“Sometimes an intended epithet can be turned to good advantage…In the sole surviving issue of the Decatur, Texas Times, one finds the way Populists not only accepted the label ‘calamity howler’ but insisted that they had ample reason to howl and would continue to howl until their objectives had been attained.” — THE POPULIST MIND, edited by Norman Pollack

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By Beth Fouhy
By Monica Langley
By Ruth Conniff
By Joni Balter


In my recent bouts with cancer I have gained great strength and inspiration from reading Elizabeth Edwards’ book “Saving Graces.” In the book she tells of a staffer’s suggestion during the 2004 Presidential campaign, when her husband was seeking the vice-presidency, that the above words be fashioned into a bumper sticker. For obvious reasons at that particular time she vetoed the idea.

Now that John Edwards is seeking the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in 2008 it seems entirely appropriate that staffer’s suggestion be given careful consideration. Not only is she an inspiration, but the fact that she may even be more of a progressive populist than her husband gives the populist movement great hope for the future.

Her willingness to take on the other front-running candidates — particularly Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — her ability to relate to audiences on a personal level and her ability to speak truth to power while all the while being a caring mother, wife and friend indeed suggests that when it comes to 2008 “Elizabeth Edwards – Reason Enough !!!

By Beth Fouhy           
The Associated Press
August 14, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Democratic candidate John Edwards, lambastes his rival Barack Obama as “holier than thou” on the Iraq war and accuses Hillary Rodham Clinton of failing to show leadership on health care and Iraq.

As her husband trails Clinton and Obama in national polls, Elizabeth Edwards has been an outspoken critic of his opponents. Last month, she said her husband would be a better champion for women as president than Clinton and more recently said, “We can’t make John black, we can’t make him a woman. Those things get you a lot of press, worth a certain amount of fundraising dollars.” In an interview published in the August issue of The Progressive magazine, Elizabeth Edwards complained about Obama, who opposed the war when he was a state legislator in Illinois and later as a Senate candidate but has since voted for funds for the military.

John Edwards, then a North Carolina senator, voted in 2002 to authorize the military invasion of Iraq. Since then, he has said his vote was a mistake. He also voted against several funding requests while in the Senate — but not all, as Elizabeth Edwards claimed in the interview. “And honestly, the other candidates?” Elizabeth Edwards asked. “Obama gives a speech that’s likely to be extraordinarily popular in his home district, and then comes to the Senate and votes for funding … So you are going to get people behaving in a holier-than-thou way. But John stood up when he was in the Senate for exactly the thing he’s asking these people to stand up for now.”

In response, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said Obama “was proud to be against the war from the beginning and has a plan to bring about its quickest possible end.”

Edwards also criticized Obama and Clinton for not using their influence to line up additional votes to block an Iraq funding bill in May. The two senators were among just 13 Democrats to vote against the bill. “We’re electing the leader of the free world,” Elizabeth Edwards said. “They should have been making speeches about why it was they were doing this, and standing up and trying to rally. And they didn’t. They weren’t leaders.”

On health care, Edwards said Obama’s plan for universal coverage was inadequate because it left 15 million uninsured. Obama has said his plan would become universal over time, after his proposed reforms reduce the cost of insurance enough so people can afford to buy it. She also criticized Clinton for not producing a health care plan and for questioning whether there was sufficient “political will” to enact universal care. “Hillary is saying we need to develop a political will. She hasn’t been talking to people if she thinks we need to develop it. We do not. There is consensus on this issue,” Edwards said.

Edwards even suggested Obama’s signature theme — a plea for hope and political unity — had been lifted from her husband’s 2004 presidential campaign. “You listen to the language of what people say, particularly Obama, who seems to be using a lot of John’s 2004 language,” Edwards said, noting that Obama’s media adviser, David Axelrod, worked for Edwards that year.

The Clinton campaign declined to comment on the Elizabeth Edwards interview.

By Monica Langley            
Wall Street Journal
July 21, 2007

LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE, New Hampshire — At a cabin on a recent weekend, Elizabeth Edwards and her seven-year-old son Jack are working on a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, while nine-year-old daughter Emma Claire is drawing animals on a piece of paper. Returning from a five-mile run, presidential candidate John Edwards raids the refrigerator and plops down in his sweaty clothes to munch on sugar snap peas at the table.

“You’re going to be at the hospital, right?” Mrs. Edwards asks him, nervous about the bone scan she faces in a couple days to determine if her incurable cancer has spread further. A concerned look crosses their daughter’s face. “Mommy’s getting a test,” Mrs. Edwards says reassuringly. When Jack asks at another point who will be his children’s grandma because she’ll be dead, Mrs. Edwards chokes up, unable to answer.

Mrs. Edwards’s world these days is jam-packed with incongruous experiences. In public, she says she’s continuing to campaign for her husband’s presidential bid because she doesn’t want to let cancer win before it kills her. She tells voters on the stump that her husband’s campaign is a “calling” worthy of “my precious time.” Privately, she is juggling the campaign with the fallout of her disease, her decision and her day-to-day life. Mrs. Edwards says she doesn’t see herself as a cancer victim and that she isn’t letting it take over her life.

Between campaign stops and monitoring political blogs, she is working on a “dying letter” to her three children — a “guide to life” she started before her diagnosis but which takes on more poignancy now. Her advice runs from balancing work and family to telling her children they should always wear solids instead of stripes or plaid — otherwise, she warns, you’ll look back at old photos and cringe at what you’re wearing. She is sorting out her and her children’s possessions — clothes, papers, photographs — and boxing them to save after her death.

On the campaign trail, the cancer diagnosis has meant a skyrocketing level of attention that also comes at a cost. As crowds flock to see her at campaign stops, people push greeting cards, cancer remedies, prayers and children on her. Last week, she picked up a boy for a picture and then worried, “Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” She’s not supposed to do any lifting or actions that could break her bones, where the cancer has spread. “A lot of sad stories in a row — that wears on you,” she says. “But it’s not a burden. I’m part of a community that holds each other up, and it’s been great to be held up too.” Still she has confided to her best friends, “I’m so tired of hearing every day that I’m going to die.” Those close to her say Mrs. Edwards is committed to living a life full of energy, optimism, and normality.

Her sister Nancy Anania initially worried that the campaign would take too great a toll, though she says she has now come to believe that “the campaign energizes her.” Mental-health experts who specialize in children with dying parents are watching Mrs. Edwards with great interest. “Is Elizabeth Edwards doing what’s best for the kids? That’s hard to say,” says Lynnette Wilhardt, clinical director for Kids Konnected, a support group for children who have parents with cancer. “If the kids are missing a normal life with great memories, it’s selfish. If the kids are used to campaigns, they would be stressed if their parents’ lives suddenly shut down.”

Some in the Edwards campaign fear that rival camps are using Mrs. Edwards’ cancer to undercut fundraising. They worry their rivals might be suggesting that money to Mr. Edwards will be wasted should he pull out if his wife’s condition worsens. In series of interviews, including an afternoon by the lake and rides through three states on the campaign, Mrs. Edwards acknowledges the criticisms. “I worry if this is right, but I don’t have any good choices,” she says.

The Edwards are aware that historical statistics indicate that stage-4 breast-cancer patients have only a 20% chance to survive beyond five years. “That just doesn’t apply to me,” says Mrs. Edwards. “My job is to stay alive until the medicine and research catch up.” When asked if he could envision winning the White House without Elizabeth in it, Mr. Edwards shoots back, “I reject that possibility.” The couple will celebrate their 30th anniversary at the end of this month, and plan on eating double cheeseburgers at Wendy’s (a tradition since their first anniversary) and renewing their vows. “John just can’t face that Elizabeth won’t be around,” says longtime friend Hargrave McElroy, who lived near the Edwards for many years and whose children played together. “Elizabeth is getting her ducks in a row … and isn’t tiptoeing around death.”

Politically, Mrs. Edwards is using the focus on her to advocate her husband’s policy positions, particularly on health care, and to challenge his critics. She’s telling her big crowds on the stump that her husband will be a better advocate for women than his rival Hillary Clinton. Earlier this week, Mrs. Edwards received a flurry of attention when she said Mrs. Clinton is dodging women’s issues because she is trying to “behave like a man” to show she can be “commander in chief.” A new commercial began airing in New Hampshire this week that highlights the couple’s 30-year marriage and alludes to their reaction to dealing with her incurable cancer. “John can stare the worst in the face and not blink,” Mrs. Edwards says in the ad.

Elizabeth Edwards first appeared on the national stage in 2004 when her husband became the running mate of presidential candidate John Kerry. A lawyer who had quit practicing after her 16-year-old son Wade was killed in a car accident, she showed up at campaign events with their college-aged daughter Cate and two blonde-haired toddlers she’d had with the help of infertility treatments. She insisted on being involved in daily scheduling calls and was her husband’s most trusted adviser.

The day after the election loss, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She endured a grueling year of treatment that included surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Mrs. Edwards emerged to write her bestselling autobiography “Saving Graces,” attracting huge crowds to her book-tour appearances. “Just like that, life has found its cadence again,” Mrs. Edwards wrote in the final chapter of her book. “The cancer seems to be gone.”

Mr. Edwards’s strategists planned to make her a central feature of the campaign, believing both Democrats and Republicans could identify with her experiences, including a dead child, breast cancer, infertility, weight-loss struggles, aging parents, mother to both adult and young children, childhood of moving constantly as a Navy brat. “Elizabeth would be the A-number-one top surrogate for John,” says Jonathan Prince, deputy campaign manager. Then in March, she broke a rib while playing with her young son and getting a hug from her husband. She visited a doctor and discovered something that could be cancer on her X-rays. The next day, Mr. Edwards went with his wife for complete body scans. The cancer had metastasized. The couple faced the media on March 22 and explained that they would continue.

Behind the scenes, campaign staffers were thrilled at the surge in interest and Mrs. Edwards’s “high likeability,” but worried that “too much exposure could cause a backlash,” according to one adviser. Mrs. Edwards wanted to be open about the cancer recurrence but didn’t want to give specific details on her treatment or prognosis. “‘Let’s follow Elizabeth as she goes through her cancer’ would be almost exploitive,” she told them.

In boxes spread over a basketball court in the gym on their Chapel Hill estate, Mrs. Edwards is dividing clothes from each of her children into what should be kept and what can be given away. Otherwise, “John would just throw all this out,” Mrs. Edwards says. She especially wants the family to keep the Halloween costumes she made for each of her four children. When she finds Wade’s baseball cards, she presents them to Jack. A few minutes later, she hears Jack and Emma Claire fighting over them. “I want something of Wade’s too,” her nine-year-old daughter cries. “You’re right,” Mrs. Edwards tells her, dividing the cards.

Inside the house, she’s goes through piles of books, including many given to her by her mother, first editions of poetry by Sara Teasdale and Edna St Vincent Millay and the first American edition of “Ulysses.” She has told her husband and children they need to keep them at least ten years before they can be discarded — in the hope her family will treasure them as much as she does. “I love my books,” she says. Like most candidates’ spouses, Mrs. Edwards is traveling the country on behalf of her husband. Just this week, when she landed in Washington, D.C. on Monday night, she hurried to call the two younger children at 9 p.m., catching them right before bedtime. Then she had a 10 p.m. dinner with Cate, who’s working in Washington this summer.

When Mrs. Edwards is home, she runs the younger children to ball games and play dates. This past Wednesday, she took Emma Claire and Jack to the toy store, picked up flowers at the grocery store and visited Wade’s grave at the cemetery. It was her late son’s birthday. Then Mrs. Edwards drove a six-hour round trip from Chapel Hill to Roanoke so she and the children could visit Mr. Edwards, joining him on his “poverty tour” and a bluegrass music concert.

On Thursday, she was back on a plane to Oklahoma City to give a keynote speech at the meeting of Compassionate Friends, a group supporting parents whose children die young. When Mr. Edwards calls her (as he does each time he takes off and lands on a plane), she quizzes him about a blog posting she has seen on a Web site: “Are we on top of this?” she asks. Mrs. Edwards remains her husband’s most important adviser.

At the computer, Mrs. Edwards also is working on the “dying letter” to her three children. Calling up her letter to her 25-year-old daughter Cate, she corrects a typo and re-reads her advice on church. “We raised you in the Methodist church to give you a foundation, but ultimately you need to re-examine what choice of church is right for you.”

Preparing to go back out on the campaign trail in a few days, Mrs. Edwards lines up a string of events for the children-water parks, movies, beach trips — to keep them so busy they won’t miss her. Babysitters, family friends or campaign staffers fill in when Mrs. Edwards is away. Until she leaves, however, Emma Claire doesn’t want to do things with anyone else, even her dad. “No, I want Mom to do this with me,” she says. Mrs. Edwards rushes in. “That’s sweet but bittersweet,” she says later. “Emma Claire and I know one day I won’t be there.”

For the weekend after July 4, Mr. and Mrs. Edwards carve out time for a family vacation. Before loading up the car, she prints off and reads a memo to Mr. Edwards, which outlines factors to consider in deciding his position on new taxes of private-equity and hedge funds. In the car, she alternates the radio stations between a BBC report on oil-rich countries and a Hannah Montana song on Radio Disney. On Saturday, the family hangs out at the New Hampshire cabin owned by a campaign supporter most of the day to swim and lounge around. They won’t even turn on the television so as not to be distracted by any political news.

Still Mr. and Mrs. Edwards can’t help but talk about the presidential race. They notice a magazine with Mrs. Clinton on the cover. They brainstorm about upcoming themes for Mr. Edwards. By Monday, the family returns home for an important medical test for Mrs. Edwards, a CT scan of her bones to determine if the cancer has spread. Mr. Edwards accompanies her, though she sends him out to get lunch and to tape some footage for campaign commercials, while she waits for the liquid drink needed for the scan to get into her system. Her husband returns for the scan, and stands beside her as they both try to see if there are bigger or new dark spots on the film. The tests appeared to show no change in her cancer.

On the campaign trail, Mrs. Edwards shows no symptoms of the cancer’s recurrence or the treatment regime of a daily chemotherapy pill. She’s showing a slimmer version of herself — not from being sick but from a year of calorie counting. In her effort to stay healthy and lose weight, the campaign vehicle is stocked with green peppers, bananas, raw almonds and bottled water for her. Down by 65 pounds, she recently sent out bags of old clothes in assorted sizes, some unknown, because “I had cut the sizes out of the biggest ones.”

Her first stop is a “house party” in Bedford, where more than 200 are packed in, and a bevy of TV crews are waiting. She starts by telling the crowd she believes her husband has the best answers for the country and will make the best president. Then she adds, “I have a lot of ways I could be spending my time. I believe this is not a waste of time. My commitment to this is complete.” Mrs. Edwards asks for questions. One man throws up his hand, “My biggest question is how are you feeling?” “I feel well, thank you,” answers Mrs. Edwards. The room erupts in cheers.

After her remarks, dozens of people push to talk with her and have their pictures taken with her. Some with tears in their eyes tell her about loved ones they’ve lost to cancer or children who died young. Others confide in her their own cancer treatment or details on promising new therapies. A woman on the West Coast whipped up her shirt to show Mrs. Edwards her breast-cancer scar. In the steamy room, Mrs. Edwards doesn’t shed her suit jacket though sweat is running down her beet-red face. Mrs. Edwards is hiding her swollen arm that’s filled with liquid from past cancer treatment on her lymph nodes.

Once back in the car to the next event, Mrs. Edwards puts her dripping-wet hair next to the air-conditioning vents, making an impromptu blow dryer. As she glances through the latest gifts, she grimaces. “Saint Elizabeth is too one-dimensional, and it’s really not me … I have to start cussing or something … People are just too darned nice to me since I’ve been sick.”

While she was campaigning in Kentucky recently, a woman grabbed Mrs. Edwards around the neck and declared: “In the name of Jesus Christ, remove this cancer from Elizabeth’s body.” “I don’t pray for my cancer,” Mrs. Edwards says, reflecting on that encounter. After her son’s death in a freak car accident, “I had to come to grips with a God who allows Wade to die, who doesn’t intervene … If I could have a prayer answered, it wouldn’t be for my cancer, it would be for Wade … but that wasn’t God’s will.”

Still Mrs. Edwards has her moments of doubt. When her sister Nancy visited a few weeks ago, the energetic campaigner broke down. “I don’t know that I’ll see Jack graduate from high school,” she cried. For now, Mrs. Edwards is ramping up her schedule. Over the summer with the children out of school, she plans to take them on the road with her. In the fall she will home-school them with the help of a tutor. Mrs. Edwards says she is already teaching them an important “life lesson: when something bad happens, you don’t give in.”

She says she will enthusiastically help her husband, despite cancer’s recurrence. “I try to make the best of it by translating interest in me into John’s campaign,” Mrs. Edwards says. “All it does is give me visibility — and that’s an opportunity I’d happily give up.” Then she’s off to give a speech, one that she wrote herself in a hotel room at 2:45 am the night before. She has carefully packed her bags, making sure she has her cancer drugs. “She isn’t letting cancer dominate her life,” says close friend and former campaign adviser Jennifer Palmieri. “But Elizabeth will never again have a carefree day.”

By Ruth Conniff         
The Progressive
July 21, 2007

Eizabeth Edwards is one of those rare creatures in politics — a real human being. As she campaigns for her husband, John Edwards, she is winning audiences with her warm, straight-shooting style. She keeps a frenetic schedule, even after the bad news about her breast cancer returning. In May, she spoke to reporters in Madison, Wisconsin, before delivering a speech to a bipartisan group of women in politics. Looking sharp and relaxed in a black pantsuit, she paused to comment wryly to a photographer crouched in front of her, “That is the worst possible angle for a woman, you know. You may take those pictures, but you may not run them.”

She dispatched questions about her decision to continue campaigning. “I don’t think people who have actually been through these situations are surprised that we would want to live our lives to the fullest, and not give up the things that are important to us,” she said. She tied her own diagnosis to the issue of health care generally, which remains people’s number-one concern on the campaign trail, she said. “It would be hard to be selfish, eating bon bons with my feet on an ottoman, clicking the remote,” rather than trying to do something about the “pain that is out there.” The campaign, she said, “is about the thousands of women who face the same diagnosis I face, but don’t have the same access to care. Giving up on campaigning, on trying to make a difference, would be like giving up on them.”

Aside from questions about her health, the topic she was pressed to address most was Hillary Clinton. Edwards talks a lot about breaking barriers as part of a generation of female attorneys who had to prove that women could do as well as the guys in previously all-male law firms. So now the delicate job of explaining why women should vote against her fellow barrier-breaking female attorney falls to her. As an advocate for women’s issues and women’s equal rights, how can she justify seeking votes for her husband, instead of the first likely female nominee for President? “In my opinion, the candidate who’s best for women in this race is my husband,” she said, citing his universal health care plan, his pledge to end poverty (a predominantly female problem, she reminded reporters), and his determination to fight for equal pay.

In her speech to the group Wisconsin Women in Government, Edwards made an interesting comment that could be interpreted as a sidelong swipe at Hillary. Speaking of Woodrow Wilson’s First Lady, Edith Wilson, who is sometimes called the United States’ first woman President because she filled in for her husband after he had a stroke, she noted, “She was against women voting.” It turned out, Edwards said, “what she wanted was not for women to have power, but for Edith Wilson to have power.”

In her book, Saving Graces, Edwards writes frankly about her grief after the death of her teenaged son, Wade; her decision, later in life, to have more children; her battle with breast cancer; and the communities of friends, well-wishers, and even an online support group of fellow sufferers who have sustained her. The book is heartbreaking in parts, and also unexpectedly funny — as when she talks about telling her young children, Jack and Emma Claire, about her cancer diagnosis:

“‘Mommy has a bump,’ I said. ‘And that bump is called cancer. Cancer is very bad, but I will get rid of the bump, and the cancer by taking really strong medicine.’ “They looked bored. Somber, but bored. Or maybe just bored. “‘And that medicine is so strong that it will make my hair fall out.’ “I think it cheered them up. ‘Your hair’s gonna fall out? All of it? When? Can I see?'”

As the daughter of a Navy reconnaissance pilot, Elizabeth Edwards spent her early childhood in Japan. She writes about being raised by a zany, outgoing father and a mother who, like other military wives, kept the family together not knowing how long a particular mission might last, or even if her husband would return. Elizabeth met John Edwards at UNC law school in Chapel Hill. They were married the Saturday after they took the bar exam, and she went on to work for the North Carolina attorney general’s office, and as a bankruptcy lawyer in Raleigh. After her son’s death in a car accident, she and her husband established the Wade Edwards Foundation, built a free computer lab for high school students in Raleigh, and set up a scholarship program in his name.

I flew to Washington, D.C., in mid-June to interview Edwards, who was there for a campaign event. We spoke for an hour over breakfast at the Westin hotel restaurant on Embassy Row. As we were talking, her daughter Cate stopped by to say goodbye. She is working at NPR for the summer and was on her way to the Supreme Court with Nina Totenberg, “to hear today’s assaults on the rights of working people in this country,” Elizabeth said dryly, after exchanging “I love you’s” with her daughter.

RUTH CONNIFF: How is your health, and how is campaigning going?
ELIZABETH EDWARDS: I don’t know what is coming down the line. I went to the doctor’s yesterday and she said, “How are you feeling?” and “Do you want me to put an end to your doing campaigning?” and I said no. But she’s watching for me, watching for signs of being tired, and emotional strain.
CONNIFF: Are you thinking you’ll continue?
EDWARDS: I’m still doing it. I never know what I’m doing a week from now. So, between now and next week, I’m campaigning. The week after that, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s on the schedule. Cate and Emma Claire and I are going to take a girls’ vacation sometime this summer, which will have nothing to do with campaigning, and I’ve charged Cate with figuring that out.
CONNIFF: Why do you think it’s important to keep on now?
EDWARDS: There’s no way to do this that doesn’t sound negative about the other candidates. And I don’t mean to because I think that they’re good people. But John has a set of things in which he believes, and those are the reasons he’s running. He really believes in those things: eliminating poverty, and really doing something about universal health care, and standing up to the President on the war, and going after the environment in a really aggressive way. The problem for me with the other candidates is I don’t know what it is that drives them. What is it they really believe in that makes them get up in the morning and want to do this? I should think the President has to be somebody who has that kind of vision outside themselves.
CONNIFF: What’s the answer for your husband?
EDWARDS: It’s the continuing inequity. We still have a middle class that lives on a razor blade. So sometimes when you say poverty, you neglect a large portion of the population about whom he’s deeply concerned. It’s the two-income trap. It’s more likely in America that your parents will file for bankruptcy than divorce. We think of divorce as so prevalent, but we all know that happens because somebody moves out of the house. But when bankruptcy happens, they stay there, they close up, and you don’t feel what’s going on. But what that means is we have all these families under stress, constantly. And then we have the people who are trying to get out of dire distress. You hear that thirty-seven million people in this country live in poverty, and fifteen million people — fifteen million — live in deep poverty, which is $7,800 for a family of three.
CONNIFF: It’s unimaginable.
EDWARDS: It is unimaginable. What do you hear these other people saying? Not one word. It’s fine to go give a speech on inequity. But I don’t for a minute think it’s what drives these other candidates. I don’t. Maybe it’s not a failure of their heart but a failure of their communication. But I know what drives John. So I know how he would lead. He would lead on the same things he talked about before he was running. And if people didn’t talk about it before, and they do talk about it while they are running, I’m not convinced they are going to do the same things.
CONNIFF: I read that you urged your husband to vote against the Iraq War initially. Is that true?
EDWARDS: That’s in [Bob] Shrum’s book. There are some broad outlines that are true, but the conversations were not accurate. The only time I actually remember expressing an opinion, we were sitting at our breakfast table and we had five people at the table. John is sitting here, I’m sitting here, someone from our staff who had been on Clinton’s staff in the National Security Council was here, someone high up in Clinton’s staff was here. That was the conversation. These people were telling him that all these reports were right, this is the same stuff Clinton was hearing, it was getting closer, we were talking about something that likely could be really imminent, all that kind of stuff. And my part of the conversation was simply, “What is the provocation?” I was just saying, no provocation, over and over. Which I guess is an argument against preventive war.
CONNIFF: John Edwards has since apologized for that vote. Did it seem like there was just too much political pressure at that time?
EDWARDS: No. He made an honest decision. And he doesn’t make this excuse for himself. He troubled over this. This was one of a series of conversations that he had, on information that he could gather. Mostly the anti-war cry was from people who weren’t hearing what he was hearing. And the resolution wasn’t really to go to war. The resolution, if you remember, was forcing Bush to go to the U.N. first. Of course, we expected him to actually listen to the U.N., which didn’t happen. The resolution was actually a slowing technique, so he felt like maybe it wasn’t ideal but I think he made a very difficult and good faith decision at the time.

But he doesn’t use that. You don’t hear him saying, “If I knew then what I know now” kind of stuff. He’s saying, “I made a mistake. I should have done more. I should have been more suspicious. I should have asked more questions.” Whatever was necessary to get to the right place. And having failed to do that, he takes responsibility for it.

And honestly, the other candidates? Obama gives a speech that’s likely to be extraordinarily popular in his home district, and then comes to the Senate and votes for funding. John, the first time funding came up, he was already suspicious. What he said was we’ve got two issues, one is the information and the other is not trusting your President. And he gave plenty of speeches at the time saying, “I’m not voting for the $87 billion because he has no plan.” You’ve got to do that for the men and women who are there: You’ve got to have a plan. And he didn’t vote for the $87 billion, and never voted for any dedicated funding. So you are going to get people behaving in a holier-than-thou way. But John stood up when he was in the Senate for exactly the thing he’s asking these people to stand up for now.

Now Hillary, I don’t know what Hillary’s objection is. She, even in the New Hampshire debate, said, “I made a mistake.” People are looking for a mea culpa from her. And when she buries a line like that  —  I give her credit for saying that — but when she buries that line. … We’re electing the leader of the free world, and just like the votes on this last funding bill, we’re looking for a leader. They are very important leaders in the Senate. And we got thirteen votes on this last bill? Could they have influenced a few more votes? Probably not enough, but they should have been out there trying. They should have been making speeches about why it was they were doing this, and standing up and trying to rally. And they didn’t. They weren’t leaders. The point isn’t, “I got here first or I got here last.” The point is, in this moment, are you a leader? CONNIFF: Is there a split between “new Democrats” and progressives, or what Paul Wellstone used to call “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party?”
EDWARDS: John gave a speech at the DNC meeting saying we don’t need to reinvent our party; we just need to remember who we are. And who we are is the party of working people, including people who want to work and can’t, people who have worked and are trying to retire. That’s who we are and have always been. Sometimes we need to be reminded of that. It’s easy to get misled with the DLC mantra “love the worker, love the employer.” The employers can pretty much take care of themselves. So as a party our job is to give voice to those people who don’t have a powerful voice. Unless that translates into votes or contributions, it turns out a lot of Democrats just ignore those people. They use language about working class people, but they are not out there with them. They use language about the immorality of poverty, but they are not out there. They generally support unions, but they are not walking picket lines. And so the difference it seems to me is not between old and new Democrats but between actual Democrats and rhetorical Democrats.

Sometimes it seems we have these beliefs but it turns out it’s like a Hollywood set: It’s all façade and there’s no guts behind it. You listen to the language of what people say, particularly Obama, who seems to be using a lot of John’s 2004 language, which is maybe not surprising since one of his speechwriters was one of our speechwriters, his media guy was our media guy. These people know John’s mantra as well as anybody could know it. They’ve moved from “hope is on the way” to “the audacity of hope.” I’m constantly hearing things in a familiar tone.
CONNIFF: Your husband’s “hope is on the way” convention speech sticks in my mind: the mother sitting at the table, worrying about her son in Iraq. Did you have anything to do with that, coming from a military family yourself?
EDWARDS: The one thing that I remember having made a contribution to in that speech was the child who gets a letter of acceptance to college and puts it in a drawer because he knows his family can’t afford it. It’s the way John thinks, and it’s actually the way I think, too, which is, not thinking in high-flying rhetoric, but thinking in picture stories. I’m not generally very critical of the Kerry campaign, because there’s not one little thing that could have made all the difference — there’s not. But it’s really important to take these facts that affect people’s lives and put them in terms that can reach them.
CONNIFF: Are you seeing people who are under the strain of poverty as you campaign?
EDWARDS: I see them as I campaign. But often they are not the people you see in your crowd. They are the people waiting on tables. Whenever I do something, I always go around and speak to the people who are working at events. It’s another imperative about speaking out for these people. Because they have complicated lives.

And I see them where I live, in Chapel Hill. It is a place of haves and have-nots. Between where I pick my kids up and where I drop them off for school there are a lot of apartments, very cheap apartments, and on that section of road, most everybody walks to work. They are walking on the side of the highway. They’ll walk with their groceries; they’ll walk with their laundry. And they’ll walk to work.

Think about what your day would be like if you did that. How long your day would be. You wouldn’t be watching Meet the Press. You wouldn’t be going to a political rally. You wouldn’t. You couldn’t. You don’t have the luxury of that time. They really depend on us. And chances are they won’t also be voting. Chances are if they are going to have a voice, we are also going to be the ones who are speaking for them. I see them every day. Where I live, it’s impossible to forget about people who live in poverty.
CONNIFF: You answered a question in Wisconsin about your personal wealth — how can you and John Edwards be the voice of people in poverty when you have so much wealth? You talked about your husband not coming from money, and not wanting to pull the ladder up behind him.
EDWARDS: It’s really a case of that. There are a couple of rungs at the bottom, but then there’s this huge section. Affording college is one of them. In the part of eastern North Carolina where John did “college for everyone,” 15% to 25% of kids went on to college — mostly to community college. Now 70% go. Twenty-four out of the top twenty-five paying jobs require a college education. So if they don’t go, they don’t get the jobs. And that rung is gone.
CONNIFF: On universal health care, I know your husband has a comprehensive plan. But why not single payer?
EDWARDS: Well, it has a single-payer component — Medicare Plus. John thinks that he can get this bill passed immediately. This is one of those first 100 days bills. The insurance companies still have a market on this. We saw before if we move straight to single payer they will do everything in their power to block it. What happens with this, though, because there is a single-payer option people can take, and because they have so much less overhead, maybe they are providing better services for your money. We expect over time there will be a general move toward Medicare Plus. They can fight Congress, but it’s really hard to fight every consumer’s individual choice. And the competition from the private insurers might drive Medicare Plus to become more innovative, too.
CONNIFF: What are you hearing from people about your own struggle with cancer?
EDWARDS: I gave a speech in Cleveland, and a woman leaned over to me and said, “I’m really afraid, I have a lump in my breast. I can’t go to the doctor. I have no insurance.” And then she disappeared. I went to speak at a Lance Armstrong summit several months ago. Afterwards, a very pretty young woman who graduated in English education told me that she didn’t have enough to pay for health insurance and she didn’t qualify [for Medicaid], so basically she had to strip herself of all of her assets so she could get treatment for her breast cancer. People are going through that, or they are living with a death sentence. My experience has taught me the importance of doing something.

Hillary is saying we need to develop a political will. She hasn’t been talking to people if she thinks we need to develop it. We do not. There is consensus on this issue. And Senator Obama — I’m glad he has a plan. I don’t know why it took six months, but I’m glad he has a plan now. It doesn’t cover fifteen million people. If you’re one of those fifteen million, it’s not universal for you. The fact that he says he’ll fix it later, that’s not the kind of bold response we need on a problem that is this important to America.
CONNIFF: What gives you the strength to carry on?
EDWARDS: Well, I guess there are a couple of things. One is that it gives you back more than you give to it, honestly. Traveling and stuff, that’s a pain. But when you actually go to things and talk to people you get a lot more back from it than you ever put in. So it energizes you. The other thing is it’s good medicine for me not to sit around and think about myself but instead to think about the world that our younger children are inheriting. To think about the woman in Cleveland and the other people I’ve met out campaigning, and my complete conviction that nobody else cares about them the way John does, so nobody else is going to commit to them the way that he is going to commit to them. It makes it easy.

RUTH CONNIFF is the political editor of The Progressive.

By Joni Balter            
Seattle Times Editorial Columnist
March 29, 2007

You had to see the facial expressions and composure of former Sen. John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, at the televised press conference or on the “60 Minutes” interview to get the full sense of it. They looked so calm, so self-assured, so resolute facing the tough days that lie ahead. The double announcement by the couple that she has treatable, but incurable, cancer and that he — they — will press ahead with the presidential campaign is a story that makes everyone stop and think. The Edwardses look so reasonable and peaceful. The rest of us, by contrast, are jittery, opinionated and, let’s get real, uncomfortable.

I had a first reaction and a second reaction, and who cares anyway? How can any of us judge if we don’t really know the burden they carry? And that exactly is the point. My first reaction was to identify with Elizabeth, to worry about her airing her personal medical information before the nation. Isn’t this just too personal? Aren’t her mammograms, blood tests and other medical maneuverings truly private — none of anyone’s business? How can she bear it?

Then my views began to evolve after I heard a woman caller to a local radio talk show who made more sense than anyone. This caller said she is a cancer survivor who lives in the Puget Sound area. She had been given limited time to live years ago and is still going strong. She said she respected the Edwardses’ decision because — and come on, this is obvious, but few of us see it right away – it is their own family. Exactly. Every family has to find their own way to cope with difficult stuff.

Every family has to get through the end of life, however long that may be, the only way they know how. That’s what I kept telling myself when my own father was dying. Everyone had an opinion. You learn not to care too much about how anyone else would do it.

When I read the blog “On Balance” by Leslie Morgan Steiner on washingtonpost.com, I about plotzed — Yiddish for “to fall down from extreme excitement or abhorrence.” After saying nice things about Elizabeth Edwards, Morgan Steiner wrote, “If I found out I were dying, I’d want to spend every second I had with my children and husband. And I’d surely hope he felt the same way about me. … Because I’m human, like all women, like Elizabeth Edwards. If I were sick, I’d want my husband to take care of me, to make sure I had as much time as possible for myself, our children, life.”

That is all well and good for her. But why can’t she and many others understand how personal this decision is. The plan has to fit the family. Maybe Elizabeth Edwards really means it when she says she is living the life she chose. Yes, that includes a grueling presidential campaign. To stop the campaign, for her, is tantamount to giving in to the cancer. To call off her husband’s bid for the presidency, for her, is the same as going home to begin dying. She doesn’t want to do that. She wants to live her time remaining the way she is currently living.

She believes the nation needs her husband. She doesn’t want the compounded guilt of having to leave the world earlier than expected, and all that entails for her husband and children, and to interrupt her husband’s presidential career. Who can’t relate to that? Everyone knows they can handle some things, while other things are just too much to accept.

At some point, we have to take this brave woman at her word. She wants her life to go as long as it possibly can. Ask the number of cancer survivors who beat estimates of the years they had left. Often, their forward-looking approach fueled them, too. As for any cynical calculus for John Edwards’ presidential fortunes, it’s too early in the ridiculously long campaign for this to be positive or negative. It depends on how sick she gets. He has answered difficult and intrusive questions so far with an aplomb and smoothness many politicians would like to have.

Some men, particularly conservatives, are also unnerved by his behavior. They think they know what they would do, but do they really know until they face a similar situation?. Half these guys are jealous that Edwards is the Ponce de Leon of the presidential campaign. He is the fountain-of-youth candidate who, inexplicably, seems to appear younger every year. But Edwards has a heft many men and women lack. He has endured the death of a teenage son and seems calm and serene in the face of a new tragedy. Of course, he must be chewed up inside, scared and worried.

It doesn’t matter what you or I would do. What matters is that we get over our own discomfort and find a way to respect the decision this couple has made – the life, and over time, the death they have chosen to face.

JONI BALTER’S  column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Seattle Times