Edwards and the Hospital Room

I’ve seen parts of Edwards’ latest stump speech a few times now–first in this ad , then at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Las Vegas last Thursday, then again at Saturday’s environmental forum hosted by Grist. And every time, he repeats the same line about how he and his wife decided, “in the quiet of a hospital room,” to continue his campaign. The line goes by quickly, but it’s about as subtle as a Mack truck. When you hear it once, it’s moving. When you hear it three or four times, it sounds mawkish. But more importantly, it resurrects the debate –dormant for several months–over whether the former senator uses his wife’s cancer as a political tool.

When Elizabeth appeared in an ad describing her husband as someone who can “stare the worst in the face and not blink,” the campaign downplayed suggestions that she was talking about her own illness, as if Edwards would never use that experience for emotional leverage. Of course, a candidate should be able to discuss personal struggles. One could even argue that a painful experience like his wife’s cancer does, in some ways, qualify him for office. But if there’s been any doubt that Edwards regularly and deliberately uses that struggle to elicit sympathy, let this put it to rest.