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The Elizabeth Effect

During an interview on "60 Minutes" over the weekend, former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) told Katie Couric that the return of his wife's cancer should play no role in whether or not voters support him.

"There's not a single person in America that should vote for me because Elizabeth has cancer," Edwards said. "Not a one. If you're considering doing it, don't do it. Do not vote for us because you feel some sympathy or compassion for us."

But, just five days removed from the public acknowledgment that Elizabeth Edwards's cancer was back, it's clear that her illness -- and the couple's decision to keep the campaign going -- is having a profound effect on how John Edwards is perceived.

Witness a speech Edwards gave this morning to the Communication Workers of America in Washington.

Edwards was introduced by CWA President Larry Cohen, whose remarks focused heavily on the former senator's strength under difficult circumstances. Cohen praised Edwards for "his incredible courage" and "his partnership with his wife Elizabeth" as the applause rose. It turned into an extended standing ovation as Cohen lauded Elizabeth for "her determination to keep not only this campaign but to keep this crusade going no matter what."

Edwards took the stage and immediately related a story about his wife. In Cleveland yesterday, Elizabeth Edwards told an audience that every time she turns on the television she sees herself, every time she opens the newspaper she read about herself and every time she turns on the radio she hears her voice, John Edwards recounted. "'I don't know about you but I am sick of me,'" Edwards said his wife told him. "That is exactly the kind of woman I am blessed to be married to." The story was greeted with warm applause.

The former senator then launched into his stump speech -- talking about the importance of worker's rights, universal health care and removing American troops from the war in Iraq.

"It is time for the president of the U.S. to be patriotic about something other than war," Edwards bellowed to a huge round of applause. "It's time to ask America to sacrifice."

His own personal sacrifice loomed large over that rhetoric. Edwards even seemed to echo his wife's words that she had no interest in sitting at home and waiting to die. "There is too much at stake to stay at home and hope somebody else will solve our problems," Edwards said.

At the close of his remarks, Edwards was presented with a large card signed by a group of CWA women to be given to his wife.

The message from today's event?

For better or worse, the remainder of John Edwards's campaign looks likely to be defined by Elizabeth's illness and the couple's decision to remain in the race in spite of it. The very public struggle she is headed for has captured the attention of Americans and they aren't likely to be distracted anytime soon.

Read the full text of Edwards's speech after the jump:

CQ Transcripts Wire
Mar 27, 2007 12:12
FORMER SEN. EDWARDS DELIVERS REMARKS AT THE COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS OF AMERICA LEGISLATIVE POLITICAL CONFERENCE

MARCH 27, 2007

SPEAKER: FORMER SEN. JOHN EDWARDS, D-N.C.

[*]

EDWARDS: Well, I want to begin by thanking Larry (ph) for his friendship, his extraordinary leadership of this great union.

I want to say a word about my wife Elizabeth. I spoke with her this morning. She knows I was coming down to speak to all of you. She said to send you her love and to tell you, you are her brothers and sisters and she is with you in this cause.

(APPLAUSE)

But I have to tell you a story about something that Elizabeth said yesterday. She was in Cleveland, Ohio, yesterday, speaking to a group.

(APPLAUSE)

And she said at the beginning of her talk, she said, "You know, I turn on the television now and there I am."

(LAUGHTER)

"I pick up the front page of the newspaper, and there I am. I turn on my radio, and there's my voice." And then she said, "You know, I don't know about you, but I'm sick of me."

(LAUGHTER)

It's exactly the kind of woman that I'm blessed to be married to. And both of us believe so deeply in this cause, what Larry (ph) referred to as a crusade, which is exactly what it is. It is a cause and a crusade to end the two Americas that we still live in in the United States of America, to create and strengthen a growing, vibrant middle class.

EDWARDS: And just so we know who it is we're standing with, what we always have to remember is today, while we're having this extraordinary celebration, somewhere in America a hotel worker -- a union hotel working walks in front of the hotel, walking a picket line with her union brothers and sisters, so that she can get a decent wage, so that she'll have a chance for her children to have a better life than she has had, which is exactly what my parents gave me.

And she'll leave that picket line tired and hungry, and she'll go work a second job at a diner, hoping -- hoping -- that by doing both those things her kids will get a better chance than she's got.

Today, somewhere in America, a dad'll come home from working the second shift, he'll walk into the bedroom of his 6-year-old child and her touch her head and he'll realize for the first time that she has a fever, that she's badly sick.

And he knows he needs to take her to the doctor, he knows he needs to go to the hospital, to the emergency room, but he has no idea how he's going to pay for it. He's got no health care coverage. (inaudible) knows he doesn't make enough money to pay these doctors' bills and these hospital bills.

He needs somebody to stand up for him.

Today, somewhere in this country, a mother will stand in her kitchen holding a dish towel. She's just finished cleaning the kitchen. And she'll hear a knock on her door. And she'll go to the door and she'll find a chaplain and a man in uniform with the name of her son on their lips -- her son -- her extraordinary, courageous, patriotic son, who joined the Army after September the 11th because he loved this country so much. And now she knows that they've lost him.

That family needs somebody to stand up for them.

I have talked...

(APPLAUSE)

I have talked in the past about the two Americas and what we have to do to end the two Americas, to have one America that works for all of us. People want to know why I continue this campaign for president, why both Elizabeth and myself are so committed to this cause, to this crusade.

I'll tell you why. Because I want everybody in this country to have the same chances that I've had.

I came from a place of having nothing to having everything. And in today's America it is so hard for people to work themselves up.

People no longer believe that their children are going to have a better life than they've had. And I have -- Larry's right, I've been working since the last election on causes that I care deeply about.

Raising the minimum wage: We got the minimum wage on the ballot in six states. And every single one of those states we raised the minimum wage.

(APPLAUSE)

Working on the issue of poverty in America, because it says something about the character of the United States of America how we treat 37 million of our own people who wake up every day worried about feeding and clothing their children. We're better than that. The United States of America is better than that.

And the greatest anti-poverty movement in American history is the organized labor movement, because...

(APPLAUSE)

... what everyone seems to forget when they talk about the jobs that built the middle class in this country is they weren't great jobs before the union, were they? It's the union that made them great jobs.

EDWARDS: It's the union that allowed collective bargaining, that allowed workers to have power, to have a voice, to have a decent wage, to be able to send their kids to college for the first time. It's the union that did all that.

And I am proud of the fact that I have walked picket lines, that I have helped organize thousands of workers. And I say "helped" because I was in this cause with so many others, so many others who were committed to it.

But all around this country I have been working for the last few years to help organize workers into unions, and I have seen first-hand what all of you go through every single day trying to protect the right to organize, trying to bargain, trying to collectively bargain, trying to get a decent wage. Oh, my goodness, trying to get health care coverage, right?

You know what I'm talking about. I have seen the abuses that are engaged in, I have seen the law violated.

And I want to say to every one of you, I got a really simple idea about this. I look at you, I see a bunch of you with your "Employee Free Choice" buttons on. Good for you. Get over there to the Congress and make those people do what they're supposed to do about this.

But I want to say something to you first. Here's what you ought to say to them: If somebody can join the Republican or Democratic Party by signing their name to a card, any worker in America ought to be able to join a union by doing exactly the same thing.

(APPLAUSE)

That's democracy in the workplace.

And by the way, before you get too settled in your seat...

(LAUGHTER)

... while we're in the process of changing the law, why don't we ban the hiring of permanent replacements for strikers and make that the law of the land?

(APPLAUSE)

We know -- we know what needs to be done to strengthen and grow the middle class in this country. We know what needs to be done to make sure that workers have democracy in the workplace, have a fair chance, which is, we need to organize. We need to organize all across this country. Workers need to have a chance, they need to have a voice.

And I want to say a word about what all of you do.

You know, I talk about the two Americas. Well, one of the ways those two Americas exist is in the great Internet divide that exists in the United States of America.

You know, if we are going to make sure that people who live -- Americans who live in rural areas, who live in more secluded places actually have a chance, we've got to bridge this divide.

EDWARDS: We have to bridge the divide, because otherwise they won't have access to the medical care and the medical records that they need.

(APPLAUSE)

They won't have access to distance learning. All the tools that are so critical to that.

And what we have to make sure is we have to make sure that these big corporations don't deny them the right to make sure they have the information that they need, they have access to the Internet, that we have broadband access in the rural areas and the more remote areas of America.

(APPLAUSE)

And we need to take a close look at this FairPoint-Verizon deal. America needs to take a close look at it. We need to stand up...

(APPLAUSE)

... because so many of those folks who live out in rural areas in America, the only chance they're ever going to have, the only chance their children are ever going to have is that they have broadband, they have access to the Internet, the same access that people have in more affluent areas in America.

When I talk about the two Americas, that's exactly what I'm talking about.

And I'll tell you about another way we have two Americas. We have 47 of our own people who have absolutely no health care coverage.

I want to tell you, our health care system in America is dysfunctional. It does not work by any possible measure.

(APPLAUSE)

And I'm proud of the fact -- I am proud of the fact that I am the first candidate, Democrat or Republican, who has a specific, truly universal health care plan, to make sure that we cover every single worker in America, that we bring down costs for all workers, that we fill the gap that exists in our health care system.

In my plan, we're going to treat mental health exactly the same way we treat physical health.

(APPLAUSE)

We're going to cover preventative care, chronic care, long-term care.

And we're going to make it so that you can take your health care with you when you move from one place to another or if you get laid off, and the government will help subsidize health insurance premiums. When you're out there negotiating your contract you ought to be negotiating for wages and pensions and not health care coverage.

We need universal health care in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

We need more than that. You know, I talk about this issue of poverty that I've been working very hard on and growing and strengthening the middle class, and what needs to be done to grow and strengthen the middle class in America.

Well, there are a lot of things we can do to lift families out of poverty and lift them into the middle class. I've talked about one, which is organizing and making work pay again, raising the minimum wage, strengthening the right to organize. But there's more than that.

We have millions of people in this country, they don't even have a bank account. They don't deal with financial institutions, they have no idea how. And as a result, they get -- I always get people asking me, "Why would anybody go to a predatory or a payday lender? We don't understand that. They ought to have better sense than to go borrow money at 400, 500 percent interest."

Listen, if you're two days before payday and you got no money in the bank and you got to feed your children, you'll do whatever you got to do, won't you?

(APPLAUSE)

And that's exactly reason people go to predatory and payday lenders.

Here's what we ought to do.

EDWARDS: We ought to help people save, we ought to give them an incentive to save, we ought to match what they're able to save so that they can accumulate some assets. And on top of that, we ought to crack down on these payday and predatory lenders that are preying on our most vulnerable families in America.

(APPLAUSE)

What about access to college? Bush and his gang, they've taken billions of dollars out of the federal budget to allow kids to go to college, money that would have paid for financial aid for going to college -- at the same time, by the way -- at the same time that they're putting billions and billions of dollars into subsidies and tax breaks for the biggest oil companies in America.

Now, I don't know about you, but I've been worried about whether Exxon's making enough money. I've had a lot of sleepless nights over that.

(LAUGHTER)

I bet some of you have had exactly the same thing.

Here's what we ought to do, and actually it's something we've done, Larry, since the last election.

I have this idea. I called it College for Everyone. And what we did is we went to a poor section of eastern North Carolina and we said to the communities there, "If your kids want to go to college and they graduate from high school qualified to go, and they'll commit to work at least 10 hours a week when they're in school, we'll pay for their tuition and books."

(APPLAUSE)

And we went out and raised the money for it, got the community involved.

And, you know, the good thing about it -- the good thing about it, work never hurt anybody, did it?

(LAUGHTER)

And we don't give it to them, we make them work to get their tuition and books. But on top of that, when they graduate from college, they're not left with this crushing burden of debt that so many of our kids have today when they come out, so that when they go to work they can actually go to work for themselves and their families and their country instead of going to work to pay back a debt.

There are other things we need to do in this country.

Listen, this issue of global warming, climate change, this is not a fantasy, no matter what George Bush thinks. This is a very, very serious thing. It is actually an emergency.

If you were to read what happens -- the Pentagon has analyzed this -- read what happens if there's a 4 to 8 degree temperature change on the face of the Earth over the next 75 years, which many scientists think is very possible -- what happens makes world war look relatively small. We're talking about not enough food, not enough water, the migration of millions and millions of people, political upheaval.

This is an emergency. America has got to act. We have to act now. We -- our country that we all love so much, we're so much better than we're showing.

You know, we are 4 percent of the world's population; we're emitting 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases.

EDWARDS: Now, how in the world -- you tell me, how do we go to countries like China and India and say, "Join us. We got to do something about this. We need a global solution to this serious problem"? We got to clean up our own house first. We don't have any credibility when we go to these places.

(APPLAUSE)

And here's what we ought to do. Here's what I believe we ought to do.

I think we ought to have a national cap on carbon dioxide emissions. We ought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. It's aggressive, but it's completely achievable.

And if people are going to emit greenhouse gases, they ought to have to get a permit to do it, and they ought to have to pay for it -- they ought to have to pay in an auction for it. We can create billions of dollars by doing that. That's from the polluters, not from taxpayers, from the polluters.

Then we can take that money and turn it into changing, transforming the way we use energy in the United States of America. Investing in clean alternative sources of energy -- wind, solar, biofuels. And in the process -- in the process -- we can create a million-plus jobs, a million-plus jobs in places in America where we desperately need jobs.

(APPLAUSE)

But I'll tell you one other thing: It is time -- it is time for the president of the United States to ask the American people to be patriotic about something other than war.

(APPLAUSE)

EDWARDS: It is time to ask America to be willing to sacrifice. And I don't mean go shopping.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm talking about being willing to drive more fuel-efficient vehicles, to conserve in their homes, to conserve in their places of work.

Listen, we have a responsibility, we have a responsibility to ourselves, we have a responsibility to our children.

And by the way, when I'm talking about ending poverty, strengthening the right to organize, growing the great middle class in this country, making universal health care available to every American, you'll figure out pretty quickly I'm not the candidate of little ideas. I think we need big, bold change in America. It is not enough for us to have small, baby steps anymore.

(APPLAUSE)

And I want to say one other thing to all of you, and I think it's something you'll relate to.

I get asked regularly by the press, what do I think we really need, what personal characteristics do we need in the next president of the United States?

Here's what I believe we need. I think we need a president who's honest and open and a good and decent human being. We need somebody that the American people can trust.

(APPLAUSE)

We have to restore trust between Americans and their president. And we have to restore trust between the president of the United States and the rest of the world.

And the starting place there...

(APPLAUSE)

... the starting place there is this bleeding sore that is Iraq.

Listen, let me start with a very simple idea: America needs to be leaving Iraq, and we need to start leaving right now.

(APPLAUSE)

Forty-plus years ago, at Riverside Church in New York City, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech. He was speaking at the time about the war in Vietnam, about which he had not said much. And what he said at that is, he said, "There comes a time in all of our lives when silence is a betrayal. It's a betrayal of ourselves, and it's a betrayal of the country that we all love so much."

This is where we are today on the war in Iraq. We cannot stand silent and let this thing continue. We cannot stand silent and let this president continue to escalate this war in Iraq.

(APPLAUSE)

We cannot stand silent while our young men and women are sent there to serve, and for what? For what?

Here's what we ought to be doing. First of all, the Congress -- the Congress, now -- the Democrats now control the House and the Senate. The Congress should be using its funding authority to force this president to start bringing American troops home from Iraq.

(APPLAUSE)

We should make sure that over the course of the next year or so -- over the course of the next year or so we bring combat troops out of Iraq.

I'd take 40,000 to 50,000 troops out right now out of the north and the south. We need to engage the Iranians and the Syrians to help stabilize Iraq. We probably need to maintain some presence in the region, in Kuwait, in the Persian Gulf.

But the truth of the matter is, there is no political -- I mean, there's no military solution in Iraq. The only solution is political. Until the Sunni and the Shia decide that they're going to reach a political reconciliation, there's not going to be peace in Iraq no matter how many American men and women we send into this meat grinder as some have called it.

(APPLAUSE)

But I want to say to all of you how much on a personal level I appreciate what you do. You know, my mother and father have health care today, and they're in their 70s, they have health care today only because of the union, and they both have serious health issues.

My younger and only brother and his family have health care today only because of the union.

I say most of the time when I speak anywhere in America that it's a mistake for any of us to think we can sit at home, watch television, use our computer and vote in the next election and think that the next president of the United States is going to solve all our problems. It's a fantasy. It'll never happen.

This country does not just belong to the president of the United States. It belongs to you. It belongs to every single one of you.

(APPLAUSE)

And we, America, we need you. We need you to take responsibility. We need you to take ownership of this country you love so much.

And when you're out there organizing workers you are making America a better place. When you're out there collectively bargaining and fighting for decent wages and decent benefits, you are making America stronger and healthier.

But I need you to do more than that. I need you to get engaged, to get involved.

You know, we actually started about a year or so ago a service organization called OneCorps -- O-N-E, OneCorps. There are over 1,000 chapters all over this country. They do politics. If you're interested in joining you can go to JohnEdwards.com. We'd love to have you.

That's a really bad plug, isn't it, in the middle of my speech?

(LAUGHTER)

But we would love to have you.

But you don't even have to do the politics. If you don't want to do the politics, all you have to do is get involved in the service.

We're out there in the communities helping to fight poverty, helping to conserve energy, getting people involved in the causes that all of us care about.

Because the truth of the matter is, there is too much at stake to stay at home and hope somebody else is going to solve our problems. It will never happen.

We, all of us, we do have to be patriotic about something other than war. We have to take ownership of this country that we love so much.

And it's great to talk about hope, but that hope has to be turned into action. It has to be turned into action that can bring about the change that America needs.

(APPLAUSE)

In the words of Gandhi, we have to be the change that we believe in. And we cannot just stand by and hope that someone else is going to do it for us.

If we want to live, all of us, every single one of us, if we want to live in a moral and just America, and we want to see America lead in a moral and just world, we have to do it, every single one of us.

God bless you all. Thank you. It's a great honor and privilege for me to be here with you. And thank you for what you do every single day. Thank you all very much.

(APPLAUSE)

END

Source: CQ Transcriptions
© 2007, Congressional Quarterly Inc., All Rights Reserved

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 27, 2007; 12:35 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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