Elizabeth: Victim or co-conspirator?

John Edwards is a beast, a wretch, a vile and low creature unworthy of any sympathy. He had an affair with Rielle Hunter, and he lied about it to the press. And now he must pay the price.

Lying cannot be tolerated. John Edwards has no future in the Democratic Party, a party scrupulous about whom it adores.

Bill Clinton is one of the most revered and admired figures in the Democratic Party today. He had an affair with Gennifer Flowers before his 1992 presidential campaign and lied about it to the press. He had an affair with Monica Lewinsky while he was president and lied about it to the press, his wife, staff, friends, colleagues, the Cabinet, investigators and Congress.

So you can see the difference.

Edwards is back in the news for two reasons. First, he is under federal investigation for possibly converting campaign funds to his personal use — i.e., paying his mistress, who was supposed to be making videos for the campaign.

Second, his wife, Elizabeth, is promoting her new book, going on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and talking about her husband's affair and its effect on her.

John told Elizabeth about the affair shortly after he announced for the presidency in December 2006. In an excerpt of her book in Time magazine, headlined "How I Survived John's Affair," Elizabeth writes that she urged John to drop out of the presidential race but that he didn't want to: "It would only raise questions, he said, he had just gotten in the race; the most pointed questions would come if he dropped out days after he had gotten in the race. And I knew that was right."

Excuse me, but that was wrong.

John Edwards' decision was "right" only if the goal was to cover up the affair. There was an alternative: Admit the affair in public, say it was a mistake, ask for forgiveness and move on with the campaign. This, apparently, was never considered by either John or Elizabeth. The public, evidently, cannot handle the truth.

So Elizabeth's goal became the same as John's goal: Get this guy to the White House, a job she undertook with particular relish, especially when it came to attacking his opponents.

In August 2007, Elizabeth Edwards expressed dismay that her husband was disadvantaged because he was a white male (a group not accustomed to being disadvantaged). "We can't make John black; we can't make him a woman," Elizabeth complained. "Those things get you a lot of press, worth a certain amount of fundraising dollars." (At the time, Edwards reported a net worth of $29.5 million, all of which he could have contributed to his campaign to make up for his lack of black skin and female sex organs.)

In September 2007, Elizabeth Edwards reminded people that while the early rap against Hillary Clinton was that she was cold and polarizing, the new problem with Hillary Clinton was that she was cold and polarizing. "I want to be perfectly clear: I do not think the hatred against Hillary Clinton is justified. I don't know where it comes from; I don't begin to understand it. But you can't pretend it doesn't exist, and it will energize the Republican base," Elizabeth Edwards said. "Their nominee won't energize them, Bush won't, but Hillary as the nominee will. It's hard for John to talk about, but it's the reality." 

It was hard for John to talk about it because he wanted to maintain his boyish, butter-wouldn't-melt-in-his-mouth likability while Elizabeth attacked on his behalf, a role from which she never shrank.

Just before the Iowa caucus, I did an interview with her in which she bizarrely raised Barack Obama's hairstyle while he was a law student. "There was a New York Times article fairly early in the race," she said. "It had a picture of Obama with an Afro — that a lot of people had then; it was nice looking, not odd looking — at Harvard Law School, being asked to voice an opinion at a meeting of people with respect to tenure for African-American professors. He spoke, and spoke eloquently, and when he left, both sides felt he agreed with them." This was not a good sign, Elizabeth Edwards said, but an example of how a "desire for conciliation becomes more important than getting a particular result." She said that Obama's skill at conciliation "is not what we need right now" and that "John believes we have to fight."

(John also believed in paying $400 for a haircut, when he would have been better off with an Afro, but that's another story.)

So while Elizabeth Edwards was certainly victimized by John, she also became not just his co-conspirator but also his attack dog. Was she being used by him? Or did she want to get to the White House as badly as he did?

I saw Elizabeth Edwards' appearance on "Oprah" Thursday afternoon, and I have to say that it was a fascinating interview and that Elizabeth was both an enormously appealing and an enormously sympathetic figure.

But I couldn't help thinking what Hillary Clinton's reaction to watching the show would have been. Would Hillary be rolling her eyes at how much sympathy Elizabeth was getting because her husband cheated on her with one woman? After all, after Bill's affairs, Hillary went on to become a U.S. senator, a candidate for president and secretary of state. (On the other hand, Hillary Clinton does not have terminal cancer.)

In probably the most quoted part of the interview, Elizabeth Edwards says her first reaction to John's admission of an affair was to go into the bathroom and vomit.

I can completely understand that. What I can't completely understand is why, nearly two and half years later, she wants to wallow in it now. Perhaps it is therapeutic. And if that is the reason, that's OK.

But during the "Oprah" interview, Elizabeth says she kept quiet about John's affair during the campaign because "I wanted to protect him.

The public needs some protection, too, however. And neither John nor Elizabeth was being noble by covering up the truth. Because Elizabeth was victimized by John, that was no reason for her to try to victimize the public by putting forth a false view of her husband and tearing down his opponents.

The Charlotte Observer recently pointed out that in one of Rielle Hunter's videos, John turns to her and says, "Do you think most people have any idea what we're doing when we're not on the stage? All this, everything else that we do?"

Nope. That's the problem.

Roger Simon is POLITICO's chief political columnist.

Copyright POLIT - Politico
Contact Us