TAP Talks to Elizabeth Edwards

Staff Writer Ezra Klein is on the trail in New Hampshire. Yesterday he sat down with Elizabeth Edwards to discuss her husband's presidential campaign.

Ezra Klein: The message you seemed to be previewing on Sunday was that Obama's a great guy, he's got a great philosophy, really good ideas, but it's in his head and not in his heart.

Elizabeth Edwards: Except for the ideas part, sure. His health care plan is slightly different, but in most everything else, he's adopted what John had said before. I'm not saying he can't have great ideas, just that so far his ideas have mirrored John's.

Head versus heart suggests that John doesn't have the head for it and I think he's the smartest guy in the race. But we're trying to draw the distinction between a candidate who says this is the political step I need to take, and the candidate who says this is the step I have to take. It's like someone who says they're a writer because they had to be. John did the poverty center because he felt like he had to. He recognized it immediately as his calling. He says, 'I'm born to do this, to make a difference in people's lives.' To show the real ramifications of policies that aren't as John would like them to be.

I'm a C-SPAN junky, I listen to these candidates speak and I get a lot of rhetoric. But I could watch Dr. Phil if I wanted to just feel good. That doesn't do the trick, you have to actually fight the fight. None of the great social movements in this country have ever taken place because somebody had a good quote or was willing to sit down and talk about it. They all happened because someone was willing to stand firm and on principle.

EK: It's interesting you mention that . How much time do you spend thinking about the social movements of the 20th century?

EE: A lot. We actually do. At the beginning of this campaign, what we talked about privately was that this change would only come with a movement. That's what John's "College Poverty Tour" was about, mobilizing young people to a greater cause, getting them out to see these faces, addicting them to making that difference.

EK: Is that what's being referred to when you speak of fighting? The battlefield, after all, is the legislative process. You can't just assert the fight. So how do you pressure Congress if, as you say, it's already controlled by these special interests?

EE: I don't think its that hard. You think about what happened in 1993 with health reform. There was a Joint Session of Congress and Bill Clinton came out and introduced health care and there were a series of Senate hearings and at the same time, the health industry, which had sat down with Mrs. Clinton in the legislative process to help draft the law, went around and undermined it, the exact law they'd supposedly helped craft, the exact law they'd sat at the table compromising, sending out the Harry and Louise ads that scared the bejeebers out of everybody.

And what did we do in response? You know why you can't answer that? Because we did nothing. There was no response, no offense for this. Some of it is just saying I'm not going to let you get away with that. I'm going to go to the American people and tell them Harry and Louise are wrong and who they really work for, and I'm going to go the districts of members of Congress who are recalcitrant and speak directly to the people, tell them why it is that their congressmen, who's taken a lot of money from the insurance industry, is voting with the industry and not with them.

Congressmen take the money because they think it'll help them get votes. If they think the votes will be taken away from them rather than given to them, they'll vote the right way. And my guess is that John won't have to visit that many districts to make that happen Now, there may be some congressmen who vote that way out of conviction, and if so, let them defend it to their constituents. But if it's really all about money, they'll be outed.

EK: In a way, this is conceiving of the president as the Organizer-in-Chief.

EE: In a sense. But what it is is recognizing is that the power is with the people, with the vote. We lost track of that because people feel like their votes don't matter and corporations get their way and my voice means nothing. John re-empowers people to say your voice does mean something, and here, I'll show you exactly how. You use the word "transformation" and I know it's a big word on the internet, but it's really true, there's no other way to describe what John is looking at doing.

I honestly think the other candidates, both by what they're saying, even if they use change words, and what they've done in the past. What you've seen Sen. Clinton do, and Sen. Obama do, both in Illinois in terms of the Health Care Justice Act and in the Senate, you've not seen an outspoken fighter, despite what he says about the ethics act. On other issues you've not seen that outspoken fighter, you've seen a relatively complacent and go-along Senator. And that's not what we need at this moment.