In memoriam: The life and service of Elizabeth Edwards
Last year we passed a landmark health insurance reform bill through an unwilling congress and it was signed by the President to mark the most significant change to health insurance of the last forty years. While the bill was far from perfect and lacked the public option many wanted It was a remarkable accomplishment. I'm not going to refight the process or the battles over the details of the bill; the important thing is that the bill passed and it's currently benefitting millions of Americans, myself included. More than Nancy Pelosi, more than Harry Reid, more even than Barack Obama, the person who is responsible for this bill is Elizabeth Edwards.
I had the honor of working on the Edwards for President staff in the 08 election, and was located at various times both in the Chapel Hill national HQ and in New Hampshire. I met Elizabeth a few times, and she was a wonderful person; the kind of person who stops and talks to every volunteer in the office to thank them for everything they're doing. Through and through a decent human being.
More importantly than her kindness to the least of those in the office was the good she did nationwide. It may be hard to remember now, but in 2007, no one wanted to talk about health care. It was a quiet crisis developing that anyone paying attention knew was going to destroy the economy and cost millions of lives if left unattended. Even so it was not a politically popular topic. We were in the midst of two wars, a torture debate, outing of CIA agents and the like. Health care reform was not on many people's minds. Not many people aside from Elizabeth Edwards, and as a result John Edwards.
John Edwards was at the time running in third place behind the Hillary Clinton juggernaut and the Barack Obama wave. He needed to do something to distinguish himself, and this issue was a good way to do it. It didn't hurt that he and Elizabeth had first hand encounters with the system after fighting Elizabeth's first round of cancer. On this issue however, John used the bully pulpit of the campaign, and hammered constantly on the impending threat to our society that heath insurance companies were causing. He pushed other candidates to talk about it and to establish positions, and by the end of primary season, healthcare reform was the second most important issue on voters minds behind. Eventually it became so ingrained in the mindset of the campaign that public opinion began to shift and people began to call for something to be done.
None of this would have happened without Elizabeth, pushing hard both publicly and behind the scenes to make sure the campaign drilled in the issue, health care, health care, health care, health care. Her persistence and drive helped shape the national consciousness to the point that over the desires of the Chamber of Commerce, powerful health insurers and hundreds of millions of dollars spent against it would do little more than turn it into an imperfect form of major overhaul.
This alone would be significant, but it merely stands alongside the other significant issues she (or she and John) stood almost alone in promoting to the public, most notably poverty, another pressing and often ignored issue that she and John tirelessly advocated. This fit well with her personality as I experienced it, constantly reaching out to those who are not important, those who are on the margins, and those who toil, for the most part, thanklessly.
So today, I am thankful for and I am remembering the life and work of Elizabeth Edwards, a decent and hardworking woman, tirelessly striving to improve the lives of those who needed help. She was someone who did not mock the useful toil, nor hear with a disdainful smile the short and simple annals of the poor. She and her service will be greatly missed. May the peace of God be upon her.
Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. -Book of Common Prayer, 499