John and Elizabeth Edwards have tapped into and stirred up an important conversation. It’s about politics, but much more, too. We Americans are thirsty for authentic leaders. So many of us are tired of the false hope and silly bravado of many national figures. Our presidential candidates are packaged through and through, so much to the point that they endlessly try to find ways to make their campaigns more human and believable. But these efforts can further distance the candidates from us when they seem manipulative, which many do.
So, last week, the Edwards announced the recurrence of cancer in Elizabeth. There they stood at the Carolina Inn, a place I visited just a couple of months ago, taking questions from a large news media contingent. I suspect many people may have asked, Is this simply a made-up media event? Are they gently trying to manipulate their personal story to win votes?
Such questions may make us uncomfortable. What do you think?
• Is it possible in this day and age for a candidate and his or her campaign to reveal such a deep personal challenge without us feeling manipulated?
• Do you believe the Edwards when they say we shouldn’t vote for John simply out of sympathy?
• Some people are saying that Edwards should drop out of the presidential race because he won’t be able to focus on the campaign or the presidency, if elected. Do you agree?
• Is there a different standard for candidates who face these kinds of health risks from those who have committed adultery or have been married three times?
For me, I take the Edwards at their word. This is not the first time they’ve had to confront deep personal heartache. After all, they lost their teenage son and faced up to breast cancer once before. They realize the real-world pain that accompanies such family events. They also have some sense of how they respond under duress. I suspect they have thought long and hard about what they value and cherish in life.
I don’t know if any of this would lead me to vote for John Edwards. But I do know that I have come to respect him and his wife more. They speak with clarity and credibility about what is important to them. Like former President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty, who also faced personal challenges, through their own pain they have allowed us to hold a mirror up to ourselves, and they have done so with grace and love. For many candidates, indeed for many of us, such clarity can be elusive.
So, under what conditions can a candidate reveal something about him or her self and still be authentic? What do you think?