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

Monday, February 25, 2008

EENR for Progress: Health Care is a Human Right

Health care is a human right. In my own definition of the progressive movement, I count that as a basic progressive principle.

For various reasons, from my own personal perspective, it is simply unacceptable to settle for anything less than true universal health care. Some of those various reasons are my experiences with health care in the United States, as well as those of my friends and family, some of whom have serious or chronic conditions.

In tonight's EENR for Progress, we look at why we need universal health care, proposals for universal health care, and what progressives can do to achieve it.

It's true that I feel very strongly about the need for universal health care, but I am not a health care expert. The research presented here is not comprehensive, but it is the best of my understanding to date.

Why we need universal health care

Why do we even need universal health care? Here's a quick review, just in case anyone remains blissfully unaware.

Before getting into the proposed solution, the written plan proposed by John Edwards this year offers some important statistics with sources cited:

45 Million Uninsured Americans: There are 45 million uninsured American residents, nearly one in five non-elderly residents. For these people, preventive care is expensive and even major illnesses may go untreated until it is too late. An estimated 18,000 uninsured people die every year because they lack access to care, according to the Institute of Medicine. [Census Bureau, 2006; Institute of Medicine, 2002]

Tens of millions more Americans are at risk of losing coverage. One in three non-elderly Americans goes without insurance at some point over a two-year period. Some families see their claims denied or insurance cancelled after they incur large bills. Half of US bankruptcies are caused by medical expenses, even though two-thirds of bankruptcy filers had health insurance. Insured Americans also pay higher premiums – $922 on an average family policy and $341 on an average individual policy – to pay for the cost of treating the uninsured. [Families USA, 2005; LA Times, 9/16/2006; Warren et. al., 2005; Hacker, 2007]

Spiraling Health Care Costs: The U.S. health care system is needlessly expensive. Health care costs have consistently grown faster than wages for almost 50 years. Over the past six years, families have seen premiums grow by nearly 90 percent while benefits have been cut. One in four Americans say that they or a family member have had trouble paying a medical bill in the past year. More than a quarter of low- and middle-income households with credit card debt have charged medical expenses. [Kaiser Family Foundation, 2006; Demos and Access Project, 2007]

Furthermore, inadequate available and affordable health care leads people to ignore health problems, eventually turning into higher costs.

Niko Karvounis has a fascinating analysis of why consumer-driven health care can raise costs.

A 2007 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research looked at retired California public employees on Medicare, and its findings contradict some of the basic assumption of the consumerist movement.

The study’s authors--from Harvard, MIT, and the University of Oregon-- found that chronically patients who are asked to shoulder more of their health care costs deferred, neglected, or opted-out of doctor’s visits and drugs when the price got too high. This short-term cost reduction led to long-term catastrophe, as their hospitalization rates were significantly higher than other patients suffering from chronic diseases. Immediate savings ultimately led to a greater—and otherwise preventable—use of more expensive care. Oops.

It's even worse for those already in poverty.

In 2003, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities cited research from the RAND corporation that found “low-income adults and children reduced their use of effective medical care services by as much as 44 percent when they were forced to make co-payments, a much deeper reduction than occurred among those with higher incomes.”

Clearly universal health care that everyone can afford is important if we want to help lift people out of poverty and prevent the middle class from falling into poverty. Having a healthy population is also important to businesses, which would benefit from having a healthy work force, and even to national security.

Our every-man-for-himself attitude toward health care is a security threat on a par with unsecured ports. In Canada, people go see the doctor if they're sick for more than a day or two. It was this easy access to early treatment, along with the much tighter public health matrix that enables doctors to share information quickly, that allowed the country's health care system to detect the 2003 SARS epidemics in Toronto and Vancouver while they were still very localized, act within hours to stop them before the disease spread any further, and track down and treat exposed people before they got too sick to be helped. In both cases, the system worked flawlessly. The epidemic was stopped within days and quashed entirely in under a month, potentially saving of millions of lives.

In the U.S., that same epidemic might easily have gone unnoticed for critical days and weeks. If the first people to get sick were among those 75 million without adequate insurance, they probably would have toughed it out a few extra days before finally dragging their half-dead carcasses into an ER somewhere. Not only would they be much farther along in the course of the disease -- and thus at greater risk of death themselves -- every one of them could have infected dozens or even hundreds of other people in the meantime, accelerating the spread of the epidemic.

Worse: America's underfunded public health system might have taken several days to piece together the whole picture of an epidemic; and perhaps another week or two might have passed before the E. Coli conservatives in charge (having thrown out the science-based management plans thoughtfully developed by the bureaucracy) cooked up some kind of half-assed ideology-driven decision about how to proceed. (It would, of course, involve spectacular amounts of lying to the public.) By that point, tens of millions could have been infected, leading to a death toll that would make 9/11 and Katrina look like minor statistical blips.

Proposals for universal health care

All of the health care plans proposed this year by the major Democratic presidential campaigns were based on the "Health Care for America" plan proposed by Yale University political science professor Jacob S. Hacker, including the plan by John Edwards, which was the first and best of the plans proposed. Of course, any of the Democratic plans is better than the Republican plan.

The Health Care for America plan is an insurance-based system that seeks to leverage what we already have, create efficiencies, and close gaps in coverage. It's not a terrible plan. It could work to cover everyone, and there are indications that it would reduce costs.

WASHINGTON – A health care plan that combines the best elements of the current employer-based system and the Medicare model would create big savings, offer more choices and guarantee affordable coverage to all U.S. residents, according to a new cost and coverage analysis of the plan by the Lewin Group, a nationally respected nonpartisan consulting firm.

Health Care for America, developed for the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) by Yale political scientist Jacob S. Hacker, would achieve these goals and maximize consumers’ health care choices without unraveling existing health security, forcing individual to obtain coverage on their own, pressuring patients into health savings accounts or using inadequate vouchers.

Lewin estimates the proposal would cover 99.6 percent of all Americans without raising total national health spending. It would also save hundreds of billions over time – more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years – in national health spending, according to Lewin.

The argument can certainly be made that it is much more politically feasible to fix what we have already than it is to put health care for profit out of business and start from scratch. The problem with that is, what we have is really broken, and if we improve upon a shaky system, we are likely to cause that shaky system to become more entrenched.

Virtually all the gradual reforms being touted would reinforce a multi-tiered health care system with as many standards of care as there are dollars to purchase them, and further lock us into a private insurance-based model that holds our health hostage to the HMOs and big insurance companies for years to come.

The public is ahead of the politicians and policy wonks. A recent New York Times/CBS poll found that 64% said the government should guarantee health insurance for all, 55% identified it as the top domestic priority for Congress and the President.

Back when I had a dog in the hunt in this presidential election, I was willing to make my best case for the health care plan proposed by John Edwards, knowing that it was better than what we have now, would actually cover everyone, and could evolve into a single-payer system. When my goal is to get my candidate elected, I know better than to publicly quibble with their ideas, especially when those ideas are basically solid.

Now that I no longer have a dog in the hunt, however, I admit that I have always favored a single-payer (Medicare for All) system, and I believe that is what we should really be striving for.

Excerpt from Michael Moore's Sicko

What Sicko taught America is that health insurance is not health care. Coverage is not care, because the holes in the coverage are large enough to slip through and die. So when Senator Obama says that he would support a Medicare for All system if we were starting from scratch, the nurses, patients, and Michael Moore can attest that we are all starting from scratch. As a nation, there is no health care system.

-Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director, California Nurses Association, 2/22/08

That's right, folks. We don't HAVE a health care system. What we have is a hodge podge of services that cover some of the people, some of the time, in some circumstances, maybe, but only if you can cut through the red tape. That's not a system. That's chaos.

Could we fill some of the gaps between services, legislate against the worst abuses, pull some of the pieces together, and make sure everyone has some kind of coverage using parts of what little we've got? Sure. We could do that. That's what all of the plans based on "Health Care for America" are saying we should do. Perhaps they're even right that it woul be easier and more likely to succeed than starting from scratch, but again, we'd be building on something that's broken.

It seems to me (and 65% of the American people) that we ought to instead admit that we don't have a system and we ARE starting from scratch. (Senator Obama and Senator Clinton apparently do not see it that way, however, since their health care plans are also based on the "Health Care for America" model.)

Sixty-five percent of those polled said the United States should adopt universal health insurance that covers everyone under a program such as Medicare that is run by the government and financed by taxpayers.
- Recent AP/Yahoo poll

Medicare for All. That, my friends, is single-payer health care. But isn't this the dreaded evil socialized medicine? Personally, as long as everyone has adequate health care, I couldn't care less what you call it. But the answer is no, according to a very illuminating analysis of the Canadian health care system by Sara Robinson.

1. Canada's health care system is "socialized medicine."
False. In socialized medical systems, the doctors work directly for the state. In Canada (and many other countries with universal care), doctors run their own private practices, just like they do in the US. The only difference is that every doctor deals with one insurer, instead of 150. And that insurer is the provincial government, which is accountable to the legislature and the voters if the quality of coverage is allowed to slide.

The proper term for this is "single-payer insurance." In talking to Americans about it, the better phrase is "Medicare for all."

By that definition, none of the proposals mentioned in this article qualify as "socialized medicine," including Medicare for All.

I highly recommend reading all of Sara Robinson's Mythbusting article on Canadian Health Care, Part 1 and Part 2. If that doesn't make you want to move to Canada, I don't know what will. If it does make you want to move to Canada, the U.S. will have to pay to cover one less person whenever we finally get around to providing universal health care, and please, send us a postcard! But seriously, folks, her article includes all sorts of reasons why we should not fear single-payer health care, including less stressed and less overworked doctors, healthier patients, and wait times that actually aren't noticeably longer than in the U.S.

But don't doctors suffer under single payer systems? This guy doesn't seem to think so:

Interview with a British doctor from Michael Moore's Sicko

There is currently a Medicare for All bill in Congress, H.R. 676, proposed by Congressman John Conyers and supported by 88 cosponsors, including former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich.

In 2003, Representative Conyers first introduced HR 676, the United States National Health Insurance Act (USNHI). This bill would establish a unique American universal health insurance program with single payer financing. As a publicly financed, privately delivered health care system that improves and expands the already existing Medicare program, it would be available to all U.S. residents, and all residents living in U.S. territories.

Getting this bill passed would require a lot more support in Congress, but if it were passed under a Democratic administration, Michael Moore believes the Democratic president would sign it.

“It’s equally, perhaps even more, important on this issue that people across the country elect members of Congress who support” Conyers’s bill, Moore said. “The Democratic president is not going to veto that bill,” he said. “At that point, they’re going to have to ride the wave.”

To sum up, there seem to be 2 main types of plans being discussed on the national scene in a big way. One is some variation on the "Health Care for America" plan, which is a combination of employer based health care, insurance, and Medicare and builds on whatever it is we've already got. The second is single payer or Medicare for All.

The "Health Care for America" type of plan may be much easier to enact, primarily because it throws insurance companies and drug companies a bone that maybe they shouldn't be thrown and builds on our existing broken system, patching it up. It would be MUCH better than no improvement at all, however, and is the only type of system being currently proposed by the major presidential candidates.

The Medicare for All or single-payer type of system is a better system in many ways, but the opposition to it by entrenched insurance and drug company interests would be even more fierce than the opposition they would raise against the "Health Care for America" system, which is going to be fierce enough as it is. A recent survey shows that 65% of the American people favor this kind of system, but even so, mustering strong enough political will to pass it would be very difficult. There's a lot to be said for doing things right the first time, though, especially if you consider that with the mess we already have, we essentially ARE starting from scratch. There is a bill for this type of system currently in Congress, H.R. 676.

In any case, there's no excuse for not providing everyone with health care. The "universal" in universal health care means everyone is covered. To remind us of that, I give you one of the most poignant videos released during the Edwards campaign.

A Survivor's Question

I'm somewhat agnostic about the difference between "Health Care for America" and Medicare for All. My bottom line is that I want to see some form of Universal Health Care in America within the next president's first term. I prefer Medicare for All, but if "Health Care for America" is what gets passed, I'll be ecstatic for a while, at least until it becomes painfully obvious that it was nothing more than a patch to a broken system and we still need to work toward single payer.

I'm not a purist, and I think that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good here.

The truth is, the families and individuals who are suffering from lack of health care or inadequate health care, or inability to afford health care can't wait. We need to do something, and soon.

What Progressives Can Do

So, what can we do?

Write your Congress critters and tell them to pass H.R. 676, Medicare for All. Here's a sample letter you can use:

Dear (decision maker):

I am writing to ask you to cosponsor H.R. 676, Medicare for All. It's time for Universal Health Care, and recent AP/Yahoo poll indicates that 65% of Americans favor a single payer system.


Sign the California Nurses petition for CheneyCare! You don't have to live in California to sign.

Write to the presidential candidates and tell them you insist on Universal Health Care. If you want Medicare for All, tell them so.

Contact Obama
Contact Clinton

In Obama's case, he has said that he would support a Medicare for All system if we were starting from scratch, so convince him that we ARE starting from scratch. In truth the "starting from scratch" argument is a little bit of a straw man since no health care system ever started from scratch since the time the first healer picked the first medicinal herb. There was always an existing way of doing things that needed to be supplanted by a new way. We need a new way.

Keep in mind also that it will take a strong Democratic Congress to pass Universal Health Care, so work for the progressive congressional candidates of your choice.

Stay tuned for the first EENR candidates endorsement diary coming on Monday from Sarahlane!

Best wishes to Michael Moore and Sicko at the Oscars tonight and the best of health and health care to the American people!

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Is A Progressive?

A lot of people talk about progressive politics and supporting progressive candidates, but there is no clear definition of what progressive means. I suspect it means something a little bit different to everyone. I wanted to post some of my musings about what a progressive is and isn't. I'd like to hear other people's ideas about this too.

Let's start this discussion off with a sunflower, which always turns toward the light.

To me, progressivism is about issues and philosophy. You are a progressive because of your stance on issues and your political philosophy, not because of allegiance to a party or a personality.

To me, the following are core progressive principles:

1. Democracy - Every individual should have an equal voice in government, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, or class.

2. Liberty - Every individual has a right to free expression and self-determination, provided they are not infringing on the rights of others.

3. Economic Justice - Every individual has a basic right to the means of survival, a right to a fair wage for their work, and a right to a level playing field that will allow those who work hard to succeed.

It follows from this last one that health care and education are basic rights, as is the right to organize, that we should have a decent minimum wage, and that we should seek to rid the world of poverty and homelessness.

4. Access to Information - A free, but well-regulated press, an open government, and public education are some of the things that follow from this principle.

5. Living in Balance with the Earth - Respect for natural cycles, solving global warming, and creating a sustainable society are some natural results of this principle.

6. Nonviolence - Learning to deal with conflict without violence and moving toward world peace.

7. Equality - All people are equal regardless of race, gender, class, ethnicity, or creed. Each individual deserves respect.

The "progress" in progressive is progress from an old, historical feudal or class system to a sustainable society where all individuals are valued and respected. The dawning of a new age and a new model of society.

I know that we can quibble over the definitions and discuss whether or not specific political positions or people are progressive, but I think progressives share a core set of values that is to some degree similar to what I have just described.

I will add that I think that progressives value goals and issues over parties and personalities. Adhering to a particular party or loyalty to a political personality are not, in other words, what makes you a progressive. What makes you a progressive is your dedication to human progress.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Maybe Progressives Won after All

As you might imagine, I have been quite depressed about the failure of Democratic voters to see through the media spin and elect the real progressive candidate, John Edwards, as their nominee. The other day, a good friend of mine, Random Factor, forced me to see a little bit differently.

I had a long conversation with Random Factor on the phone the other day. I told her about my frustration and despair that had resulted from the loss. To my surprise, she took me a little bit to task for looking at it so negatively.

She gave me a passionate pep talk about how surprised she had been that a completely grassroots campaign, ignored and marginalized by the media, had managed to gain 10% to 15% support nationwide in the polls on the strength of grassroots action alone. Not only that, but as a result of that strong showing, Edwards was able to set the agenda for the other Democratic candidates, make them fight for his endorsement, and force them to move to the left.

Random Factor told me in no uncertain terms that she thought Edwards supporters should be proud of what we have accomplished.

I have to admit, she's right. Edwards controlled the message in this primary season, in spite of the fact that the media tried their best to ignore him. The fruits of his labor and our labor may not be immediately apparent, but it's hard to say what their seeds may bear in time. We may have sown the seeds of real change here.

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Preparing the Field for 2012

At the risk of sounding like Cassandra (a prophetess who spoke the truth but was never believed) or Eeyore (a donkey who was always depressed), Democrats are not going to win the presidential election in 2008. I will celebrate if I'm wrong, but perhaps I'm making this post right now because I want to have at least bragging rights if I'm right.

There are multiple reasons why I believe I'm right about this. For one thing, we need to have a candidate that appeals to rural, southern, and red state voters. Failing to embrace this fact again and again, Democrats always seem to choose someone with solidly blue state appeal. Sadly, I also very much doubt that we have overcome sexism and racism to the point where they won't be factors in the general this time around, though on this, especially, I would like to be proven wrong.

One of the very saddest reasons that I believe the Democrats won't win, however, is that we have become so timid that we tend not to nominate candidates who stand for anything. We had a candidate this time around, John Edwards, whose ideas were so bold and progressives that he had a strong hand in setting the agenda for the other candidates. Unfortunately, he is out of the race, and now we're left with two candidates so timid and triangulating that they seem to have few ideas of their own and have adopted the mildest of his.

You might not believe Cassandra, and you might not believe polls either, but there are already polls out showing both Clinton and Obama losing to McCain, and that is before the Swift boating and cheating starts.

I'm so convinced that we won't win in 2008, that I'm already starting to think about how we win in 2012, and win with a real progressive.

It was clear from the media coverage of Edwards, or more specifically, lack thereof, that there are certain things that you cannot talk about in a presidential campaign without being marginalized by the media, and that those taboo subjects constitute some of the most fundamental reasons our democracy doesn't work. It was also clear that the media itself is a big part of this problem, and is undermining our democracy by actively trying to tell people who they can and cannot vote for.

Some of the things that Edwards talked about that got him shunned by the mainstream media, but loved by many progressives, were corporate influence on our government, lobbyists corrupting the system, campaign finance reform, election reform, and the problems with media consolidation. Edwards told us that the system is rigged, and the fact that his progressive message was so thoroughly shut out of it proves his point.

So how do we make it possible that a real progressive like Edwards could win in the future? Here are some of the things I think we need to do:

Elect progressives to positions of importance below the presidency within the Democratic Party, so that the party insiders are progressives. This means Congress and other positions (like those positions that currently are the superdelegates). Kick the DLC (the corporate wing of the party) out of the Democratic party to the extent that it's possible. Having more Democratic Party insiders who are actually on our side will create the infrastructure for a progressive win.

Demand fair, unbiased, and intelligent media coverage, and equal coverage of candidates. This takes exposing the problems with our media and maybe boycotts of bad media. It means opposing media consolidation and rolling back the media consolidation that has already happened, so that more voices are heard. It also may take developing media outlets of our own. Blogs are a small but important step.

Enact strong campaign finance and election reform. Get rid of the lobbyists, enact effective public campaign financing, and make sure election results can be verified.

All this may seem like a Catch-22. We couldn't elect a presidential candidate who talked about these things, therefore we will have trouble making these reforms. We will have trouble making these reforms, therefore it will be difficult to elect leaders who can help us. Nevertheless, this is what needs to be done.

All of the above will be exceedingly difficult, and it won't all happen before 2012. With luck and persistence, some of it will happen before 2012, increasing the likelihood of electing a real progressive president. The more progress we make on these issues, even if it's a bit at a time, the more likely it becomes that someone like John Edwards, a candidate who stands for something, could succeed.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What to do?

John Edwards dropping out of the presidential race has left me suddenly with a lot of time on my hands and a need to reorient myself. This blog will probably start to cover a wider range of topics. More to come.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I voted for John Edwards today

Quite honestly, it should have been a heck of a lot more exciting to vote for the best presidential candidate I've ever seen in my life. I couldn't possibly have done otherwise. Voting for him was the only way to truly express my voice, because I agree so strongly with most of his platform.

It was a bittersweet experience, though, because the guy should have won. He should be our next president. The fact that it's not going to happen is just maddening.

Anyway, I feel completely at peace about my vote for having voted my conscience.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Why I'm Still Voting for John Edwards Tomorrow: UPDATED

As I write this, I realize that John Edwards met with Hillary Clinton on Thursday, and is meeting with Barack Obama today, so an endorsement may well be coming before I vote tomorrow. on Saturday, after her meeting with John Edwards, I know that Hillary Clinton had something very interesting to say:

“There is a lot John and I have in common. I will be a fighter, and I intend to ask John Edwards to be a part of anything I do in the White House.”

As of this moment, I still plan to vote for John.

If he does endorse before I vote, I will listen to and consider what John Edwards has to say, and I will take it very seriously since I will have to assume any candidate he endorses has made a serious commitment to his issues, but I have one thing to say right now.

John, if you or Elizabeth are reading this, I want you to know that I would have great difficulty voting for a candidate who doesn't have a real universal health care plan, with or without your endorsement, and that the celebrity hype surrounding our remaining candidates makes me not hopeful for our country, but frightened that we do not vote for rational reasons.

There's one major reason that I haven't been able to get behind either the remaining candidates since John Edwards dropped out of the race, and you can read a summary of it here. It is the most comprehensive and smartest platform I have ever seen a presidential candidate put forward. It also comes with the rare understanding that there are certain problems, such as corruption of our government by corporate special interests, that currently stand in the way of any real reform on any other issue.

My own top concerns are as follows, although which one takes precedence varies depending on the day:

1) Universal Health Care.
2) Stopping Global Warming.
3) Ending Poverty.
4) Restoring Democracy in the United States.
5) Removing the Corrupting Influence of Corporate Money from our Government.
6) Ensuring Verifiable and Democratic Election Results.
7) Reforming the Media and Guaranteeing Net Neutrality.
8) Ending the War and Preventing Future Wars.

To one degree or another, John Edwards addressed every one of these issues during the course of his campaign. On most of these issues, he was the first candidate, or sometimes the only candidate, to address them, and furthermore, he understood and could articulate the interrelatedness of all these problems.

There is now a widespread acknowledgement, even among the slow-witted punditocracy, who should have noted it BEFORE John Edwards dropped out of the race, that Edwards set the agenda for the Democratic Party and its candidates in this election. His is the original vision, and the deepest understanding of that vision. The other candidate's platforms are truly but pale imitations.

I miss his voice. I miss it sorely. Probably almost nothing could convince me that John Edwards was not the best person to lead our country at this time. He should have been our president. This is why, barring a statement from Edwards himself that changes my mind, I am casting my vote for him tomorrow in Maryland.

UPDATE: Edwards and Obama Cancel Meeting.

From NBC's Mark Hudspeth and Mark Murray
When asked about the AP report that Obama and Edwards meeting is not happening today, the Obama campaign told us to talk to the Edwards camp. However, when pressed, they said it wouldn't be inaccurate to report that the meeting will not happen today or tomorrow.

A source close to Edwards confirms that the meeting has been canceled. But the source doesn’t know the reason behind it; it could be something as simple as a scheduling conflict.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Art Therapy

Sometimes, as the old ad for the Detroit Institute of Arts used to say WAAAAAAY back, you gotta have art.

Click above for full size.

Perhaps you can tell the alleged "inspiration" of the "new messiah" leaves me cold.

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Opinion Pieces I Love. These Make It Almost Bearable.

I can't imagine anything that makes me less hopeful for our country than the exit from the race of the best presidential candidate I've ever seen in my life and the Democratic Party's rush to embrace a Reagan-loving Bush-Cheney Lite trojan horse.

Does the Democratic Party have Stockholm syndrome? Have we been held captive by the right wing for so long that we have become sympathetic to our captors? Depressing thoughts abound in the days since my progressive hero John Edwards "suspended" his campaign.

I want to share some opinion pieces that made me smile a little, because they helped me to know that my work for the Edwards campaign was worthwhile and that the fight really does go on.

The first is by the lovely and wonderful Madeleine Stowe. Madeleine, who you may know from films like Last of the Mohicans and Twelve Monkeys, is one of Edwards' celebrity supporters, who went on the campaign trail with him. I met her in Iowa, and when I call her lovely and wonderful, I am not referring merely to her physical beauty or her talent as an actress. She is also a kind and thoughtful human being.

I particularly like Madeleine's portrait of John Edwards for her insights about his character. She writes:

But John Edwards is tough. Perhaps this is what the pundits have either failed to understand or willfully neglected to point out. His campaign has faced challenge after challenge and his personal life has been struck by tragedy, yet he remained in the race long past the media's expectations, unbowed. Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, understand what the passage of time means in a life, and they've made hard and clear decisions about how they're going to live.

I observed the candidate on the campaign trail when reporters weren't around during each of the four primaries and found that he was always strikingly calm in spite of the whirl around him. Edwards, I've been told, is guided by a faith that runs deep but which he refuses to unleash on the general public. During his tenure as a senator from North Carolina, at a prayer breakfast in D.C. where he was said to have given a moving speech, he was advised to bring up his faith again and again as a political tool. Edwards said, "No," and has been intractable on the matter ever since.

In the month before the Iowa caucuses and just before the start of a town-hall meeting of more than 300 people, an aide took me backstage to say hello. Edwards was standing alone in a large, dark room. He smiled brightly, manners impeccable, but there was a slight vulnerability emanating from him. While he's been described by those close to him as supremely confident, in that moment I felt something else. He reminded me of the "good son," the man who still wore the aura of wanting to please his father, to give the task at hand his best. It was an oddly touching quality, and something told me to politely leave him be. He was gracious to a fault, hands in his pockets. Before leaving, I muttered, "You're on the right side of things," and he nodded with a certainty that was not at all cocky, but instead youthful in its hopefulness, replying, "Yes. I think I am."

Thank you, Madeleine.

The second opinion piece that has made this loss more bearable, is Paul Krugman's. Not surprisingly given his track record, Krugman gets it right.

At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.

If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.

It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.

Krugman has reminded me that if the Democrats succeed in providing universal health care during the next administration, every single person who worked on the Edwards campaign will be able to consider it a personal achievement. Unfortunately, we are still a long way from there.

John Nichols of The Nation also reminds us that Edwards was and remains the true leader on the issues:

Edwards shaped the 2008 race, offering the first universal healthcare plan from a major contender, proposing the first economic stimulus package, making an issue of war profiteering. And he was heard. Obama's rhetoric has grown more powerful and effective as he has borrowed Edwards's policies as well as his populist phrasing. And when Clinton tells urban audiences she is campaigning to help Americans "lift yourself and your family out of poverty," it is impossible to miss the Edwards echo. Even Republicans like Mike Huckabee sounded like they'd been reading Edwards's position papers on trade policy. Now, as a noncandidate, Edwards can and should continue to shape the race. The desire of Clinton and Obama for his endorsement will get his phone calls answered. But perhaps an Edwards endorsement is of less consequence than his continuing presence. Forget the empty speculation about him as a vice presidential prospect; Edwards's best role will be as the voice of conscience for a party that has yet to recognize that its historic commitment to economic justice must be renewed in a time of recession.

One thing I will always be proud of and count as an accomplishment in my life, is that I stood with John Edwards when it mattered.

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