Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Where Was John Edwards?

During Hillary's health care fight, Edwards wasn’t even a regular voter

CHAPEL HILL - There she goes again. Elizabeth Edwards continued her long running series of attacks on Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) this week. In a Sept. 25 interview with the New York Daily News, she accused the Democratic presidential front-runner of not having fought hard enough for universal health care.



"It failed when the Clinton administration pulled this, when they said, 'We're not going to use any more political capital on this, on the fight for universal health care.'," Edwards told the Daily News. "And that's an important part that Sen. Clinton leaves out."

She also blamed the Clintons for putting NAFTA first. "They lost the fight in 1993, pulled it out because they wanted to use their political capital to get NAFTA passed as opposed to universal health care in '94."



Elizabeth left out any mention of her husband John's long history of support for NAFTA. In February, 2004, as he sought an endorsement from the New York Times in the runup to New York's presidential primary, he explained his position on free trade to the paper's editorial board. ''I think NAFTA is important - it is an important part of our global economy, an important part of our trade relations."

This latest criticism from Elizabeth follows others in which she claimed her husband John would be a better advocate on women's issues than Hillary Clinton, and that Clinton's recently released health care plan is a copy of the one John put forward six months ago.

It's ironic, though, that the Edwardses are so attuned to the Clintons' domestic political battles of the early 90's. Before he decided to run for office himself, John Edwards failed to vote in many key federal elections during this time period.



According to records from his former voting precinct in Raleigh, North Carolina, he didn't vote in N.C.'s historic 1990 mid-term elections. That contest pitted ultra conservative, incumbent U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the nemesis of liberals everywhere, against challenger Harvey Gantt, the progressive first black mayor of Charlotte.

He also sat out the 1992 presidential race that brought a Democratic president, Bill Clinton, back to the White House after twelve long years of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

And Edwards missed the 1994 general election. Republicans seized control of Congress that fall in part by running against any changes to the health care system, defeating numerous Democrats in swing districts around the country.

One of the Democrats who narrowly lost his seat was Rep. David Price, the Duke political science professor who represented Edwards in North Carolina's 4th congressional district. He fell to former Raleigh police chief Fred Heineman by a razor thin margin of 1215 votes. Price won his job back two years later, and has remained in office to this day.

When Edwards' missed votes were brought up by reporters during his 1998 U.S. Senate campaign, he explained he was busy building his law career in those years. "I was intensely focused on helping the people I was responsible for in my law practice," Edwards said at the time. "That was what I was spending my time on - that and my family."



Even if John wasn't voting while Bill and Hillary Clinton were battling the vast right wing conspiracy, and taking on the insurance and drug companies that helped bury her health care reforms, he and Elizabeth may have been taking notes. A lesson the Edwards camp has learned well from both Clintons' careers in politics is how a spouse can be a useful attack dog against political opponents.

In 1982, Bill Clinton was trying to regain the Arkansas Governor's mansion from Frank White, the Republican who had beaten him two years earlier. Hillary doggedly criticized White, showing up at his campaign events and savaging his policy positions from the audience. She was brutally effective. White found it hard to fight back, for fear of how voters would perceive political attacks on a wife and mother. When he lost the rematch, Frank White blamed Hillary.

Today, it's Elizabeth who's the hatchet woman, and her target is Hillary Clinton. In order for John to move out of third place in the polls and fundraising numbers, he's got to catch up to her somehow.

Not to mention convincing Democrats to abandon Barack Obama, who has thwarted Edwards' hopes of running as the main alternative to Clinton. Unfortunately, tearing down your rivals doesn't always sit well with primary voters.



You'd think John and Elizabeth would realize this, even though John was elected to public office only once and served merely a single term in the U.S. Senate. But the Edwardses' stalled quest for the White House can't be explained solely by their lack of campaign experience. Or that they haven't been in the game as long as a pair of political survivors like the Clintons.

Sometimes voters care more about where candidates have been than the names they've called each other lately.

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