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At the beginning of 2007, it seemed likely that the Democratic nominee would run a cautious campaign, without strong, distinctive policy ideas. That, after all, is what John Kerry did in 2004.
If 2008 is different, it will be largely thanks to Mr. Edwards. He made a habit of introducing bold policy proposals — and they were met with such enthusiasm among Democrats that his rivals were more or less forced to follow suit.
It’s hard, in particular, to overstate the importance of the Edwards health care plan, introduced in February.
Before the Edwards plan was unveiled, advocates of universal health care had difficulty getting traction, in part because they were divided over how to get there. Some advocated a single-payer system — a k a Medicare for all — but this was dismissed as politically infeasible. Some advocated reform based on private insurers, but single-payer advocates, aware of the vast inefficiency of the private insurance system, recoiled at the prospect.
With no consensus about how to pursue health reform, and vivid memories of the failure of 1993-1994, Democratic politicians avoided the subject, treating universal care as a vague dream for the distant future.
But the Edwards plan squared the circle, giving people the choice of staying with private insurers, while also giving everyone the option of buying into government-offered, Medicare-type plans — a form of public-private competition that Mr. Edwards made clear might lead to a single-payer system over time. And he also broke the taboo against calling for tax increases to pay for reform.
Suddenly, universal health care became a possible dream for the next administration. In the months that followed, the rival campaigns moved to assure the party’s base that it was a dream they shared, by emulating the Edwards plan. And there’s little question that if the next president really does achieve major health reform, it will transform the political landscape.
Pity. I think we lost a really good candidate.