NORMAN, Oklahoma, 10:45 a.m. — I didn’t think I would have a reading assignment while on winter break. Then again, I also hadn’t planned on interviewing Ted Marmor.

I wanted the School of Management and political science professor’s opinion on the presidential candidates’ positions on healthcare. Marmor, after all, has testified before Congress on healthcare reform, served on President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on the National Agenda and published reams of articles and books on the subject. If anyone is an expert, he is. But first I had to acquaint myself.

In ‘The Politics of U.S. Health System Reform,’ Marmor traces the history of the impact of politics on healthcare reform, calling it a story of “long-term aspiration and deep frustration.” The main obstacle to reform Marmor emphasizes is the limit of political feasibility: the harsh resistance of Republicans and the lack of commitment of Democrats.

Having earned my phone interview, Marmor and I spoke early on the Friday morning following the Iowa caucus elections. Are any of the three leading Democratic candidates capable of causing the necessary ideological shift in Washington to substantially reform the U.S. health system?

“All three of them — Obama and Edwards even more than Clinton,” Marmor says. “Obama and Edwards have a more powerful rhetorical voice on behalf of those people in trouble in America. [Hillary] is a more manipulative, less appealing moral leader.”

Marmor says he thinks the differences between Clinton, Obama and Edwards regarding their universal healthcare plans — with Clinton and Edwards preferring mandate participation and Obama hoping subsidies will induce citizens to opt into a Medicare-like system — are “trivial.” Even the split between Republicans and Democrats is less clear these days, with all adopting the language of “universal healthcare” and the current leading candidate, Mike Huckabee, wrapped in an aura of populism. Despite his preference for Obama or Edwards, Marmor says, given a large enough Democratic majority in Congress, any of the three leading Democratic contenders are capable of affecting change.

Just don’t get him started on Giuliani, who infamously ran a series of radio commercials claiming that the survival rate for prostate cancer patients in England’s socialized-healthcare system is only 44 percent.

“[Giuliani’s] just become a puppet for conventional right-wing orthodoxy on these matters,” Marmor said, his voice changing from passionate to audibly disdainful. “He’s a hungry presidential candidate.”

And his opinion on last night’s caucuses? History-making, but not the final verdict.

“It’s a genuine triumph for Obama and in that sense a milestone in American political history,” Marmor says. “It constitutes that Edwards is a formidable candidate. He defeated the invincible Clinton in a context in which he had no natural advantage. The third thing about Iowa is that no one should take it too seriously. Richard Gephardt won in Iowa. Iowa is no assurance of a nomination.”

June Torbati