There isn't any recent political figure I can say with honesty I have followed as closely in the past several years as I have followed John Edwards' campaign.
Perhaps it was the grave situation the country was in December 2006 and still is in (far worse now), that spurred me to notice Edwards' candidacy. He correctly addressed the tragic and cruel treatment of New Orleans' citizens effected by Katrina. He appeared to recognize the growing gap between the rich and the poor and he championed the working class with the message of taking back our country from the hands of corporate abuse and uncontrolled excess.
Whatever ideas, facts or circumstances were at play, in many ways, supporters of Edwards, like myself, early on put ourselves out on a limb for the man and his message. We wrote letters to the editor to support his candidacy when superficial put-downs about his appearance and house surfaced in news articles undermining the issues at stake. We donated our money, at times low sums of just $15, $10 or $5. We donated our time to volunteer in Iowa for the best chance of Edwards winning the Iowa caucuses. We fought the good fight with him.
And with Elizabeth Edwards it was no different. Because of the intelligence and grace she showed both on camera and off in conversation and debate she became broadly admired by many, including those that didn't support her husband as a candidate.
Genuine was always the word used. I talked with Elizabeth one Sunday morning in November 2007, nervous as could be that some technical glitch would ruin my phone interview with the next potential first lady. She had responded to a post of mine and on a whim I sent her an email asking to speak with her on homeschooling and education since I knew that her children were at the time being home schooled, as are mine.
I emailed her and less than an hour later, she responded saying she's be happy to do it. We arranged a time for the weekend and I spent the next several days coming up with the questions. So, there I was, my husband and kids out for the morning to breakfast to give me some space and quiet, waiting for my cellphone to ring in our 2 bedroom apartment overlooking a TV shop, wondering if she'd have to cancel and I'd get a call from her assistant or more likely an email. But, instead the phone rang. I answered and heard her voice say "Christine? Elizabeth Edwards..."
We talked for about 40 minutes, cut off here and there by a dropped line that Elizabeth said apologetically was due to notoriously bad cell phone service in New Hampshire where she was traveling by van as we spoke. She was just as everyone had said she was: genuine.
Meeting John was no different. I shook his hand and had a picture with him in Chicago at a fundraiser in June of that year. Two months later I began covering the campaign for Off the Bus when I saw him again at the AFL-CIO candidate forum in Chicago in August. Later that fall, I drove, husband and kids in tow, to Madison, Wisconsin, to cover another Edwards event and for my son to meet him in person.
Finally, in Iowa, covering the lead up to the Iowa caucuses, I witnessed the final hours of the Edwards' 36 hour marathon the day before the caucuses. In a small packed coffee shop in Iowa City, John rallied his supporters. Afterward, I met Elizabeth finally in person and marveled that she recalled our interview.
We voted for him when he remained on the ballot even as he had dropped out suddenly days before the February 5 primaries. We kept his message in earshot of the policy makers and pundits who shape the election debate and law of the land. We rallied to his aide against allegations of the affair last fall and again recently only to suffer bitter disappointment as in January all over again only this time on a much deeper level.
My husband asked the other day what I think of the Cubs when they're winning and I told him I don't expect much, but every once in a while I'm still thrilled. He theorized correctly that for long-time Cub fans and Chicagoans the expectation is always for losses. Truly this is no different in politics especially during election season.
Perhaps the buffer of time will ease the anger and resentment felt by those most receptive to the Edwards' political efforts. While the Rielle Hunter affair remains a personal matter for Edwards and his family, the dishonest handling of Edwards' campaign encompassed thousands of voters, campaign staff, volunteers and ordinary citizens.
The game of U.S. politics has always been played with the front of morality. Appeals to puritanical, nuclear families and "small-town values" still form the basis of modern campaign strategy. Beer-drinking, biker rallying, hunting candidates try to pretend: "Look, I'm just like you!" and most often they fail embarrassingly with their attempts.
But, every once in a while their antics are almost believable and we see them as one of us. On election night in 2004, it was Edwards who told the anxious crowd of voters in Boston at 2:30 a.m. as votes were being counted, "We've waited four years for this victory, we can wait one more night," before John Kerry conceded the election to George W. Bush after sunrise. Edwards' words were just what we wanted to hear at a time like that.
But, therein lies the irony of the Edwards' affair. As he's said so himself before, "I'm human, like everybody else." And despite the fact we'd like to pretend otherwise, humans can never escape being miserably flawed.
Follow Christine Escobar on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greenparentchgo