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It's Impossible to Avoid Elizabeth Edwards and the Octuplet Mom

Elizabeth Edwards is interviewed on the NBC
Elizabeth Edwards is interviewed on the NBC "Today" television program in New York Monday, May 11, 2009. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) (Richard Drew - AP)

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By Richard Cohen
Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The world is too much with us," the poet William Wordsworth wrote -- and that, of course, was before Elizabeth Edwards published her book and went on television to promote it, ducking questions about a child her husband might have fathered with another woman but answering other questions about marital infidelity and suffering all the time from cancer. What to do? What to think? What judgments can we make?

I don't want Elizabeth Edwards in my life. Yet I cannot avoid her. She shadows me. Her cherubic visage is on every passing television screen. I have been spending time of late in hospitals visiting a loved one. Elizabeth Edwards is on in every room I pass. She's on in the waiting area, in the reception area -- for all I know, she is on in the operating room. She is on the nightly news and "Charlie Rose" and "Larry King" and "Oprah" and, of course, "The View," the only truly essential show on television. Edwards, Edwards, Edwards, everywhere I go.

What to think? Why did she write this book? What effect will it have on her kids? What effect will it have on me? Why does she stay with John? (Why do I call him John?) Why didn't she leave him then? Why did she go on with the charade?

Wait! Can I pass judgment on her? She's got cancer, for crying out loud. Her husband cheated on her while he was running for president. Just once, he told her. A one-night stand, he told her. When her cancer was in remission, he told her. Does that make it okay? Does it make it less bad? Does it make it any of my business?

I know John and Elizabeth Edwards -- not well, just a bit. I've been to their house -- the old house, the one in Washington. I had breakfast with them. I found her smart, likable. I never knew what to make of him. A three-dollar bill, I always suspected. She drove me to where I could get a cab. We talked. What about? Can't remember. Now this. What to think?

It is the same with Nadya Suleman, the woman who gave birth to eight babies and already had other babies and now has, for all I know, 23 children and no way of supporting them. I ran from that story, from the first moment when her doctors all posed for pictures, too naive not to know they had participated in a calamity -- a one-woman Hurricane Katrina. But I could not get away from her. Once again, every newspaper, every television set, every blog, and everything I saw or heard was about her and her babies.

She was addictive. What to make of her? What she did was crazy, but she didn't sound crazy in all those interviews. I was determined to move on. I have other things to worry about.

Still, I'd stop and peer into her eyes. I knew them: the eyes of the woman you stayed away from in a bar. Then her mother showed up and denounced her daughter and then didn't denounce her daughter and her father appeared from somewhere -- Iraq? downtown L.A.? -- and said similar things. What was I to think? I didn't want to know about any of them, but then I got concerned about the babies. Who was going to take care of them? Did she have any money?

Somehow, over time, I came to think of the babies as my responsibility. I felt I had to do something. Nadya and her brood broke the barrier, the membrane between a news story -- something happening in Wolf Blitzer Land -- and something else, a part of my life, something real. The babies! The babies! Should I send a check? What would she do with the money? Maybe a tuck under the eyes? Would she have more babies? Then what? What would I do with the additional babies? I'd envision the house at night, the wailing, the crying -- the industrial diapering.

What did Wordsworth know? He had it lucky, stomping around the rural north of England with his wingman, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the two of them kvetching in couplets about the modern world and how it was imposing itself on them. What a joke!

It's me that the world is too much with. It's me who has to put up with Nadya and her babies and Elizabeth and her husband. I don't want to deal with any of it. Just give me Pakistan and loose nukes. Ah, serenity.

cohenr@washpost.com


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