Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Event Report: John Edwards at SEIU

Yesterday, John Edwards spoke to a rowdy, roaring crowd of SEIU leaders at their political action conference in Washington, DC. I was there, and it was fabulous! This was the wildest, most exuberant reception I've ever seen him receive, and I've been to quite a few events where he has received exuberant receptions. We won't know for sure until the SEIU decides on an endorsement, but if I had to guess, my guess is he gets it.

I am not an SEIU member, but I contacted their press contact in advance and signed up to receive a press pass as a blogger. I love the fact that so many organizations now see the value of citizen journalists! We help them get more attention for their events, and they let us into the events, which is pretty cool.

I didn't plan it this way, but I arrived at the conference just in time to hear Hillary Clinton give her speech. In it, she finally, after all these months, laid out some of the details of her health care plan. Actually, what I should say is that she laid out some of the details of John Edwards' health care plan. I was taking notes on her plan just until slightly after this became obvious, and then I made the following note to myself: "Why am I writing down JRE's health care plan, when I already know it?"

I'm not the only person who believes that Hillary Clinton copied John Edwards's health care plan like a school kid cheating on a test. In his speech before LiUNA yesterday, Edwards noted that if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, he feels very flattered.

Now, maybe it's a good thing that Edwards has pushed Clinton to come out with a more ambitious health care plan than she might have otherwise. Hey! If it means that whoever gets elected, we get universal health care out of it, I'm all for it. But, I still think there are some differences, if not between the plans, then at least between the two candidates' attitudes toward the plans.

For one thing, John Edwards has said that on his first day in office, he will propose legislation to Congress that will take away the health care of the president, Congress, and all political appointees on July 20, 2009, if they don't pass universal health care during his first six months in office. If it seems unlikely that Congress would pass such legislation, just consider the public humiliation of congressional leaders if they both refuse to pass this legislation and also fail to pass universal health care. I happen to think that Edwards is taking a smart, bold step here that will make it much more likely that universal health care will pass.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand has at various times said that she would pass universal health care by the end of her second term. Apparently, she doesn't think it's a problem for America to go without universal health care for another eight years. She's also leaving to chance the possibility that she may not get a second term.

John Edwards says that he will fight for universal health care with everything he's got. Clinton may say the same thing. I don't know. The difference is, I believe John.

The other big difference is, John Edwards has rejected the very notion of taking contributions from lobbyists, while Hillary Clinton will take their money, give them a seat at the table, and as John Edwards says, let them eat all the food.

I don't mean this diary to be a compare and contrast between John Edwards and Hillary Clinton on health care, and I don't mean it to be a hit on Clinton. It is an event report on the speeches I heard at the SEIU political action conference. I would not be reporting truthfully, however, if I did not note that my overall impression of Clinton's speech was that she was greatly "flattering" John Edwards and his universal health care plan.

John Edwards is like a force of nature when he enters the room. With a smile that may be a form of alternative energy in itself, he grabs every hand he can reach and greets everyone as if he were there only to see them. Maybe he's not a rock star, but that's OK because rock stars crash and burn. John Edwards seems to carry an inevitable power within him.

The crowd is on its feet and actually dancing for six or seven minutes as John Edwards makes his way to the stage. A sea of John Edwards 08 signs appears above the crowd in purple T-shirts, many of which say "John Edwards 08 Fighting for One America" and on the back "He Walks the Walk."

On the big TV screens, you see pure joy on his face as he bounds over to Elaine Ellis, the nursing home worker in whose shoes he walked a day, and kisses her warmly.

Then Edwards starts his speech, and it is like distant thunder soon to build to a powerful storm.

He speaks of his usual themes. Universal health care -- with a new promise that he will propose legislation on his first day in office that will take away the health care of the President, Congress, and all political appointees if universal health care is not passed for all of America within the first six months of his presidency. Clinton just got on stage and proposed his health care plan. John Edwards wants to let us know that HE will be the one that will get it passed.

He speaks of taking on the lobbyists and fighting them and beating them and there is a growl in his voice that hints of a tiger stalking its prey. I wouldn't want to be those lobbyists!

Edwards tells the SEIU members he can't possibly list all the times and places he has stood with them, and they know it is true. Over and over again, he brings them to their feet and they erupt in cheers so loud he cannot continue speaking. Over and over the chant comes back: "ED-WARDS! ED-WARDS! ED-WARDS! ED-WARDS!"

I don't think I've ever seen a crowd so pumped up. I've heard many a fine speech from Edwards, and this one is right up there with his brilliant best.

Just when the excitement is reaching a frenzy, Edwards says he wants to bring it down for a moment. Most amazing of all, they're right with him, and the room falls into a hush.

Quieter now, Edwards speaks of the difficult decision that he and Elizabeth had to make back in that hospital room in March, when they learned that Elizabeth's cancer had returned. He speaks of how they made the decision together that they want their lives to make a difference, how the movement for justice they are leading is the cause of their lives.

He lists the reasons he's running for president of the United States, and they are the people he would represent. He speaks of them as if he sees all of their faces before him.

I've been sitting there silently throughout his whole speech. I am shooting video, and I don't want to scream and yell and jostle the camera. I am sitting with the press, and knowing that I would be, I am incognito. There is not an Edwards T-shirt or button on me, and I'm even a little dressed up.

But now, as he speaks of the people he would work for as President, my fa├žade comes down. Tears come to my eyes. Pretty soon there are enough of them that I can't hide them.

"It's clear what I'm going to do," he tells them. "The question is, what are you going to do?"

Several voices shout "Yeah!"

Then he invokes the Reverend Martin Luther King. He reminds the crowd that in the words of Dr. King, "silence is a betrayal." He reminds all of us of our responsibility to participate in bringing about the change that we need so badly.

Edwards describes the America in his vision, and my tears are really flowing now. I want it to be true. He tells us we can step into the promised land, and I know in my heart it is true. But will we?

He asks us to trust our hearts, and my hand wants to go to mine. "Do you believe?" He asks, and the crowd is on its feet and so am I.

Edwards leaves the stage, and the ballots come out. Good timing for the straw poll, I am thinking. I do not have a vote, so I watch the voting proceed for a moment, hoping that Edwards has enough SEIU members on his side. I am optimistic, because of the wild enthusiasm that greeted him.

I had an opportunity to speak briefly with John Edwards a little bit later. I congratulated him on his fantastic speech, and he really seemed pumped up about how well it went.

I also had the opportunity to speak with him about something that has been bothering me. A week or two ago, his campaign put out a press release on worker safety. The press release mentioned workers comp, and promised that he would do a nationwide review of state-level workers comp laws, then use the bully pulpit of the White House to urge the states to do the right thing for injured workers. I brought up the press release, and told him that having been through the workers comp system in California, I know that some of the states just aren't doing their jobs on this. I told him that I think there need to be federally mandated minimum standards for workers comp benefits.

John responded that in fact many of the states are not doing their jobs on this, but that workers comp has been traditionally handled at the state level. This I knew. I just think it may be time for the federal government to step in. John looked me right in the eye and promised me that if it is necessary and possible to have federally mandated minimum standards for workers comp, he will do it. When John Edwards tells you something face-to-face, you believe him. His word is good enough for me.

People who haven't met John often seem to have a very different view of him than people that have met him. I'm not sure why that is. I suspect it's because on TV he seems just a little too handsome, a little too smart, and a little too eloquent to be quite real. That all changes when you meet him. He's real, alright. And he's GOOD!

Having met him a few times now, I'm amused by people who think he's just another politician. I understand why they find it hard to trust someone running for office. I really do. It's just that I trust John. He tells the truth. It's that simple. Wouldn't that be a nice quality in a president?

If you agree, check out johnedwards.com and maybe make a donation through ActBlue.

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