Edwards: “We know what we’re doing.”

On Tuesday Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards walked into a packed meeting room at the downtown Des Moines Public Library for an event designed to connect with women voters.  The Edwards camp released a list of over 1500 Iowa women — (at least one women in 800 Iowa voting precincts) — who have signed on as backers of Edwards’ bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

The event started with Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin (the Iowa Democratic Party’s 1982 nominee for governor — she lost to Republican Terry Branstad) giving her testimonial about Edwards.  "I met Senator Edwards more than 20 years ago.  We used to do the same thing for a living.  He does something different now.  I still do the same thing," Conlin said, referring to her law practice.  "Both of us represent people who are hurt.  We speak for people who have no voice.  That was his job.  It’s still his job in a significant way….My first impression of him was, ‘My Lord, this is a bright man…who cares about his clients’ and over the years we have shared ideas about how best to represent our clients and I came to understand that this is a person who can be counted on.  This is a person who when he tells you something, you can absolutely be sure that it’s true."

Conlin then told the crowd she never thought Edwards would beat a Republican incumbent for North Carolina’s seat in the U.S. Senate .  "I thought there wasn’t a prayer in the world," Conlin said.  Conlin talked about supporting Edwards’ 2004 bid for the White House, then got into the present day and started raising expectations.

"This is Iowa.  This is where campaigns are personal," Conlin told the crowd of over 200.  "This is where one person makes a difference and I hope every one of you will be one of the people that we can count on to make sure that John Edwards wins the Iowa Caucuses because if he wins the Iowa Caucuses, the likelihood is very great that he will be the next president of the United States of America."

Edwards gave a speech that was a little longer than 20 minutes, focusing first on Iraq, then morphing into a litany of "women’s issues" before he answered questions from the audience.  The crowd was overwhelmingly female and as one woman started to leave the room with a screaming child, Edwards offered up this:  "You can’t control babies.  There’s only so much you can do.  You don’t need to leave on our account."  The woman and screaming child exited anyway. 

Later, near the end of the speech, Edwards got some of his loudest applause as he touched on the issue of pay equity. "If we really want to empower women in this country, if we want to give force to the women’s movement in this country, then we want women to have self-esteem and strength and respect and they can’t continue to not have health care coverage or live in poverty or get paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work that men are doing.  That’s not right," Edwards said, as the crowd interrupted him with applause.  "If we really belive in equality, we have to be willing to do something about this.  We do.  We ought to make sure that we have a national, federal law that makes it easy to stop that kind of discrimination.  It should not exist in America today."

It reminds me of what happened at a Jesse Jackson speech on the steps of the Adair County Courthouse in Greenfield on Election Day 1988.  As you may recall, Jackson did quite well in the Iowa Caucuses that year — his Iowa campaign office had been on Main Street in Greenfield.  Jackson returned for an early morning speech in Greenfield, to be followed by get-out-the-vote speeches as he flew across the country.

Greenfield is near Lenox, my hometown, so an elderly women from Lenox came up to watch me — small town girl turned the Radio Iowa reporter — cover Jackson.  A light mist was falling, so this woman went to her car, retrieved an umbrella and came back to the small knot of people crowded around the base of the steps to stand next to me, umbrella unfurled and protecting me and my equipment from the elements.  This was a woman I knew well — and who I knew to be a Republican, so I was indeed puzzled by her decision to step out into the mist and listen to Jesse Jackson.

Jackson gave a pretty recognizable speech if you covered him at all in 1988 — and as he wound into his discussion of the pay equity issue, he questioned why women should be paid less than a man for doing the same work. 

"Can a woman buy a loaf of bread cheaper?" he asked.  Some in the crowd responded:  "No, Jesse."

"Can a woman buy a gallon fo milk cheaper?" Jackson asked.  Some in the crowd again offered the same response.  "No, Jesse."  The mantra continued for a few more beats.

"Well, then, there’s no reason to pay a woman less than a man for doin’ the same job, is there?" Jackson concluded.  It was at this point that the lifelong Republican woman from Lenox who was standing holding that umbrella over my head yelled, "You’re right, Jesse! You’re right!" 

Fast forward back to 2007: isn’t it interesting that among the Democratic presidential hopeful, John Edwards has had a "women’s" event in Iowa and Hillary Clinton has not? 

My other observation from Edwards’ Tuesday appearance in Des Moines was that on two occasions during his speech, he wove stories about his own philanthropy into the conversation — talking about a scholarship program he established.  Perhaps that can counter the reaction that’ll come from stories like this from the hometown press. (And is being reported all over the place.)

The Radio Iowa story about Edwards’ appearance focused on something that’s been happening at town hall meetings here — the crowds almost always ask a question about immigration whether the candidate is a Republican or a Democrat.  (You can also read the context for the "We know what we’re doing" quote from Edwards in that Radio Iowa story.)

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Edwards plan for healthcare is a kind of seesaw game that tries to balance the public’s call for healthcare reform with an unquestioning obedience to the private insurance industry and all their financial and political influence. With the central problem of the today’s healthcare crisis lying in the outrageously inefficient and wasteful administration of our current healthcare system; 30% of every healthcare dollar spent going towards non-healthcare related spending such as marketing, paperwork and corporate profit; Edwards avoids the simplest and most sensible solution. He avoids standing up for the American people, in the name of what should be a citizen’s basic right: access to healthcare. He avoids doing what the majority of other developed nations, from Canada to much of Europe, have already done to ensure care and well being to all of their citizens. He avoids making the most economically sound decision, by enabling the U.S. to spend less each year on healthcare while proving all citizens with comprehensive coverage. He avoids doing away with private insurance. But, why?
    One has to wonder what good reason there is not to convert to a single payer, not for-profit healthcare system. We spend 2.2 trillion dollars a year on healthcare, twice as much as any other country, and yet we do not get better care. Study after study finds us lacking here. There are 45 million+ Americans who are without any coverage and 50 million+ who are underinsured: half of all bankruptcies being related to healthcare and 3 out of every 4 of these bankruptcies had health insurance! They were underinsured, many not even knowing so until the time of need came. And yet we spend 2.2 trillion? That’s because of the 30% waste. Take 30% of 2.2 trillion dollars and put it towards healthcare and you solve the problem.
    This is the system that Dennis Kucinich has proposed, the only Democratic Candidate to do so. His co-sponsored bill, HR676, has already been introduced to Congress and gained the support of over 60 Reps., various Unions and healthcare professionals. The plan extends the non-profit Medicare system to all, using only 3% for administration. The Dean study found that 95% of families would save money by switching to this system. The average family premium is currently about $3,000, under HR676 it is only around $1,900. No more co-pays, no more not denial of coverage, free choice of provider for comprehensive medical coverage; including dental, vision and psychiatric. This is not socialized medicine, only government single payer insurance. The doctors are still private.
    And what about costs? The current healthcare system is clearly unable to control costs. The rise in health costs has been astronomical in the last ten years. Only a single payer system can accomplish this by cutting out the overhead, setting rates fairly and according a national budget, and by being the only healthcare insurer, having enough clout to actually control the costs of pharmaceuticals. Really, the reason that single payer makes the most sense is because it makes the most financial sense. Not only are we spending less as a country, not only are 95% of families saving money, but businesses also save by not having to pay for employees, which has taken its toll on American companies unable to compete with foreign companies who have single payer systems. GM reports that the cost of healthcare adds an extra $1,500 to the price of each car.
    Edwards proposes a Medicare-like program that would compete with the private insurers, adding that the market may then “evolve” into a single payer system similar to the one I’ve just described. But, what he doesn’t mention is how unlikely this would be. In fact, the government program is bound to fail in this competition since the private companies are going to insure the healthy and let the government cover the sick and thus spiral in costs. This is against the whole idea of risk pooling which is the reason we have insurance in the first place. My question, is why not just use this program and do away with the privates altogether?

  2. James Hufferd says

    As an Iowan who has followed John Edwards since ’04, seen and talked with him twice, and voted for him in my precinct caucus in ’04, I have never been abused of one inevitable conclusion: If John Edwards takes a position, it’s both heart-felt and thought through thoroughly. There’s always a good reason why a position of his (read Health Care, Iraq) is nuanced in a very particular way. He can represent it like the most-persuasive small client personal injury attorney in the country. And, he knows what he’s doing. Don’t be surprised when he walks out of here with a clear and growing lead against both the Establishment Queen, the Rock Star, and the rest of the pack, as the man who best represents and exemplifies common Americans and America as a whole!