing out that Edwards and Obama have managed to have this debate without going negative. The debate over which approach to health care reform is less realistic continues, but gently…

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