Normally I don’t tune in to 60 Minutes on Sunday evenings, but this past weekend I made an exception so that I could watch the much-publicized Katie Couric interview with Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth. After the interview concluded, I realized that I had never before been so disturbed by the words of a candidate for President of the United States.
The interview was arranged to give Edwards and his wife a chance to talk about their decision to continue with the Presidential campaign after Elizabeth’s recent announcement that her cancer had returned, and that it was treatable but incurable. Instead of feelings of compassion for what they must be experiencing, I was left with the impression of a man who has skewed priorities and whose judgment I must question, especially given the office that he seeks.
In fairness, John and Elizabeth Edwards have every right to make their own choices and decisions regarding the conduct of their lives and what they think is best for themselves and their children. Mr. Edwards said during the interview that Americans “…can evaluate for themselves whether they think I’m, in fact, doing this for the right reason.” While I don’t pretend to know the motivation behind the decision, and have no reason to question it, it is within this context of personal evaluation that I must address the Edwards’ comments during the sit-down with Ms. Couric.
Asked about staying in the campaign, Mr. Edwards said, “Well, first the decision was made by the two of us, no one else…as it should be. And she said to me, ‘this is what we believe in. This is what we’re spending our lives doing. It’s where our heart and soul is. And we can not stop it.'”
As a soldier who has given nearly twenty years of his life in the service of this country, I understand the sense of devotion and loyalty to our nation, and I appreciate those feelings in any American. But as a husband who loves his wife dearly, I have great difficulty understanding Mr. Edwards’ decision.
There are times when national service takes precedence over all other things, but these times have to be considered carefully and deliberately. It is true that we are all here for a finite period of time, and that we never know when a loved one may be taken from us. But for me, at least, the knowledge that such a loss would probably occur sooner than expected would give new urgency to maximizing our time together, focused on making every moment meaningful in the context of family.
Now, I’m not saying that Mr. and Mrs. Edwards did not give the matter due thought and reflection. Nor am I saying that their decision was wrong. This is a matter of personal choice, and it is a choice they are entitled to make. What is important is that their decision tells me that we have very different priorities and values.
Another disturbing portion of the interview came during a series of comments about the Edwards’ children, ages six and eight. The exchange with Ms. Couric went like this:
Elizabeth Edwards: “We have been contemplating all the different ways that we can make certain that they are with us as much as possible. I’ve often said that the most important thing you can give your children (is) wings. Because, you’re not gonna always be able to bring food to the nest. You’re…sometimes…they’re gonna have to be able to fly by themselves.”
Katie Couric: “They’re 6 and 8. They’re still baby birds.”
Elizabeth Edwards: “They are still baby birds. But…”
John Edwards: “But they’ve got to start learning to fly. And they’re not ready to fly on their own yet, but they’ve got to start learning.”
What? These are little children we’re talking about here! These are not grown kids who understand life and death and getting out from the nest. These are kids who may suddenly lose their mother while they are still young. As a father, I just don’t understand the logic here. My children give me life and purpose beyond that which I get from my wife and my service to this country. I’m sure, as parents, the Edwards’ feel the same way. Which is why it is so hard for me to understand their decision.
The exchange about their children left me feeling that Mr. Edwards was a cold and heartless man. I’m sure that’s not the case, but it’s certainly the way it came across to me. It was as if he was being cavalier about the matter, saying in effect that the kids needed to start growing up.
We are all unique individuals, with different priorities and values. It is not for me to say whose are right and whose are wrong. It is also not for me to say the Edwards’ decision was a bad choice. I don’t believe that his desire to continue the quest for the Presidency was calculated to gain politically, and I don’t believe that he is seeking a sympathy vote. What I do believe is that Mr. Edwards and I have very different opinions about what is important in life. That is what disturbs me, and that is what concerns me about his ability to lead this nation.