Huffpost Media

That Other Outspoken Spouse: Elizabeth Edwards

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There's been much ado about Bill Clinton's meddlesome ways on the campaign trail — shooting off his mouth about how he was against the Iraq war from the beginning, waxing a little too vigorous on Charlie Rose as helpless aides desperately tried to end the interview, trying to wrest the spotlight from his suddenly-more-newsworthy wife. It's a narrative the media loves (right Maureen Dowd?) — but it turns out he's not the only spouse taking pride of place on the campaign trail. CBS' Chip Reid wrote from the campaign trail, where he recently spent ten days covering John Edwards and had this to say about his wife Elizabeth's engagement in his campaign:

The first time I saw Elizabeth Edwards get out of her chair, walk across the stage, and put her hand out for the microphone when her husband was in the middle of answering a question from the audience (and he happily gave it to her!) I was amazed. The next time, I was amused ... and the time after that, and the time after that, and on and on. It's like tag team wrestling — only, Elizabeth says, less choreographed. She jumps in primarily on health care questions, sharing her experience with incurable, but treatable, cancer. She told me her goal is to take what he says and "put it into language they'll understand in the carpool lane."

He occasionally feigns exasperation when she grabs the microphone, but he told me he loves it — even when she tells the audience she doesn't entirely agree with him on an issue. After one of these joint appearances a group of women about Elizabeth's age told me they like him ... but they LOVE her.

Wow. She just reaches out for his mike? Just imagine the reaction if Bill did that to Hillary! (Or if Michelle Obama had done that to Oprah!) Elizabeth Edwards has always been outspoken — recall her support of gay marriage contra to her husband's position, as well as her assertion that he'd be better for women than Hillary Clinton. — but there hasn't been much talk of her lately so it's nice to hear that she is around and actively engaging (the other day on "Morning Joe" Edwards assured Mika Brzezinski when she asked that yes, Elizabeth was in fine health). Melinda Hennenberger delved into the perception of Elizabeth over at Slate a few days ago, making precisely that observation: That she remains beloved for behavior that other presidential spouses simply could not get away with (see: Michelle Obama being nominated for a "chutzpah" award on "The Chris Matthews Show" yesterday morn for saying that she was always right). Elizabeth obviously thinks she's right, too — that's why she's piping up all the time — but with her, it's forgiven. Hennenberger calls Edwards "her husband's ultimate character reference." Just as Howard Kurtz noted about the candidates (specifically Hillary), it would seem that the spouses are viewed differently as well. (If you doubt it, repeat the above thought experiment with Jeri Thompson as mike-grabber...and then with Judi Nathan.)

It's hard to compete with Bill Clinton, of course, or Michelle Obama when she's next to Oprah, but Reid's piece brought home how little Elizabeth we've seen lately through the eyes of the media. Sure, her return to the campaign trail after a month's absence was duly noted, but not unduly noted — as, say, Bill Clinton's always is. Perhaps it is because of her illness, and no one wants to spend too much time dwelling on how much time she's logging on the trail, or whether she's in the the audience at every debate. Or maybe the media doesn't want to look too hard. Or, it could simply be that she hasn't made a misstep — or done anything that has been perceived as one. Either way, it's just another reminder of all the moving parts in this campaign — all the parts that exist that will all coalesce to make a candidate appeal — or not appeal — to voters in this all-important upcoming primary. In Iowa, where it seems anything could tip the balance these days, it doesn't hurt to have an ace in the hole...or at the mike.

Photo of John and Elizabeth Edwards top left from KRUUM FM. Wedding photo below from the Reid Report. Hat tip for the Reid piece to Ben Smith, on whose blog I first espied it.