Monday, March 22, 2010

Pelositheism, Redemption, And John Edwards

My friends may be aware that recent miracles have convinced me of the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being. Accordingly, I have changed my Facebook religion status to "Pelositheism." And now it's time to talk about how a sinner can be redeemed.

Namely, John Edwards. Running for the Democratic nomination against excellent candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama while having an enormous skeleton in his closet was a really bad thing to do. I have no idea how to evaluate this counterfactual, but it's possible that with Edwards as our candidate we would've lost the 2008 election, leading to President McCain and a political landscape so much worse than the one we now inhabit that it takes some thinking to imagine.

What ended up happening was quite different. As Matt Yglesias outlines, John Edwards dramatically raised the price for progressive support on a variety of issues including health care reform. Candidates had to come out with similarly progressive plans or lose liberal interest groups to him. Hillary Clinton more or less copied his health care plan and vociferously defended the individual mandate against Barack Obama. While Clinton lost the primary, she won the argument. After Obama's victory, the Edwards plan, mandate and all, became the basic plan for reform.

Given the way that his scandal erased him personally from politics, Edwards' significance in the history of America was to rise or fall with health care reform and a few other good lefty positions he advanced like aggressive action on climate change. All this, of course, would've come to nothing if comprehensive health care reform (to say nothing of climate change legislation) really had died in the wake of Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts.

But you know as I do the story of the resurrection! In the end times, the House laid down with the Senate, while Diana DeGette and Bart Stupak huddled together. All this was by the grace of our Speaker's divine wisdom and inexorable will. It's because of her that health care reform will pass upon our nation.

There is no other reason that Edwards' entire political legacy hasn't fallen into the flames, than that Nancy Pelosi held him up. That she chose as she did doesn't make him any better or worse as a person. But anyone who tried to make a difference for health care reform will appreciate what the salvation of his contribution means. And that's why John Edwards is, as it could've been writ, a sinner in the hands of a merciful Goddess.


corvus said...

I think a better name for your religion would be Pelosifarianism. "We know and we understand/ almighty god is a living woman."

laura said...

I'd add to your story like this: Pelosi is the sort of pol who's divine will helps the Dems change from the party-of-southern-pols-who-fuck-up-their-personal-lives to the party of pols-who-govern-effectively-and-progressively. In Nancy Pelosi's Democratic Party, John Edwards matters that much less. That in itself makes it much easier to forgive him, which is great for him, and great for us.

laura said...

Oh for god(dess) sake: whose divine will, not who's divine will.

ikl said...

If Democratic primary posturing was what drove the shape of the health care bill, then it wouldn't have a mandate since that was supposedly Obama's plan way back then and he won the primary. (Note that he dropped the opposition to mandates almost as soon as he took office, not in response to pressure in the primary).

In fact, Obama, Clinton and Edwards would all have designed a bill to the left of what we got if it were all up to them. The bill that we did get was largely a function of what we could get through the Senate. That and the odd mixed blessing of Brown's election which should give the Dems cover to push a slighly more generous fix through reconciliation. Edwards doesn't have anything to do with that.

I would have though that the better conclusion to draw might be that Obama was not actually, in reality, a less progressive choice than Edwards. Seems like you have a rather sticky belief on this one though. At least that's the charitable way to put it!

ikl said...

Oh, and Pelosi was fighting for "Edwards'" progressive agenda long before Edwards was even a centrist Southern Dem Senator.

corvus said...

ikl, while I too think that Obama is ultimately more to the left than either Edwards and Clinton, I think Edwards does deserve some credit for the shape that health reform ended up taking. The present plan largely fits the structure that Edwards proposed, and his proposal came first and served as the model for the ensuing proposals from Hilary and Obama, and was significantly to the left was what Howard Dean was proposing in 2004. So he did do a lot to shape the terms of debate, and deserves some credit for that. Or Elizabeth does, if you want to credit someone less personally loathsome.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Edwards has everything to do with what the Senate was willing to accept, ikl. The key moment in the story is when Max Baucus signals the acceptability of the Edwards/Clinton plan after Obama's victory.

That kind of thing doesn't just happen out of the blue. The way the debate went in the primary generated a consensus within the Democratic community behind the plan. The idea that Baucus would somehow come out with a plan way left of anything discussed in the Democratic primary is ridiculous. It's the primary debate that made his decision possible.

You're right that Pelosi was fighting for the progressive agenda -- hell, single payer -- long before Edwards was a Senator or any of us were born. But without the effect of Edwards on the primary, she couldn't have gotten where she went Sunday night.

ikl said...

I guess that I'm just not convinced that there is much causal going on here. There were lots and lots of other factors that might explain Baucus moving to the left on this issue. Also, the similarity of the Clinton / Obama / Edwards approaches reflects, from what I understand, somewhat of a concensus among Dem wonks who work on health care policy. After all, they had a lot of time to figure out what to do if they ever got back in power!

Remember too that this was a bit of a power play on Baucus' part - he was effectively competing with HELP to craft the bill. Open too far to the right and he could marginalize himself.

For what it's worth, as you might remember, I thought the parsing of the details of candidates health plans was kind of silly at the time too.

Anonymous said...

Apparently the GOP have set up a site at

Anyone feel like setting up an imitation site at
...with a link to

I think this might go viral.

Neil Sinhababu said...

That Democratic wonks agree about what to do only means something if key players in the Senate are willing to go for it. And while I agree that Baucus doesn't want to do anything way off to the right of the consensus, neither does he want to end up to the left side.

Take Edwards out of the picture, let Obama and Clinton propose incrementalist plans, and I have a really hard time imagining the Democrats having the sudden surge of boldness to take us where we are today.

Anonymous said...

Neil. I doubt that you genuinely believe in the supernatural redemptive and salvific power of Nancy Pelosi and John Edwards. However, there is a more troubling issue which your satirical confession raises: namely whether secular politics can be the origin of perfect justice and or the immortality of the soul. Kant argued in the Critique of Practical Reason that belief in both of these positions were required for practical morality, moral freedom and consequently human happiness. However, Kant did not find that there could ever be either in the natural world. The absence of either perfect justice or the immortality of the soul from the natural world therefore raises serious doubts about whether secular politics can satisfy humans in the same manner as genuinely supernatural religious devotion. I encourage you to rather devote yourself to a supernatural confession which you find worthy of belief and promises human satisfaction.