Friday, August 15, 2008

Elizabeth Edwards & Hillary Clinton: A Cautionary Tale Of The Lure Of Power

As uncomfortable as the subject may be for people for whom the protection of privacy is more important than the corrosive effects of lying and hypocrisy on politics, the more that I learn about John Edwards' romp with Rielle Hunter, the more Elizabeth Edwards reminds me of Hillary Clinton. Minus the cancer, of course.

In fact, the parallels are rather stunning.

Both women worshiped at the altar of political prominence and power, so much so that they overlooked clear evidence of their husbands' violation of their wedding vows. They contributed to their husbands' phony public personas as straight arrows and then circled their own wagons when confronted with the truth.

But then no one ever said being a political wife was all grand balls and trips to exotic places, right?

Psychoanalyst Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a friend and blogging colleague, notes that the archetypal view is that people marry for love.

But the reality, she says, is that people marry for many reasons. When prestige and power are sought after, they almost invariably flow from husband to wife and family and seldom in the other direction. Thus there is much more to be lost if the husband is exposed as a cad.

And if the husband is successful the wife is sought out and feted whether she has earned that or not, while doors that otherwise would remain closed magically open.

I would like to believe that in the cases of the Missus Edwards and Clinton their marriages are not all about politics and power.

That both women, whip-smart intelligent and admirably independent, might have concluded once their tears dried that their husbands' infidelities -- in Bill Clinton's case years and years of philandering that some insiders say continues to this day, and in Edwards' case the probability that his affair resumed after he confessed to his wife -- were less important than the great good that would be done if the upward trajectories of these couples' public careers were not interrupted or destroyed.

Yes, I would like to believe that, and both couples have spoken extensively about the the importance -- as well as the joys -- of their familial and political partnerships. Both husbands have extolled their wives' greatness. The only difference here is that while Elizabeth has a habit of finishing John's sentences in joint interviews, Hillary never lets anyone finish hers.

Nevertheless, the record convinces me that despite the obvious complexities of both marriages, power tripping has played a greater role than altruism.

I wrote early and often during Hillary Clinton's candidacy that her self-proclaimed feminist bona fides were suspect for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is her refusal to publicly addresses in any manner the seminal event (pun not intended) in her husband's presidency -- the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

This is not to say that if Hillary were a true-blue feminist (whatever that is) she would have ditched the two-timing bastard. Nor that feminists can't live in marriages of convenience, which hers surely has been for many years. But the impression lingered after the impeachment circus and was solidified during the long primary slog that her lust for political prominence and power is what matters most, and everything else has to get in line behind those considerations.

I come to the same conclusion about Elizabeth Edwards, and the existence of her terminal illness actually makes me somewhat less sympathetic to her as a victim.

This is because its existence has been used as a cudgel by the couple and a long complicit media in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to keep the Hunter scandal at bay while portraying as heartless the National Enquirer and few other media outlets, as well as bloggers like myself, that pursued it.

Elizabeth gave a series of outspoken interviews after her husband fessed up to her about his affair in which she declared that while she had some things in common with Hillary -- as in they both went to law school and both married lawyers -- her decision to be a stay-at-home mom has resulted in her being a happier and more realized person, and for good measure said she also found Hillary's feminist credentials to be suspect and voting for Clinton because she is a woman was not reason enough.

I am truly sorry for the physical as well as emotional pain Elizabeth Edwards must be living with these days, but her decision to "forgive" her presidential wannabe husband reeks of hypocrisy the more we learn about his conduct and how she has dealt with it. Hillary Clinton should be able to relate to that, although I doubt that she does.
Top photograph by Yuri Gripas/AFP-Getty

1 comment:

Martha said...

I went to see John and Elizabeth Edwards in New Hampshire last fall. First, they made everyone wait in the hot sun and were an hour late (I was told by his campaign "He is usually late.") Ego power, my gut said. Then he stood there all smug and full of himself while Elizabeth (who looked worn) in her introduction heaped praise upon him for 10 long minutes! At that point I knew two things: (1)Elizabeth had "sold out" to this man and had lost all her own power (why she is sick) and (2) I would NEVER vote for such an egotistical hypocrit.