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She the People
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Posted at 05:26 PM ET, 05/03/2012

What we might learn -- but can’t know -- from a candidate’s wife and girlfriends

Funny how it’s my friend who had John Edwards’s number from the minute she caught him smiling at himself in a Senate committee room mirror who feels only pity for him now — while the pal who dipped into her savings to write checks to his ‘08 presidential campaign would happily take her
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, appear on CBS THIS MORNING, Tuesday, May 1 on the CBS Television Network. (Jeff Neira - CBS)
refund in gold extracted from his teeth.

It was the Henry James-loving, marital detritus-denying Elizabeth Edwards I was fond of, though when I wrote things she didn’t like, she didn’t hesitate to let me know about it. And it’s for her sake even now that I find it so difficult to be in the North Carolina courtroom where her husband is on trial for the campaign finance violations he might have committed while trying to hide his pregnant mistress. Elizabeth did not believe in an afterlife, and God willing is not privy to the pain on parade in Courtroom One.

But her grown daughter, Cate Edwards, fled that room in tears Wednesday, just ahead of testimony about the terrible day that Elizabeth, having read about her husband’s love life in the National Enquirer, ripped off her shirt and bra in an airplane hangar and stood bare-chested before him and the world, crying, “You don’t see me any more.”

I doubt there are any breast cancer survivors among the 7 women on that Edwards jury – not, unfortunately, because the disease is so rare, but because the defense surely screened for that, knowing that any woman who’d had a breast carved up after a cancer diagnosis would process that moment on a whole other level. And might find it extra difficult to look past the legally irrelevant fact that John responded to the scene coolly, without any show of emotion.

Against this backdrop, do we award extra points to Mitt Romney, who has never given his wife, Ann, any cause to whip off her $990 shirt? Yes, actually. (And no, I don’t care how much her clothes cost, and while we’re on the subject am glad Michelle Obama seems to have given up on those little cotton shifts from White House/Black Market; she’s the first lady, for heaven’s sake, and the same people appalled by the extravagance of her Wes Gordon jacket said it was a PR stunt when she turned up at Target; nothing you do will satisfy your critics, ladies, so at least when it comes to suits, suit yourselves.)

So too do Barack Obama’s exes – women he dated in his 20s, who are in the news this week thanks to David Maraniss’s forthcoming Obama bio -- reflect well on him in my view, for one thing because he chose so well that they never came forward seeking the spotlight until that charmer Maraniss showed up and talked them
Genevieve Cook, a former girlfriend of Barack Obama, in 1985. (Family Photo)
into forking over their old letters and diaries.

Remember all the conjecture that Obama must be gay or otherwise hiding something since no pre-Michelle girlfriends ever stepped up to claim their 15 minutes? Turns out, he just liked women who, like his wife, were brainy, private, (until now) and in Genevieve Cook’s case, generous enough to scribble in her diary at the end of the affair that somewhere out there was the woman who, unlike her, would make Barack’s heart race: “That lithe, bubbly, strong black lady is waiting somewhere!” (So Maraniss, did you see any erasures on that page? If not, that Ms. Cook was one heckuva grownup at 26, or any age.) I also think the carefulness that Cook saw as maddening is evidence that Obama’s tendency to proceed with caution is not as politically motivated as his critics assume. And isn’t that an asset in a president?

I continue to believe that a candidate’s choice in a partner tells us a lot, and so, too, does how that person has been treated over the years, in sickness and in health.

But the humbling lesson of the Edwards marriage, which a lot of us thought spoke to his hidden depths (!) is that it’s still hard to say how much those inside that relationship understood about it. And from the outside, even 30 years of snapshots
U.S. Democratic Presidential candidate and former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) campaigns with his wife Elizabeth at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa in this January 1, 2008 file photo. (JOHN GRESS - REUTERS)
can be misleading.

So yes, that the Romneys and Obamas have stable and apparently loving lives together is a plus, and one indication of a certain aspect of character that voters can weigh. Yet that’s true of every relationship in a candidate’s life, with long-ago girlfriends and long-standing buddies.

If anything that former Edwards aide Andrew Young said on the witness stand is true, the senator was not only a poor husband but an epically bad friend, even writing off his loyal former law partner, David Kirby, who sat with him night after night for months after his son died, as someone who owed him big-time for all the rain he’d made for their firm, and thus would surely be happy to pony up to support his mistress. (Wrong again, big guy.)

According to former aide Josh Brumberger, Edwards’s #1 fan, 101-year-old Bunny Mellon, who sent him cufflinks and wrote him secret checks “for the rescue of America’’ was a laugh line around the old HQ:

“Bunny is still in LOVE,’’ Brumberger emailed Young on one occasion. The testimony about how many times the candidate had to be reminded to call Mellon on her birthday, or have his memory of her daughter’s name refreshed, might make the next elderly heiress with a political crush think twice.

And while it doesn’t bother me if Ann Romney wants to talk up her man Mitt’s “wild and crazy” sense of fun, it’s the fact that he’s stuck around for some not very wild days, through her cancer and MS, that means more.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s ‘She the People’ blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

By  |  05:26 PM ET, 05/03/2012

Tags:  John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, Cate Edwards, Rielle Hunter, Edwards trial, campaign finance trial, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Genevieve Cook, David Maraniss, "Barack Obama: The Story", Mitt Romney, Ann Romney, $950 blouse

 
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