Like everyone else, we were sad to read of her death. But I had a nagging problem with the hagiographies written about her. But I didn’t want to write that, not on the day of her death. I wouldn’t have written anything at all had I not looked up the source of my doubts—her portrayal in Game Change, the story of the 2008 presidential campaign.
What I learned made her more human, less saintly, and her passing more personal to me:
Some of Elizabeth Edwards’s closest aides would like to respond to the relentlessly negative portrait of her that emerges from a new book on the 2008 campaign.
They say it’s all true.
But they would also like readers of the book to consider something else: If you had to go through what she did, how would you have acted?
Edwards, who has read “Game Change” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, takes issue with just one part of the book, which she remembers differently. If she did, in fact, threaten to cut off health insurance to her husband’s 2008 campaign staff if her family didn’t get it first, she told POLITICO through her allies, her behavior was “inexcusable. “
“She’d be the first to tell you she’s opinionated, blunt and difficult,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a confidante of Edwards who served as spokesman for John Edwards’s presidential campaign.
“No one would laugh more than her at the notion of ‘Saint Elizabeth.’”
By all accounts she was a brilliant lawyer; more so than her no-good husband. But she also relished her role as a mother—hence the two “litters” she and John had (two children born around 1980, two born around 2000).
Imagine the betrayal, then, that played out so publicly in 2008:
During the campaign and its aftermath, Edwards learned that she has incurable cancer, while confronting the reality of an unfaithful and lying husband, a broken marriage and a child borne by her husband’s mistress. The string of psychological blows was so enormous it wasn’t until just recently that Edwards could finally absorb and accept them all, according to these friends.
“I would hate to be judged by how I would respond during that time under similar circumstances,” said John Moylan, the campaign’s South Carolina state director. “Elizabeth is a real person. It’s a mistake to miss that on either end of the spectrum.”
The shattered image of Elizabeth Edwards is one of the most revelatory parts of “Game Change,” and the passages are among the most difficult to read: Seething through the telephone as she tells a long-time aide he’s dead to her; haranguing her husband in cars, hotel rooms and in an airport parking lot where, incoherent and inconsolable, she tears open her blouse to expose the effects of her cancer and screams, “Look at me!”
“I think, sadly, the gist of what they describe is what happened. But I don’t know that they set out to portray this as the sum total of her,” said Palmieri.
“The real Elizabeth is both sides of the person people know. She’s intelligent, warm and incredibly thoughtful,” said Jentleson, who remembers that during the 2004 campaign, she spontaneously offered him the family’s kitchen table after learning he’d moved into his first apartment.
“But she’s the first to admit that she’s opinionated and she has a temper. Those of us who have known her for a long time experienced both of those. If you only saw the good stuff, the bad stuff is shocking,” he added.
Andrea Purse, a press aide, was among those who stayed through the bitter end, largely because of her loyalty to Elizabeth Edwards.
“The reason people on the road loved her was because she’s so honest and she doesn’t watch every word,” she said. “If maybe that led her, in a tough situation, to become emotional, well, that’s why her friends love her. She is who she is, and she doesn’t make apologies for feeling things.”
I don’t know any saints, so the passing of one doesn’t move me much. Anyway, if they’re true saints, they’re going to a better place.
But I know people who’ve had cancer, and I know people who’ve died from it, and I know women betrayed by a**holic men.
She suffered all that in the pages of the National Enquirer, and understandably lashed out on occasions. Like a human being raging at they dying of the light. So I am truly sorry for her death.