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Jane Podesta

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Elizabeth Edwards Can't Have It Both Ways

Posted: 05/20/09 06:32 PM ET

After the disastrous book tour launch of her confessional Resilience, Elizabeth Edwards isn't going quietly into the night. Now her misguided publicists are telling the media that Edwards won't grant any interviews with reporters who mention the name of John Edwards' one-time mistress -- Rielle Hunter.

Maybe that tactic works with Angelina Jolie in empty-headed interviews about her latest refugee mission, but Edwards used to understand that professional journalists wouldn't allow her to dictate their questions. She isn't a Hollywood celeb but the wife of a one-time presidential candidate who still owes his followers some answers. Most reporters are refusing to go along.

Edwards can't have it both ways -- insisting that she won't sit back as the passive political wife and disappear, while cashing in on her family's personal crisis. Where were the fawning political handlers who once surrounded this couple, when she agreed to head off to promote this book? And what happened to the old Elizabeth Edwards who wasn't afraid to answer any question hurled at her on the campaign trail?

Watching Elizabeth Edwards in freefall -- pandering to chirpy Oprah and CNN's reptilian Larry King -- has been especially painful for me as a reporter who covered her closely for years. I interviewed Elizabeth Edwards shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and in those days she waxed poetic, quoting Emily Dickenson: "Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul." Edwards added," I've thought about that a lot lately. It's just a part of our nature to hope."

That night as I walked out of the Edwards' Georgetown townhouse with a photographer, Elizabeth was hovering over her two young children making dinner in the kitchen and John stood nearby looking bruised from their crushing defeat in 2004. "It wasn't supposed to end this way," said the photographer, as we stood in the dark rushing to crash out an exclusive cover story for People Magazine.

Flash forward nearly five years and we find Elizabeth making the rounds promoting a shallow book that only briefly touches on her husband's humiliating affair. From the voyeuristic TV interviews exploiting Edwards, viewers might imagine the book is a riveting look inside a troubled marriage. Turns out this is largely a rewrite of her earlier memoir -- Saving Graces -- but this time she mentions her poor mother's fear that her Navy pilot father had an affair at the Willard Hotel -- something that haunted Elizabeth throughout her life. She relives the awful tragedy of losing her oldest son, Wade, a wound that never healed.

Without ever naming the mistress, Hunter (aka the Huntress), Edwards only briefly recounts how the dopey would-be filmmaker told John Edwards "You're hot" as he struggled to find his footing in a second run for the presidency. Like so many others, I wondered why the tireless Elizabeth Edwards -- always ready to break into song on the press bus and travel with her young kids -- suddenly disappeared from the campaign. And there was something far less passionate about John Edwards on the stump -- the light was gone and his moment past.

When Elizabeth should have been addressing the Democratic National Convention last summer, she was in seclusion in North Carolina pounding away at the computer writing the book. She should have been in deep counseling trying to figure out how to reconstruct her own blown-up life. Hubby had taken her down with him, by remaining in the race with that looming affair in the shadows. Maybe she wants to continue punishing John Edwards -- and the rest of the country by default -- for straying.

As NYT columnist Maureen Dowd fumed, "She had put so many quarters in the shiny slot machine of their mutual ambition. It was hard to walk away." With that same headstrong ambition, Elizabeth is still determined to choreograph the ending to her own play. As she writes in Resilience, "We so desperately want a map that lays out in serene pastels the paths our lives are supposed to take that we create them, we gravitate to them, we embrace and internalize them, all to no good end....In my life the map has almost always been wrong."

But what about the kids? Why would Elizabeth Edwards allow her young daughter Emma Claire to wander with Oprah through the new 28,200-square-foot "dream house" -- including a gleaming basketball court for John? Then the happy family posed for photos, with 21-year-old daughter Cate clearly missing. Didn't Elizabeth realize that by raising the subject of her husband's affair again, it would open up another round of questions at a time when federal investigators are probing Edward's campaign records to see if the Huntress got illegal funds?

Buried inside the pages of Edward's thin, 213-page book are some clues. Years ago before she was stricken with cancer, Elizabeth -- ever the control freak, labeling even holiday ornaments -- had come up with a list of women she considered good second wife material for John when she died. As it turned out, Hunter is her polar opposite -- "This woman was different from me in nearly every way," Elizabeth screams. But later she writes that after she confronted him, John promised he "would not make the same choice in the daylight that he made in the dark."

Even as this book makes the rounds, Edwards is writing books for each of her three surviving children to remember mommy when she dies. Everything in its place. She has bought a warehouse full of furniture from High Point to open a furniture store in Chapel Hill to "be independent of him." But the couple still lives together, struggling to rearrange the furniture in their own world.

Still, Elizabeth Edwards is waiting to deliver the final verdict. "Forgiveness, I have been told, is the gift I give to him; trust he has to earn by himself," she writes. "I am not going to suggest that that process is over. It is long from being over. I am still adjusting my sails to the new wind that has blown through my life."

Let's hope the next breeze doesn't lead to another book.

 

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