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September 29, 2007

Liveblogging Our Meeting with Elizabeth Edwards

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Elizabeth Edwards came in full of energy. First words from her mouth: "I still love you guys!" (Referring to the recent exchange with Rebecca.) "And tell Rebecca I still love her. It's okay to differ sometimes." Rebecca could not make it due to a recent family emergency. She sent us email saying "I am very much hoping that this discussion will be about the important issues like childcare, healthcare or education, but just in case my name comes up, can you please mention that I am very sorry I had to miss this. I have deep respect for Ms. Edwards and would have liked to wish her well." Elizabeth said later that she felt sorry about what Rebecca went through with the press, showing compassion and understanding from what she endures on a regular basis. She also said: "Tell her to speak up. I did." "And give her a hug from me."

In the meeting from SV Moms: Jill, Beth B, Tekla, Sarah G (me), Alix, Kari, Stefania, Susie, Mary T, Stacy, Ana, Akemi, Sheila, Mary R, Susan, Nicole, Lia, Kate, Jean, Lindsey, Katie, Martha. On the call from SV Moms: No one yet. DC Moms on the conf call: Joanne, Susie, Dawn, Stephanie, Amie. Chicago Moms on the call: Jessica, Meagan, Kim, Kathy and Amy. From the Edwards Campaign: Ryan Montoya, Hargrave McElroy, and (by phone) Tracy Russo. Beth is also live blogging quotes.

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First question from Jill was asking if she responded immediately to Rebecca's post during their recent exchange. Elizabeth (she urged us to call us by her first name) responded that she just happened to read it on that occasion. She was then asked if she had to run her response through the campaign and Elizabeth responded that if she tries to go through the campaign organization about interacting on blogs, it takes too long. (She also noted at BlogHer that she doesn't need anyone else's permission to do her own responding.)

Mary Tsao asked how Elizabeth would see herself in the role of First Lady. Elizabeth replied: "it's virtually impossible [to picture what that would be like]." She said it might be possible for someone who's done it before as First Lady for a state. She said she has "no grand ambitions." "Something on breast cancer perhaps." She has an idea of taking an ironing board to places where working women go - maybe laundromats - and signing them up to vote.

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Next the discussion turned to healthcare. Tekla asked about what, in 15 years from now, our country's healthcare system should look like. "The should is hard," says Elizabeth. There is an advantage to the for-profit in the answer, she noted. "I hate to take that innovative... competitive issue out." If you have a single-payer process, you basically have eliminated it." She's hoping we'll have less healthcare needs in 15 years if we do what we can in terms of preventative medicine.

Regarding cancer: "I know there's an answer out there." "When we [find it], think about what it's going to do in terms of long term care for these conditions."

If we're not careful, Elizabeth said, elder care will become incredibly expensive. It's important that the government invest in R&D. "I'd like to see a greater proliferation of public healthcare facilities." She said, as she had also mentioned last time we met with her, that we should put healthcare centers in elementary schools. "Where people actually live."

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"Right now we have nursing shortages. Those will continue if we don't really commit ourselves to nursing education." She said that "we don't have enough nurse educators." "Maybe we can get moms who left nursing to come back and train future nurses." "I'd like to see regional CDCs (Center for Disease Control), not just one national one." She wants 24x7 translators so every healthcare provider could call.

On dependent care, DC Moms asked about what John Edwards's policy will be on that. Elizabeth said she didn't really know for sure, but she'll get back to us. She said she knows 7 days is guaranteed for leave, bare minimum.

"How will our lives change if your husband is president?" (question from Amie of DC Metro Moms). We have more entrenched disparities, Elizabeth says. "The top 300,000 wage earners earn as much as the bottom 150 million, and those people are feeling less and less like they will ever have a pathway to the top." She says we need to reinstill that we can help move those people out of poverty. "John was able to do this," but she says that may not be able to happen much longer. "This is a long-term transition that needs to be made," she says.

She says one of the differences will be that we will reestablish our authority in the world. In the case of Lebanon and the Hezbollah, the Lebanese didn't feel as bad about them as Iraqis currently do about us because the Hezbollah built buildings for them. (She said this much more eloquently and in greater detail.) John, she says, would travel the world and provide a new face to the world. This is not something that will change on a dime, but it will change more quickly than changes in education, for example. "I do think that we have the capacity to be safer." She talks about how we've been driving people away, like young Muslims for example. If we helped with their education, perhaps they might want attract them.

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She used the example of OneCorps. "We don't tell them what to do, but the truth of the matter is to engage people in their community to see they have the power to make changes on a small scale." She noted that when you multiply that, it represents huge change. "If John is one of the ones who goes home, he'll leave more than pack of yard signs. He'll leave 2000 groups working across the country." "This is a different kind of campaign. If what John was offering was more of the same, I wouldn't want him to do it... What's the value of that?" She says "that's the reason we're doing it" and she says he's as committed as anyone she's seen in decades.

Next question came from Veronica (sent earlier, not present on call) who is concerned about issues for women in science in technology. She's asking what Elizabeth's husband's policies will do for students. Elizabeth talked about education for a while. The long term plan, she says, is to establish things like schools of science and math. North Carolina has one that she used as an example, but she says many talented students don't get in there. "Each state should have those options," Elizabeth said. She also said her daughter, Cate, a "math genius", was told "women can't do math" when she was a student. That needs to change. She added: "In India and China, they are producing 10x the number of engineers that we are producing."

Alix asked about "wealthy people who don't feel wealthy" as many do in Silicon Valley. Elizabeth replied that "for one thing, the tax rate will go back to where it was with Bill Clinton which pays for healthcare". The College for Everyone is paid by restructuring the college loan program. It used to be run for the federal government. There's enough profit on it to pay for all freshmen in this country to go to school - John will pay for tuition and books at the state rate, so if you went to Stanford, for example, you'd get help at the Cal rate. All children will qualify. It's not income-dependent. It will have a good effect on merit scholarships that they won't have to pay for freshmen, so it will increase the amount of money available. Universal healthcare will help us save money overall. She said she thinks we will see improvements in the public schools. "John will be addressing a young families agenda soon," she said.

Jill asked our final question about what message we, as bloggers, can help get out. Elizabeth said, "I don't think that we can get the change we want unless we're willing to work for it." She said "people write a check and leave the fundraiser and think they've done their part." "We are on a really bad path right now." "It's going to take some really fundamental change to affect that." "We're going to need to have people really engaged in getting the kind of leader who is committed to the change." "I think the way you run your campaign tells if you have a leader who is committed to change."

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She had a momentary lapse in her train of thought and made a joke about 'chemo brain'. She said "John is not the flashiest candidate" Walter Shapiro from Salon was asking her yesterday if it's strange that John got all of his policies out at the beginning of the campaign. She said that's not what the campaign is about. She made a joke that it's not about whether people like his haircut. She said what gets us somewhere is the actually things people are talking about doing. "From the beginning of the campaign, it's been about the ideas and the vision, not the personality." "We're looking for the leader who's going to change things", she said. Her example: you're walking down the street and you see a man who walks down the street, picks up litter and throws it away. You know something about that kind of person. John, as he came out with his policies early. She says she didn't attack Clinton's healthcare plan. It's the same as John's. But she says it says more that he introduced it early.

"Use your email lists. Use your voice." "For some people it means giving money, but that's not for everyone." It could be that we get to November 2008 and we have 2 candidates that won't change anything. If that happens, you'll be really sorry that you could've changed that dynamic. It's easy to think about February 5, 2008. It's not. It's about November, 2008.

Concluding our meeting, she said: "I wish you all lived near me," she said. DC Moms piped in from the speaker phone that many of them hoped she would live closer to them soon. When asked "when are you running?" She says "I was Junior Class President. That was enough."

As always, Elizabeth Edwards was incredibly gracious with our requests for photos with us. She signed books and took a group photo with us. We all wished we could've had more time together.

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