Friday, August 15, 2008

A Year Ago, In Iowa With the Edwards'

What a difference a year makes. A year ago this weekend, I got on a plane with a couple of others from Georgia, and headed to Iowa to be part of John Edwards' Fighting for One America Iowa Bus Tour. John Edwards, who had never really stopped running for President since 2004, who never really left Iowa, was ahead in the polls there as we departed. Despite recent revelations, the trip remains one of the single coolest political things I have ever done, in part because of the people I met, from all over the country, who were committed not simply to John and Elizabeth, but to the populist message they carried, a message I hope will not fall victim to the mistakes of the messenger.

We trailed the campaign bus, attended events-large and small, on courthouse lawns, in union halls and at the State Fair. We also heard the other candidates in joint forums, including one of the early debates at Drake University. I met Chris Dodd in the bar of the Hotel Fort Des Moines one night and Hillary Clinton in the lobby the next morning. It was a very cool trip, but the memories now are bittersweet and have an entirely new frame.

At dinner, on the first night of the trip, Elizabeth read to us an excerpt from the new chapter of her book, Saving Graces. (The autographed copy of the paperback she gave us that night is still sitting on my foyer table.) John was there, too. He listened intently, never breaking eye contact with her as she read. She chose to read the section describing that when she was in the hospital, getting the news that there was a recurrence of the cancer, John proposed to her again right there in the hospital room-a real proposal. As a result, a real wedding, a reaffirmation of their vows, happened at their home earlier that summer. There was not a dry eye in the room when she finished reading, and it was then I decided that she must be made of steel. Even so, I had no idea of the pain she was actually carrying, and no idea the context and import of John's proposal-and her response. Now I know she's made of steel, but like all of us, has feet of clay.

I tell that story because the hardest part of this situation for me, and for many others I have spoken to, is reconciling Elizabeth's role. Many of us, not so secretly, like her more than him, supported him because she did and believed in him because she did. I don't know why she supported the campaign continuing, but I suspect it was because she believed in the issues they were putting forward. I do know that none of us can know what it was like to be in her shoes. The bottom line is that Elizabeth Edwards is still who she always was-strong, smart, determined and battle-tested, and we need her voice on the issues she cares so deeply about.

As much as I disagree with their decisions-her's, too-to run and continue to run for President, relying on this story never breaking, and never telling any of us who were the front line foot soldiers in their campaign, I completely get, and respect, Elizabeth's decision to try to heal her marriage, keep her family together and work toward forgiving her husband. I also think that absent the presidential campaign, her choice is none of our business. I work with couples every single day who are surviving affairs. Most people who are having an affair never thought they would do such a thing. So, if you're one of the folks tsking your tongue and pointing a finger, remember-you are not immune.

It's easy, in this 24-7 news, reality television world, to think of people in black and white terms-all good or all bad. The truth is, we're all a mixed bag, and really fine people-really talented, sincere, good people-sometimes make the most awful, tragic decisions, and everyone pays a price. As Edwards' friend Mudcat Saunders said, "He's a good boy. He just made a hell of a mistake." I suspect that's about right. Sometimes, the wounded are the best healers, and Elizabeth Edwards is a powerful messenger, especially regarding health care. Here's hoping that her voice is not a causality of his mistake. We need her in the public square.

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Don Thieme said...

I admire you for your active participation in the campaign, regardless of how this all turns out. The cause that Elizabeth and John advocated, universal healthcare, will live on to see another campaign. I doubt that is going to happen in the next four years whatever happens now.

Emma said...

Nicely written, Amy - and true, too. John was my first choice for President, above Hillary and Obama, and it is very difficult to feel so disillusioned by his behaviors, and so confused over Elizabeth's choices.

On the other hand, I tire of the Republican joy at the situation, given the sexual piccadilloes of members of their party.

I think this, at least, is a Calgon moment.

Amy Morton said...

Thanks, to you both. Maybe our democratric process really did work. He is not, in fact our nominee, after all.