by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Political wife Elizabeth Edwards’ new memoir, Resilience , became a best-seller before it was officially published last Friday. Conveniently launched in time for a Mother’s Day blitz, the book hit the media jackpot with appearances on Oprah, NPR’s All Things Considered, The Today Show and People Magazine. The blogosphere has been filled with commentary .
Quite an impressive achievement for the 59-year-old mother of four, who has been married to former presidential candidate John Edwards for 31 years, and is living with terminal, untreatable breast cancer.
But here’s the loaded question: why on earth did Elizabeth Edwards write, publish and promote this book?
Her 2006 memoir, Saving Graces  covered note-worthy territory and justifiably became a best-seller. Edwards wrote candidly about the challenges of being a political spouse, surviving the death of her teenage son Wade in a car accident, and facing breast cancer. Elizabeth Edwards proved to be the real politician in the family, earning near-universal admiration and respect from America women who see ourselves in her. Like many of us, she is not as thin or beautiful as she once was, she sacrificed her career as a lawyer to support her husband and care for her family, and motherhood, marriage and life have made her real, like the Velveteen Rabbit who gets all his fuzz rubbed off in the process of being loved by a child.
Having written a memoir about my first marriage, I certainly understand the power of taking a bad experience and turning it into a force for good. However, it’s hard to see how Resilience benefits Elizabeth, her husband, or her children. Because the only new topic in Resilience is John Edwards’ sordid affair with paid presidential campaign staffer Rielle Hunter and the question of whether he fathered Rielle’s year old daughter. Not surprisingly, the media and Internet frenzy has focused exclusively on John Edwards’ infidelity and details of the affair with Hunter. Whose fault was it? His for being a lying opportunistic sleaze? Rielle’s for being the same? Elizabeth, as one snarky blog comment put it, for “letting herself go”? Elizabeth Edwards is media-savvy enough to know that this book would inevitably stir up salacious commentary about her marriage, her husband’s extramarital wanderings, and a cute one year old who may be a half-sibling to her children.
Resilience virtually guarantees a second media cycle focused on “whose baby is it.” The tremendous media attention, and Elizabeth’s derogatory comments about Rielle Hunter, have not surprisingly inflamed Ms. Hunter, who now feels the need to defend her own name and the reputation of her child. The latest media reports claims that Rielle is sufficiently furious about the book that she plans to proceed with a paternity test to prove the baby is John Edwards’. Rielle is a lethal and predictable adversary here, since she is the only person in the sordid three-way tale who has ample information to guess who fathered her baby.
Is it possible that Elizabeth Edwards’ motivation is to pound the final nail in the coffin of her husband’s political career, long after she succumbs to cancer? If John Edwards’ political aspirations are dust, it’s certainly his own fault, not Elizabeth’s. But the book’s tremendous notoriety and the mucky focus on extramarital sex and its consequences stamp John Edwards permanently as an adulterer who cheated on his faithful, dying wife and then lied to her and the American public repeatedly about it. Even though American voters can be forgiving, I doubt we will overlook these particular sins.
Elizabeth Edwards certainly picked an apt title for this book. She definitely will need resilience to get through the media frenzy her candor has sparked. But I wonder if the real target is her husband, who will need far more than resilience to revive the embers of his political prospects once she is gone.
See what our own Meredith O'Brien says about Resilience, and other recent Mothers in the Media .