I’ve been thinking really hard about Jay’s points from his piece yesterday. His argument initially struck me as interesting — even a good point — because it was so different than almost any other piece I’d read after the announcement; it was largely an examination of the baldly political consequences rather than a reaction to the press conference itself.
As a piece of punditry, his point may yet stand: Over time, voters may react negatively to image of a man pursuing the presidency as his wife struggles with an incurable disease. But whether or not that is the image they see is another question, and that creation of that image largely depends on how we in the media frame the Edwards’ decision. Specifically, such an image will emerge if we depict that choice as Jay did: as a man — John Edwards — torn between “his duties as husband and father to three children, including a 6 and 8 year old” and “his duty to his country and the cause of winning the White House.”
First of all, this framework presents what might be — in the eyes of both John and Elizabeth — a false choice. From all they’ve told us, the Edwards family sees those duties (as husband, as father, as candidate), as overlapping. Surely, one reason John Edwards is running for president because he wants to be a part of creating a better world for his family. Which brings us to the second problem: The decision to keep the campaign going was not John Edwards’ alone to make. (And I find the presumption that it could be startlingly archaic.) John may find himself pulled to simply concentrate on his family, but I think Elizabeth would push back. I think she already has.
Does it seem selfish that he continues to run? Think about it this way: Your doctor gives you a year to live. Of course you decide to pursue the things in life you either put off or gave up on. You follow your dreams, as they say. You sail around the world. You read the Bible in Aramaic. You reconcile with a family member. For Elizabeth Edwards, the answer to the “what would you do if you only had a year to live” question is simple: Get my husband elected President.
Is that decision selfish, given that the couple has two small children? I can’t say — and I’m not sure if anyone who doesn’t know the family can — but I don’t think it’s a question with a standard answer. The family already has been through two grueling campaigns, so I think they know what lies ahead in that realm. No one knows how Elizabeth’s treatment will affect their lives beyond that. Her children might see more of her than they would under normal campaign circumstances. And, more important, if the campaign continues, they’ll see her pursuing her dream. That may not be the decision you’d make in the same circumstances — and the Edwards’ decision may chance as their circumstances do — but let’s hope you never have to.
A FINAL THOUGHT: I don’t think I’m the only one to notice that some of the most moving and sympathetic responses to the Edwards news on the Right have been from people who have been through a similar experience — either as patient or a family member. See Jonah Goldberg, Andrew Sullivan, and — I’ll admit this one surprised me — Dean Barnett.
UPDATE: The Barnett link is fixed. Also, to answer a commenter’s observation that Elizabeth might well have more than a year to live: Yes, they’ve said as much and I don’t doubt that figured into the decision. The “year to live” example was simply to illustrate that following one’s heart — what any individual decides they want to leave as their legacy — encompasses all kinds of choices.