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.