Sunday, May 17, 2009

Why Did Elizabeth Edwards Write That Book?

When the news last year came out about former presidential candidate John Edwards’ affair, many people were shocked but more were feeling terrible for his wife Elizabeth who is fighting incurable cancer. For as bad as cheating on ones wife is, the thought of him doing this to a wife who was so sick made the act even more reprehensible in the eyes of many. Many said that he should never again be considered for public office. I argued in a previous posting Can We Give John Edwards a Break? that others such as Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain (while married to his first wife) had extramarital affairs without any apparent damage to their political careers.

But having said the above, this was all about more than just John Edwards’ lack of judgment in having the affair. It was also about the way it was covered up in the middle of a presidential campaign. Did John, along with Elizabeth after she found out about the affair really think that the affair would not be uncovered and made public later when the revelations could be even more damaging?

In a Time article, Elizabeth Edwards: How I Survived John's Affair
Elizabeth explains in this excerpt from her recently released book, Resilience which she has been discussing on the media circuit, most notably on Oprah.

I wanted him to drop out of the race, protect our family from this woman, from his act. 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, but I was afraid of her. And now he knows I was right to be afraid, that once he had made this dreadful mistake, he should not have run. But just then he was doing, I believe, what I was trying to do: hold on to our lives despite this awful error in judgment.

So if we are to believe her words, John should take far more of the blame for their staying in the race after the disclosure of his infidelity to her.

But this takes us to perhaps the most pertinent question — why would she want to dredge this all up again through a book along with all of the pubic appearances to promote it? And was it ethical to subject her children to this all over again?

Randy Cohen did an in-depth exploration of the ethics surrounding the book in an interesting New York Times blog article Elizabeth Edwards Goes Public which overall was not very sympathetic to her.

She errs by her own standards. In December 2006, when Elizabeth learned about her husband John’s affair, she kept mum about it and continued to work for his presidential campaign in order to protect her children from the tumult she feared would accompany the withdrawal of her support. She reiterated her motive in her book and to Oprah. Surely resurrecting the entire episode will subject her youngest children, now 8 and 11 years old, to just the buffeting she purports to disdain.

So what was her true motive for writing the book? For the money? Certainly this book will make her a lot of money. But she and John are already fabulously wealthy. Was it revenge? Quite possibly. She obviously still shows some bitterness about the affair in her interviews.

Since we have all been speculating on what really went on between her and John, it is plausible that she simply took advantage of an opportunity to tell her side of the story and put it on the record. What complicates things is her incurable cancer. If she had chosen to wait, her health may well have deteriorated to where she would have been no longer able to write the book. But a reasonable alternative suggested by Cohen would have been to write the book now and then delay releasing it until the children are older.

But the pressure from prospective publishers (who most certainly are in it for the money) to get this book out as soon as possible while this is still on people’s minds can’t be underestimated. And then there is the sleaze factor around the affair which the publisher seems to be using to push the book.

At the time of this posting, I have not yet had a chance to read the book. But from the reviews, it appears that much of Resilience deals with past tragedies which were already written about in a previous memoir,
Saving Graces. Despite the affair only being a small part of the book, it is obvious that this sleaze factor is a prominent part of driving interest and sales of the book. I can’t help but ask — is this something for which we should blame Elizabeth, the publisher, or maybe both?

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