- Presidential hopeful John Edwards speaks to an overflowing crowd at the ILA LOcal 1422 Hall
When you put him in a room with his two main opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination, John Edwards has a tough time holding the spotlight. But put him amongst a crowd of about 500 Lowcountry residents and John Edwards is a star.
The candidate stopped by Charleston last week for a town hall meeting, packing (and we mean packing) the International Longshoremen's Association Local 1422 Hall to talk about his universal health care plan. To say he was speaking to a receptive audience would be an understatement. Even when he opened the forum up to questions from the audience, the subject stayed on health care and the lack thereof.
Trying to get out in front of his primary primary opponents, Sens. Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, the former North Carolina senator and failed '04 vice presidential nominee is calling for every American to have health care.
Edwards notes that 47 million Americans are living without health insurance, including 100,000 of South Carolina's children. Meanwhile, for those of us who have health insurance, premiums have risen 90 percent in the last six years nationally, with an even sharper climb in the Palmetto state.
"We have by any possible measure a completely dysfunctional health care system," Edwards said, both for employers and employees. "It's almost impossible for individuals to go out and find health care in the market. The same thing is true for many small businesses."
Through his program, the government would subsidize premiums for the poor and middle class and insure that health care is affordable for everyone. The program would also include new health insurance tax credits and expand Medicaid and state health insurance programs. Employers would be required to offer health insurance and the government would subsidize your insurance based on your ability to pay. It would also allow employees to take their insurance with them when they leave their job.
The program would cost between $90 billion and $120 billion and Edwards is looking to help pay for it by repealing President George W. Bush's tax cuts for those making more than $200,000.
"Any candidate that comes to you offering universal health care and won't change the tax system ... it's a joke," he said.
It's not only throwing money at the problem, but also mandating that companies in the insurance industry adhere to best practices to cut the administrative costs that needlessly drive up premiums.
Edwards is hoping his recommendations will reach beyond voters and impact legislation now, instead of 2009.
"If we actually want to bring about the change that is so badly needed, you can't sit back and wait for the next presidential election and think that candidate is going to go out and solve all your problems," he said, then returning to a campaign slogan. "Tomorrow begins today. We're not going to wait until the election."
The idea of reforming health care fits nicely with other priorities for Edwards, including addressing poverty and the homeless and calling on Americans to get involved in their communities.
"It's what we ought to be doing as a nation," he said. "It's time for Americans to be patriotic about something besides war."
Edwards said his top priority is to reestablish America's role as a leader in the world.
"One of the things that has been proven without a doubt over the last few years is that power alone doesn't make you a leader," Edwards said. "We are the only potential stabilizing force in the world. When we don't have moral authority, we can't stabilize the world."
He said one of his first acts as president would be to repair America's damaged image abroad by travelling in the first 100 days of his presidency to speak not only to world leaders, but to the world.
"And the message would be that America doesn't tolerate diversity, we embrace it," he said. "The world doesn't think that about us now."
One particular jab at the current administration came with Edwards' suggestion on what voters should look for in a president.
"If I were in your shoes ... I would be looking for a candidate for president who is a good, honest, decent human being," he said.
More pointed remarks on President Bush came regarding Iraq.
"(President Bush) has made mistake after mistake after mistake," Edwards said. "We still have an opportunity to salvage a positive result in Iraq, but we'll have to change course to do it."
Edwards has been one of the tougher critics of the administration's planned surge. Having voted for the invasion of Iraq and later apologizing for that decision, Edwards now wants the U.S. to put the Iraqi government on notice that we're leaving and to start withdrawing troops.
"There is no military solution in Iraq," he said. "All they're doing is enabling the continuing bad behavior of the Sunni leadership and the Shia leadership."
The more than 20,000 combat troops the president is calling for would include about as many noncombat support staff. Many of these troops are already in Iraq and will just see their deployments extended.
"Those men and women deserve to come home," Edwards said. "We've had four surges already. None of them worked."
Edwards said he'll also push for making alternative energy a priority, targeting job incentives for communities that have been hurt the worst by losses, allowing college students to work for their tuition and books, and closing the income gap that seems to widen year after year.
"A few people ... are doing very well and the rest are suffering," he said.
The news of the week was Edwards' decision to keep two bloggers on staff who had been accused of making derogatory statements about Catholics.
"They gave me their word that they weren't trying to denigrate any church ... and I took them at their word," he said.
In the blogosphere, Edwards' visit kept everyone's attention for a few hours, but by the next morning, Obama had announced a planned visit to South Carolina, with Hillary Clinton hot on his heels, pulling the spotlight away once again. Sorry, John, maybe next time.