Henry Waxman defines progress

From food labeling to healthcare to climate change: The California Democrat makes a difference

By Andrew Leonard
Published July 7, 2009 6:07PM (EDT)

My son likes to read the labels on food products. From an early age he would report in tones of awe and wonder at just how much sodium or sugar was packed into a Capri Sun juice box or a box of Honey Nut Cheerios.

It does not seem extraordinary to him or unusual in any way that such information is available to him, or that before allowing him to choose a box of cereal at the supermarket, his father will inspect the relevant details. It's just the way things are.

Of course, it didn't have to be that way, which is why a passage from Ezra Klein's very interesting interview with Henry Waxman, the powerful Democratic legislator who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, jumped out at me. Waxman is explaining why he chose to write a book detailing his life as a lawmaker.

I try to portray the forces at play in dealing with legislation and how some things that were big battles at the time are now taken for granted.

It was a big battle to get food producers to put uniform labels advising people about calories and sodium and carbohydrates and other nutrients on food. But I think most people take it for granted that they can see those labels when they go into the store and use them to make their decisions. But the food producers said they were going to go bankrupt if they had to put these labels on, it would be such a burden, it would be excessive. Finally we got it passed. And I don't think most people give it a second thought today. It's just there.

It's just there. As good a definition of "progress" as any, I suppose. As chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Waxman is playing a huge role in shaping both health reform and climate change legislation. What, I wonder, will future generations accept as just being "there" as a result of his current work?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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