Why Elizabeth Edwards isn't Hillary Clinton.

Explaining political marriages.
Dec. 21 2007 7:26 AM

One for the Price of Two

Why Elizabeth Edwards isn't Hillary Clinton.

This is the second installment in Slate's First Mates series, which examines the marriages of the presidential candidates. Read Melinda Henneberger's introduction to the series here. Click here for the first installment, about Michelle Obama. In yesterday's piece, Henneberger looked at Elizabeth Edwards' role in her husband's life and campaign. Today, she talks to John Edwards about their partnership. 

(Continued from Page 2)

Deeply involved in the anti-war movement, she also loved that, as Edwards' childhood friend the Rev. John Frye Jr., a Presbyterian minister, says, "John always had a passion for those on the margins," as far back as middle school. "My mother was chair of the county school board and led the desegregation, and John and his folks were always affirming of her. And believe me, we did not get that from everybody.''

John and Elizabeth married the Saturday after taking the bar exam in 1977, had two kids and all the success in the world—"the storybook life and the storybook marriage,'' says his former law partner David Kirby—right up until the day their son Wade died. "He could never have gotten past the death of his son without her,'' Kirby says. It was a loss that nearly crushed Edwards, who quit the firm to grieve and told friends he had to make a contribution to the world that would make Wade proud, or he wouldn't be able to stand it. A few friends, Kirby included, came and sat with the couple nearly every evening, and their daughter Cate slept on a chair in their room every night for a full two years, to keep them propped up through some of the worst hours. Whatever you think of Edwards as a candidate, I defy anyone to look without bawling at the photo in Elizabeth's book Saving Graces of one of the coupons for free ice cream they passed out on what would have been their son's 17th birthday. "The gift you can give in Wade's name," the coupon said, "is to do something nice for someone else." And in a sense, his—their—whole public life is meant to be an exercise in Paying It Forward.


You know how the more you get to know a couple, the more the one you thought was too good for the other turns out to be more human than you knew? Or else the one who didn't seem to measure up does after all? As in most cases, with Wade's parents, it's some of both; she's slicker than we think—real, oh my, yes, but also a skilled pitchwoman for the man she believes in with all her heart. Just as he is more earnest than his glib, lawyerly pitches might suggest. When we criticize his—their—contradictions, like the house and the famous $400 haircut, what we never acknowledge is the classist assumption that one should know how to avoid drawing attention to one's material success. Certainly he is  stubborn about refusing to in any way downplay the fruits of his labors: Why not live in the biggest house in the county? Which is not politic, but is so "real," that it's the opposite of slick. As is his deference to Elizabeth—which is why he can't quite bring himself to take her advice and dismiss any real role for her out of hand.



Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Altered State
Sept. 17 2014 11:51 PM The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Dear Prudence
Sept. 18 2014 6:00 AM All Shook Up My 11-year-old has been exploring herself with my “back massager.” Should I stop her?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 9:00 PM Amazon Is Now a Gadget Company
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?