The Corner

Affair Timing

Excuse me, but I fail to see how it was better, morally or in terms of the specific degree of John Edwards’ sbetrayal of his wife, if he did it while her cancer was in remission. What, she got through the scary death sentence part, so now it’s okay to cheat? As I recall, the Edwards campaign let it be known that they discovered that the cancer had returned in the course of marital relations. (It was TMI then, too.) So, if she’s in remission and they have resumed their intimate life, then all bets are off and cheating is now okay? In this case, timing is not everything.

While we are on this subject, one reason that the story was so fascinating to begin with was that the Edwards were sold as “soulmates and true partners.” Elizabeth took Hillary to task for not having as much joy in her personal life as she did. And that may be true, but the point is that we know what the main source of Hillary’s personal misery was. Now we must wonder how deluded Elizabeth was.

When Elizabeth, facing death, chose to go on campaigning in her husband’s quest for the presidency, some people (like me) thought that it was ignoble of her husband to put her through that when time was so precious. A wife who loved her husband might be inclined to selflessness that worked against her own prospects for longer life. A good husband would sacrifice this round of his grab for power for the wife he loved. Other people, some of whom I respect, were adamant that she was choosing to “go on living,” and “this is what political people do.” Stopping the campaign out of respect for his wife’s declining health would be “letting the cancer win,” in this worldview. Campaigning for John was Elizabeth’s way of defying the awful illness.

Interpretations of behavior vary, and it is often unclear which is correct. But I think it is now clear that one member of the couple might have been selfless, but the other was exploitative. And the thing I can think of that is worse than having a (flagrant, ongoing) affair while your wife is dying — regardless of love or issue — is encouraging her to go on working hard to get you elected to the presidency, when the cost is so high. She might better have been home with those children that brought her joy.

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