Politics & Policy

Edwardian Reality

The myth of the two Americas.

Des Moines, IowaTim Robbins (a.k.a. Merlin from Top Gun), had pumped up the crowd, and John Edwards knew how to blow the top off the auditorium at Nathan Weeks Middle School. Attacking Bush and the Iraq war was a nice warm-up, but that’s not why you come to see John Edwards. What John Edwards provides in a way his Democratic rivals cannot, is class warfare.

“I am the candidate who has taken on the drug companies and the insurance companies,” he brags, to the crowd’s applause. “There’s a reason we don’t have universal health care,” he intones. The reason, Edwards explains, is the power of big-business lobbyists. Big-business lobbyists are also the reason we don’t have federal curbs on carbon-dioxide emissions.

In his town-hall meeting last Wednesday night, Edwards sang the refrain he has made the core of his big-government populist campaign: Big-business controls Washington and blocks crucial regulations and welfare programs, and John Edwards is the only man who can take it on. And the crowd loved it.

For all the free passes Barack Obama has received from the media, he’s never gotten away with being as demonstrably wrong on the facts as John Edwards is nearly every time he sounds this theme. The truth of the matter is an awkward one for Edwards and his fans: the very big businesses they vilify support the very big-government policies they advocate.

In Thursday’s debates, when asked about federal curbs on greenhouse gases to battle global warming, Edwards said: “first of all, we need to recognize what the obstacles are to the change that everyone believes is necessary. And the obstacles are oil companies, power companies, all those entrenched interests that stand between America and the change that it needs.”

Democrats in the crowd nodded their heads at this, and reporters in the press room didn’t bat an eye. That sounds natural to them: big oil and big energy oppose regulation of fuel and power, right?

Well, not Duke Energy whose CEO, Paul Anderson, has been calling for a tax on carbon dioxide for nearly three years.

Is there any more “entrenched interest” than General Electric, which every year since 1998 has spent more on lobbying than any other company in America? Hardly an “obstacle” to Edwards’s favored policies, GE’s Jeff Immelt on January 22, 2007, joined CEOs from Alcoa, DuPont, and other corporate titans to call for federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

And oh yeah, one former big power company (the biggest in the world, at the time), lobbied two White Houses for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, pointing out in one e-mail, “This agreement will be good for Enron stock!” I could go on, but you get the point.

The same is true of health care. Edwards said Thursday that “corporate power and greed have literally taken over the government, and we need a president who’s willing to take these powers on. It is the only way we’re going to … have universal health care.” Well, you could take them on, but that hardly seems necessary considering that many of the biggest corporations are firmly behind the big government health care plans that Edwards and the Democrats are offering.

Remember that HillaryCare in 1993 had a lot of big-business support, and it was small business groups that helped kill it. Big health-care companies also don’t mind universal health-care proposals, as evidenced by those whom they favor with their contributions. The health-care sector, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, has given $2.7 and $2.2 million this election to Senators Clinton and Obama, respectively. The top Republican getting money from the industry? Mitt Romney, who passed a big-government health insurance mandate in Massachusetts.

When President Bush vetoed the Democratic expansion of S-CHIP this year, Edwards issued a press release declaring

President Bush’s second veto of the S-CHIP bill just goes to show why it’s so important that our next president has the strength and courage to stand up and fight the lobbyists and special interests who have stood in the way of truly universal health care for decades.

The “lobbyists and special interests” from the health care industry, however, were as upset about Bush’s veto as Edwards was. Blue Cross-Blue Shield lobbied for the Democratic bill, as did the trade associations for HMOs (a group called Americas Health Insurance Plans), for drug companies (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association), and doctors (the American Medical Association).

These big businesses and their lobbyists are backing government takeovers of our energy and health sectors not out of “cowardice” or good will, but out of the profit motive. They have positioned themselves to benefit from big government, and their lobbying is just part of the investment.

But John Edwards needs to maintain his class-warfare narrative in order to rile the crowds. As long as his supporters and the media don’t check his facts, it might just work.

– Tim Carney is a reporter in Washington, D.C.

Timothy P. CarneyMr. Carney, the author of Alienated America, is the commentary editor of the Washington Examiner and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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