Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson at the Livestrong Forum
by Nate Willems, Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 11:27:27 AM EDT
I must admit that I was a little skeptical about this forum. Quite obviously, there is no candidate who thinks cancer is a good thing. Everybody agrees that cancer is an awful disease and that our government should do more for prevention, treatment, research, etc. So, when everybody agrees on the basics, I tend to keep my ears perked for excessive pandering to the audience. It is not too hard for a Democratic candidate for President to look good when speaking about cancer issues to a group of people with a great degree of interest in defeating this disease.
The Livestrong Forum exceeded my expectations. There were over 1000 people in attendance at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. Both the Clinton and Edwards campaigns were clearly represented by a large number of the 1000 crowd members. Candidates received three minutes for opening remarks followed by questions and answers around a table with Lance Armstrong and Chris Matthews.
In speaking first, Senator Clinton pledged to double the budgets for the National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Cancer Institute (NCI), end insurance discrimination against individuals with pre-existing conditions, mandate that insurers pay for cancer screening, pay for programs to help smokers kick their habit, and commit the United States to a "war on cancer." With regard to the NIH and NCI, Senator Clinton essentially said that President Bill Clinton increased their budgets a great deal, and President George W. Bush has frozen or cut their budgets. This refrain of "we need to spend more money on research" was used by all the candidates. However, it was not really a crowd favorite. It is not particularly creative, nor bold. By the time Richardson, as the third speaker, said "we need to increase the NIH budget by 206%," he received only polite applause.
Clinton's best moment came when she stated, "we must end the war against science led by the Bush Administration." When pressed further by Matthews, Clinton stated that the Bush Administration has opposed science by opposing stem-cell research, by muzzling government scientists, and by censuring science-content on government websites. Hearing this from Senator Clinton was a pleasant surprise and I thought the crowd reacted quite favorably.
Unfortunately, just after criticizing the Bush Administration for allowing social conservatives to overrule scientists, Senator Clinton refused to support mandatory vaccination of girls with the HPV vaccine. I do have to give Chris Matthews credit, because this question was very well placed. Senator Clinton initially spoke about how the HPV vaccine has been 20-years in the making, it would prevent cervical cancer in women, and generally that it was a great thing. However, in answering the follow-up question, she does not support requiring that girls be vaccinated because the vaccine is still "new." Fortunately for Senator Clinton, Lance Armstrong then bailed her out by shifting the focus of the conversation elsewhere.
One other Clinton tidbit that I thought was notable: when Chris Matthews mentioned that Michael Moore, in his movie "Sicko," was critical of Senator Clinton for taking money from insurance and drug company lobbyists, Senator Clinton's initial reaction was to laugh. Now, in my mind this has nothing to do with weather one thinks the specific criticism made by Michael Moore is either fair or accurate. It has to do with the idea that when a person is criticized by Michael Moore, they can have one of two first reactions: take it seriously or laugh it off. By laughing it off, arguably one is effectively saying, "Oh, it's just Michael Moore, nobody should take him seriously and neither do I."
Senator Edwards approached this issue of cancer, like many other issues, from a populist perspective. He stated that universal healthcare is the foundation for any program to fight cancer. He spoke about the need to increase funding for NIH and NCI because without sufficient grant money, many of our best young researchers leave for private industry (and that is a bad thing).
Chris Matthews brought into the discussion the differences between Senator Clinton and Senator Edwards on their approach to health care. In what was Edwards' best line, he contrasted himself with Senator Clinton saying, "if we give insurance and drug companies a seat at the table, they'll eat up all the food." He stated that the entire insurance system is set up to deny benefits to policyholders. It is almost like listening to attorney Rudy Baylor in John Grisham's "The Rainmaker;" an eloquent, Southern, trial attorney, making his case against the insurance companies on behalf of his client, in this case the American Public.
Another interesting moment came up when Matthews asked Senator Edwards about using embryos for research purposes. Specifically, Mathews asked if Edwards would have any problem with using donated sperm and eggs to create embryos solely for the purpose of research? Edwards responded, "I might."
Governor Bill Richardson brought up a number of different issues that nobody else spoke to this morning. Of course, he said many of the same things, "I support a `surge' on the war on cancer;""we need to more than double the NIH budget." Richardson, though, brought up the issue of mental health, of healthy lifestyles and the prevention of diabetes. He brought the perspective of a Governor and made allusions to his work New Mexico trying to provide insurance to a larger and larger number of its residents instead of waiting for the federal government to take action. Richardson was the only candidate to speak about requiring Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices on behalf of seniors. He stated is support of a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, and of tying the salary increases to members of Congress to progress made on reducing the size of the federal deficit. Lastly, he explained his support for a law legalizing the medical use of marijuana that was enacted during his tenure as Governor of New Mexico.
All of these candidates gave a good performance this morning. It really should not be too difficult to do so when the candidates and the audience agree on most of the issues to be discussed. It might mean that tomorrow's Republican forum will be more interesting, let them explain their ideas on healthcare or NIH funding. I won't be there, but it will be remarkable to force Republicans to speak, at length, about their ideas on cancer and other health-related matters.
On a personal note, after I left the forum I listened to a voice mail on my cell phone from my Mother. My Aunt Norma, who is terminally ill from her battle with cancer, is apparently deteriorating rapidly. So, I am off to the hospital in Marshalltown.