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Posted by on Sep 20, 2009 in Health, Politics, Society | 24 comments

Elizabeth Edwards

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This is not the sort of topic I usually write about, but there’s a New York Times article today by Neil Lewis — mostly based on a book proposal by Andrew Young for a book about the affair between John Edwards and Rielle Hunter. Here is one of the more arresting passages (emphasis is mine):

But a federal grand jury in nearby Raleigh is investigating whether any crimes were committed in connection with campaign laws in an effort to conceal his extramarital affair with a woman named Rielle Hunter. At the same time, Mr. Edwards is moving toward an abrupt reversal in his public posture; associates said in interviews that he is considering declaring that he is the father of Ms. Hunter’s 19-month-old daughter, something that he once flatly asserted in a television interview was not possible.

Friends and other associates of Mr. Edwards and his wife of 32 years, Elizabeth, say she has resisted the idea of her husband’s claiming paternity. Mrs. Edwards, who is battling cancer, “has yet to be brought around,” said one family friend, who like others spoke about the situation on the condition of anonymity, pointing to the complicated and delicate nature of the issue.

The situation may become more fraught, as people who know Ms. Hunter said she was planning to move with her daughter, Frances, from New Jersey to North Carolina in coming months.

The reason I chose the above title is because Elizabeth Edwards is the only person I care about in all this. It’s upsetting me a little that all the blogger coverage of this article that I’ve seen focuses solely on the legal and political implications of Edwards’ affair and the subsequent cover-up and rumors and publicity.

I realize that, except for the people immediately involved in this horrible drama, it’s really mostly of a distant political or (unfortunately) prurient interest. But I cannot help feeling the human aspect, and it’s hard for me to understand why others don’t seem to.

Take this piece by Isaac Chotiner of The New Republic, as just one example (emphasis is mine):

Sunday’s New York Times piece on John Edwards is fun reading, and includes some juicy details about the lengths to which Edwards’ financial backers went to keep their candidate in the clear. Two other things were worth noting.

First:

At the same time, Mr. Edwards is moving toward an abrupt reversal in his public posture; associates said in interviews that he is considering declaring that he is the father of Ms. Hunter’s 19-month-old daughter, something that he once flatly asserted in a television interview was not possible. Friends and other associates of Mr. Edwards and his wife of 32 years, Elizabeth, say she has resisted the idea of her husband’s claiming paternity. Mrs. Edwards, who is battling cancer, “has yet to be brought around,” said one family friend…

If true, this does not put Elizabeth Edwards in the best possible light, although the following detail does make you wonder about Ms. Hunter:

Ms. Hunter gave her daughter the middle name Quinn, and people who have spoken with her said its resemblance to the Latin prefix for five was to proclaim that the baby was Mr. Edwards’s fifth child. (He had four with Mrs. Edwards, the oldest of whom was killed in a car accident).

Look, as far as I am concerned, I don’t even see what “the best possible light” and Elizabeth Edwards even have to do with each other. I don’t see why she should be required to give up her resistance to her husband acknowledging that he is the father of Hunter’s child in order to be “considered in the best possible light.” I understand there’s a legal issue involved here, but why is it incumbent upon the wife who was cheated on while she was being treated for breast cancer to give her blessing? If her husband does not want to admit paternity until or unless his wife agrees to it, why can’t he wait until she dies? After all, according to Andrew Young’s book proposal, Edwards promised Hunter “that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.”

For me, the heart of the matter is this: John Edwards had an affair when his wife was being treated for breast cancer. The affair continued, and resulted in a child. Edwards lied about the affair when his wife first found out (or suspected). Finally, he admitted the truth, but lied again by telling his wife the affair was over, and he lied about being the father of his lover’s child. Now, he is saying he wants to acknowledge paternity, but Mrs. Edwards is supposed to agree to this. And while all this is going on — while her lover’s wife continues to battle terminal cancer — Rielle Hunter is planning to move to North Carolina!! She is moving to North Carolina.

I don’t know, maybe I’m weird, but compared with the human suffering that Elizabeth Edwards is surely going through, both emotional and physical — and the sheer cruelty that has been visited upon her by someone who is supposed to love her — nothing else seems important to me. My feeling is, she gets a pass for whatever she does. She doesn’t have to be reasonable, she doesn’t have to be gracious, she doesn’t have to put herself in the “best possible light.” Just surviving under these conditions is an accomplishment. If she gets out of bed every day and goes through her planned schedule, that’s enough. She doesn’t have to do any more than that.