I haven’t watched any clips of Elizabeth Edwards’ interviews with Oprah Winfrey about her book or her husband’s infidelity because, honestly, what can be said that hasn’t been said before? Former presidential candidate John Edwards wasn’t the first power hungry individual to throw everything to the wind in pursuit of a good lay. Elizabeth isn’t the first wife to stay by his side and even encourage him on when she knew the no good, very bad news could drop at anytime from anywhere.
She says she honestly thought he would make a good president. He blames his pride. Everyone plays armchair therapist. I claim the mantle of “It’s complicated,” or, in other words: Don’t bother trying to understand because unless you’re in it, you’ll never, ever know.
More after the jump.
I once got into a heated debate with a friend over whether or not Michelle Obama would walk away from her marriage if her husband had cheated on her. I said in all likelihood she would not as divorces after your husband reaches that high in the political stratosphere are rare and since about half of all US marriages end in divorce that means a lot of people choose to stay with a spouse even after an affair. I argued that it wasn’t as simple as pride and the hurt that came with infidelity. I argued that they had built a life together, were teammates and had two children. I pointed out the long, long line of political wives who’d taken that walk of shame right by their husband’s side and grinned and bared it, and that black women do not have some sort of magical powers different from white women in this regard. (See Kwame Kirkpatrick’s poor wife and that videotape explanation of shame. They’re still together and “starting over” in Dallas, TX.)
In other words, it’s complicated.
She argued that Hillary Clinton was a horrible champion for women because she joined in the destruction of the women who came forward to accuse her husband of either being a chronic poon hound or a sexual harasser. I simply kept repeating — she’s his wife. Why would she ever, in any scenario, undermine or go against her husband if she planned on staying with him? All the feminism, us ladies are in this together solidarity goes out of the window when it comes to whom you’ve married. There’s a reason why courts don’t make wives testify against their husbands and vice versa. Hillary had to choose between Team Clinton and Team Womanhood she chose Team Clinton every time because she already decided, years ago, that she was not leaving no matter who showed up claiming to have slept with her egomaniac hubby.
The pressure to stay together is immense when you’re that high profile. And let’s not forget that in these situations, no matter how flagrant the foul by the husband, it’s usually the mistress who takes the beating publicly. My friend argued that people would be angry at Barack if he, for some reason, stopped thinking with the big brain and pulled a Bill Clinton. I said some would, (as some were with Bill), but it would be far more likely that who ever the accused woman he committed the act with would be the pariah who would have move to Great Britain, reinvent her self as a handbag designer and hope people will just forget about that time she gave the president a BJ.
Wait. I’m describing what actually happened to Monica Lewinsky. Never mind.
It’s easy to say you should just leave or he’s an asshole or make a 1,001 assumptions when you’re not actually in that relationship, when you don’t know the benefits and the drawbacks, the highs and lows, the things that are good and the things that are woefully bad.
What often makes it worse is when the players involved in all this drama encourage some of the simplification of their problems and motives. In Elizabeth Edwards’ case all this has left her open for criticism in regards to the fact that she supported her husband’s run for president when he was basically a walking, good-hair time bomb. Explaining what is basically illogical to people outside of that cult of two that is a co-dependent marriage is near impossible. The Edwardses aren’t going to say, honestly, that “Hey, we totally thought we were going to get away with it and get in the White House because, at the end of the day, we’re ambitious social climbers who had our eye on the highest office in the land and wouldn’t take no as an answer — possible love child or not.”
This same rule of sudden simplification is present in this horrid media tour of Bristol Palin, daughter of Sarah Palin. For the life of me, I don’t know why or who thought this was a good idea, to take a recent teen mother who has plenty of issues to work out on her own and make her the spokesperson for anything. I thought that since the McCain-Palin ticket had failed, Bristol could quietly fade into obscurity, already dodging a bullet in the form of a shotgun wedding to her teen boyfriend and would get to live a relatively normal life. Instead, she and her choice have been trust firmly into the media cycle.
Gone from mentioning the nuances, like when she stated herself that abstinence only was unrealistic, she is now front and center talking about the errors of her ways and encouraging teens to abstain. No mention of condoms or birth control or the irony of having an unwed teen mother preach abstinence. And now, of course, her ex Levi Johnston is on CBS countering her message by pointing out the irony in it and I’m again wondering, “This could not have been Bristol’s idea, could it? Why do this to a teenager? Isn’t her life hard enough being the subject of rumor and gossip with her mother as a former vice presidential candidate, current governor and political social climber?” I’m only left to believe that her family’s ambition superseded her own protection and contentment. After all, when the wedding was off something had to be done to prove that all was right in Palin-town. She’s already been forced into the spotlight to combat what were essentially only internet rumors during the presidential campaign. Now she’s back out again, this time verbalizing an inherent mythology about teens and sex that is easy to say, but much harder to live up to.
As she’s proof of.
And why these groups can’t find an actual virgin, preferably an older, adult-like 20-something as their spokesperson, I’ll never know. Why is it always someone who’s already rang the bell or someone too young to really handle such a responsibility? I didn’t know Sex Ed was a “Scared Straight” program. It’s bad enough to see the media of past and present and fame-humping parents make much ballyhoo of their offsprings purity in the form of past Mouseketters Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, former pop tartlet Jessica Simpson and presently, Disney tween plantation workers Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers. To focus on them “not” doing it is basically the best way to set them up for failure if and when they act like horny teenagers and get caught acting less that Disney-meets-a-purity-ring-in-hell pure. What if they, dare I say it? Dry hump their girlfriends on tape or shoot pictures of their side-boobage to email their boyfriends. Wait? Did those things already happen?
But it’s much easier to push the mythology. If my husband cheats on me I would leave him without question. I won’t have sex until I’m married and people who do are fundamentally flawed … unless they do a repentance tour like Bristol Palin, scarlet letter in tow. Never has the phrase “it’s easier said that done” been more true in these interpersonal relationships where the truth only lies between the two people who know it and the bed they slept in.
No matter how much Edwards or Bristol Palin says, we’ll never really know. No matter how many times the media tries to explain it, we’ll never really understand.