Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

Saint Elizabeth, part II

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Purely coincidental with the title of our previous discussion, I found this New York Times article about Elizabeth Edwards really interesting. It was published on the day she was buried.

She had known about her husband’s affair with Rielle Hunter, she wrote, but she had believed his explanation that it had been just a one-night fling. So she agreed to continue the campaign.

But now her explanation seemed suspect.

Female columnists in particular reacted with derision and fury. If Mr. Edwards had won the Democratic presidential nomination, they wrote, in part on the strength of her credibility, the affair would have been exposed, the Edwardses tarred as liars, the election lost.

Elizabeth Edwards, it seemed, had betrayed her following.

“We feel a lot of affection for public people and project our fantasies of something like perfection on them,” said Rebecca Traister, whose book, “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” looks at the influential women of the 2008 campaign. “And it turns out they’re not only imperfect, they can be deeply disappointing.

“She made some poor choices,” Ms. Traister continued. “Was this some flailing attempt to keep going toward the power she thought they could have done something good with? That they shouldn’t be stopped by a transgression that was no different than other politicians? But that may still be my residual fantasy of her.”

Earlier this year, more sordid tales emerged from the Edwards campaign trail. How to square the harridan Elizabeth with her eloquent, upbeat public persona?

To some, these revelations shattered the beatific narrative of the martyr-victim. To others, they deepened a complex profile of an ambitious woman stricken with metastatic disease and guiding a national campaign, whose husband, the father of her four children and repository of her political commitment, was cheating on her.

“She probably was domineering, aggressive and opinionated,” said Ms. Traister, “but none of that nicked my admiration for her.”

With her messy, tarnished life, Mrs. Edwards could never become the idealized role model that supporters from so many corners needed her to be. But did that mean she failed them?

In an afterword to “Resilience” this summer, Mrs. Edwards confronted her mutable relationship with the public:

“I laughed that I never was and don’t want to be St. Elizabeth,” she wrote. “But I cried that I don’t want to be seen — and maybe here I should admit, remembered — as the worst of the portraits of me.”

(Tks: Ann Althouse)

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