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In The Politician, the book by a former John Edwards factotum, Andrew Young describes Edwards’ duplicity, his noxious self-entitlement, and the rot at the heart of what was publicly proclaimed to be the ideal marriage between John and Elizabeth. The sad news that Elizabeth Edwards died this week has made me think one tragedy of the Edwards’ story is that Elizabeth was not the one to become the politician. While John had boyish looks and an oily, phony sheen of charm, it was Elizabeth who really connected with the crowds, Elizabeth who had a passion for policy, Elizabeth who had a cause—health care—she truly believed in.
Elizabeth Edwards, 61, met her husband at law school—she was of a transitional generation, one in which women in significant numbers started entering professions once closed to them. The Edwardses raised two children and both launched successful careers. Then their teenage son, Wade, died. She remade her life after that crushing loss. She left the law, had a second set of children, and then joined with John on the quest to make him president of the United States. It all turned sordid when the National Enquirer got onto the story of John impregnating a campaign aide. Elizabeth refused to believe the accounts and helped her husband continue the campaign, but the truth finally came out. Later many ugly truths were revealed about the couple's marriage and Elizabeth’s behind-the-scenes behavior—wrenching private scenes disgruntled aides were only too happy to tell.
But there’s no mystery to the outpouring of love and sorrow for the end of her amazing, tumultuous life. The way she faced her terrible illness was a model of forthrightness, of courage.Your heart breaks for her and the children she won’t be able to raise. Elizabeth’s life is a lesson in the dangers of a woman investing everything—her ambition, her intelligence, her dreams—to be fulfilled by a man. I wish long ago Elizabeth had said to her husband, “Guess what, I’m the one who’s going to run for the Senate.”
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