Friday, March 23, 2007

I can't say Edwards did the right thing...

A lot of commentators, both liberal and conservative, have rushed to say that John Edwards is doing a good thing by continuing his campaign in spite of his wife Elizabeth's cancer.

I can't join in.

It's not because I don't approve of Edwards's choice; it's that I am in no position to judge it, and what I think about it doesn't matter a damn anyway.

I have no idea what the dynamics are of the Edwards family, nor do I know their established principles. Maybe they're the type of family that prizes not letting obstacles get in the way of pursuing their dreams, in which case Edwards's action is clearly aligned. Maybe they value rushing to the aid of those who are suffering, in which case it wouldn't be.

In any instance, it's not for me or any member of the political punditocracy to play the umpire of whether Edwards is honoring his family's values, because we don't know what they are, we didn't have a part in establishing them, and it's not our role to enforce them.

Now, if Edwards violated some societal norm, say by deciding to ditch his ailing wife for someone who might look better on the campaign trail, I think we might me quailified to judge that, since his example would have an impact on society's image of what it means to be married. But whether or not to continue in the race comes down to what the Edwards family values, and that's a determination only John and Elizabeth Edwards can make and hold each other accountable for.

The silliness of attempting to do this manifested itself in Jonah Goldberg catching Andrew Sullivan praising Edwards for leaving the race, then praising Edwards for staying in minutes later.

Sullivan answers this criticism thusly:

Yes, I was led to believe by Politico that Elizabeth Edwards was in a serious medical state and that the campaign would therefore be suspended. That information turned out to be premature. We found out, as Edwards explained, that subsequent testing relieved many of their worst, earlier worries and so they were going to press on. I think the decision in both cases was admirable. If she was seriously sick, it was right to suspend the campaign. If she can carry on, I think it's admirable to carry on as well. There is no self-contradiction in my views, just a change of facts. A blog reacts to facts as they arrive. When the facts change, a blog can change its mind. What else am I supposed to do?

This is kind of strange coming from a man who considers someone changing his opinion based on new information a "lie."

More to the point, do you really think the world was waiting with baited breath for Andrew Sullivan's moral judgement on whether Edwards did the right thing? Do you think you could have waited to comment until you had the full story?

Like Goldberg, I don't have a direct problem with either position on their faces. though Sullivan's "this is real family values" dig is tiresome -- do we suspect that "Christianists" like Sanotrum or Brownback or Ashcroft would handle this situation with less grace).

It just seems to me that passing judgement on Edwards decision, even to indicate approval, is an act of overwhelming arrogance. And this notion that pundits have a duty or even a right to judge decisions based on a family's situation and values that pundit is not privy to leads to ridiculousness like this.

So, I can't say that Edwards did the right thing by staying in the race because I don't know, and it doesn't matter if I did.


Thomas Paine said...

Well, of course, whatever decision Edwards and/or his family make is really none of the pundits damn business, unless such a decision really reflects on the candidate's character.

But when an announced presidential candidate (and former VP nominee) faces such a situation, it IS news, and his and his family's decision could certainly have an impact on the political future. One can hardly expect a pundit to ignore the subject, and, unless the choices seem totally inappropriate, I would expect most pundits (and everyone else) to generally express sensitive, supportive sentiments.

Really, this is how ALL of us react. If a coworker tells you his wife suffers from cancer, you will be supportive regardless of what he does with his career during his illness -- regardless of how you feel about him personally or professionally.

The words you use may well be trite and meaningless, but that is what we do as normal, sensitive human beings.

I would not read anything more than that into Sullivan's comments.

Ted Burke said...

Whether Edwards did the right thing by remaining in the race even with the return of his wife's cancer is something only the couple will know themselves as both the campaign and her treatments progress. It's the classic moot point, a faux issue
to which their is no reasonably certain answer which pundits, wags and wonks can toss back and forth with out resolution until the next celebrity melt down takes over the news programming. What I do admire, though, is Edwards' decision to not be ruled by the opinionizers, the blogospheres, the tut-tutting scalliwags and instead take his own course. The decision for him to remain in the was a mutual decision, as I understand it, and that commands respect, even if one might think he ought to have dropped out.