She’s at it again. No, not Hillary. Elizabeth.
Elizabeth Edwards, that is. Every time you turn around, she’s attacking Hillary Clinton. And every time she does it, it makes news, as she must know it will. Mrs. Edwards gets more headlines than her husband, the candidate. And many of them aren’t about substance, but are painfully personal, the sort of attacks that aren’t going to get John Edwards elected president.
The latest is Mrs. Edwards’ response, in an interview with the Associated Press, to Senator Clinton’s health care plan, unveiled last week. Mrs. Edwards certainly knows more than she’d like about the strengths and weaknesses of the health care system in America, and she didn’t take issue with any of the elements of the Clinton plan, the way so many Republicans have. Nor did she fault the Democratic frontrunner, as some on the left have done, for failing to address the substantial problem of providing health care for illegal immigrants, many of whom rely on emergency rooms as their only source for doctors, thus tapping into the system at its most expensive point.
No, Mrs. Edwards basically engaged in a little old-fashioned name-calling – in the process revealing the kind of naivete about the system that is precisely what caused Hillary’s first health care plan, back in 1993, to fail. The problem with the Clinton plan, according to Mrs. Edwards, is that it too closely resembles her husband’s; that Hillary is, in effect, a Janie-come-lately to the health care fight, rather than the leader she should be. Here’s the exact quote:
“Does Mrs. Clinton’s plan seem very familiar to you,” Elizabeth Edwards asked her interviewer. “Mrs. Clinton has – seven and a half months after John unveiled his health care plan – unveiled a health care plan that is in every material respect just like John’s.” She described it as “John Edwards’ health care plan as delivered by Hillary Clinton.” And there’s more:
“We would have expected her to be the first one out of the box, not the last one out of the box with a health care plan. And then for her to come up with one that looks like John’s, it’s almost as if she hasn’t been willing to have the courage independently to be a leader on these things.”
Now, you can accuse Hillary Clinton of many things, and believe me, people do, but not having the courage to be a leader on health care should not be one of them. Just ask any Republican you know. She is still paying for the courage she showed in 1993, and the mistakes she made in the process. And the biggest mistake was the fantasy that the way to change the health care system in this country was to come up with a comprehensive plan all by yourself, and then expect everyone to fall in line behind it and get it enacted in its original form. The reason legislation, like sausage, is so often described as something you shouldn’t watch being made is precisely because it doesn’t work that way.
I’m still living down my “deer in the headlights” performance on the “The O’Reilly Factor” years ago: Bill asked me for the details of what would be President Hillary Clinton’s health care plan, and I told him the truth, which was that I didn’t know. This was partly because his staff had told me to be prepared to discuss the recent arrest of a USC coed for the murder of her newborn infant (the woman’s lawyer had cancelled at the last minute) rather than my book “The Case for Hillary Clinton.” But it was also because years of experience in political campaigns taught me that campaign white papers are a far cry from any legislation that has a chance of passing Congress. I used to write those papers – when I was a kid. Produced largely in a vacuum, written by one person or a small committee, they rarely include anyone from the various congressional committees that will shape, or defeat, the plan in real life.
The big mistake Hillary made in 1993 was not in the details of the plan, but in the way she came up with it, with her secret task force, and in her unwillingness to compromise when a substantial if not total victory was within her grasp. It is because she now understands the process that is reason to believe she would succeed in enacting the sort of comprehensive plan that eluded her last time.
The real challenge in Washington, particularly with a divided Congress, is not in designing the most perfect package, but in acquiring the clout and experience to know how to get at least a large chunk of it enacted into law. When it comes to that sort of experience, the Clintons have it over the Edwardses, hands down.
©2007 Creators Syndicate Inc.