Elizabeth Edwards legacy and memories

Edwards, stoic as her husband's presidential ambitions collapsed, her marriage crumbled and cancer sapped her strength, died Tuesday of the disease. She was 61.

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Washington Post staff
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Wednesday, December 8, 2010; 5:28 PM

Elizabeth Edwards died Dec. 7 after stopping cancer treatments the day before. Patricia Sullivan memoralized her:

Ms. Edwards had been a lawyer and formidable force in the political rise of her husband, who went from being a one-term U.S. senator from North Carolina to the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2004 to a presidential candidate in the 2008 Democratic primaries. She separated from him in January.

Describing herself as the "anti-Barbie" for her real-woman figure and her serious intellect, Ms. Edwards's public stature was greatly defined by how she coped with cancer. She talked about it, wrote about it and managed the conversation in much the same way she managed her husband's political career.

Ezra Klein offered up his own take on Edwards''s legacy:

But Edwards's real impact on health-care reform was much larger than people realize. She pushed her husband to make a comprehensive and universal health-care reform plan the centerpiece of his second presidential campaign. She succeeded. John Edwards was the first of the major Democratic candidates to come out with a universal health-care plan, and his proposal, combined with the warm reception it received from major Democratic interest groups and constituencies, forced both Obama and Clinton to counter with their own universal health-care plans. (Additionally, when Obama flew to North Carolina to court Edwards's endorsement, he got into an argument with Elizabeth over the individual mandate -- an argument that, as you can see from the individual mandate in the health-care law, she eventually won.)

The end result was that the three candidates ended up fighting over who would do more to pass a universal health-care bill the fastest, which meant they made repeated promises that, in Obama's case, he eventually found himself having to keep. Without Elizabeth Edwards's involvement, the Edwards campaign would likely have come out with a more modest effort, and the Obama and Clinton campaigns would have taken a similarly incremental approach, and none of the campaigns would have made as many promises on the subject as they did, and health-care reform might never have passed.

That -- and not marital betrayal, or even cancer -- is Elizabeth Edwards's legacy. It may not be how she's remembered, and it may not be what leads her obituaries, but it's what she did. And as a policy wonk, Edwards knew full well that it's what gets done, not what gets said, that matters. I've met a lot of politicians and presidential candidates since that evening at her house. But looking back, the one I'm proudest to have known was her.

More from Washington Post:

Edwards had prepared her family, home for death.

Video: Edwards sharing her pain with the public.

A roundup of interviews with Elizabeth Edwards throughout her life.


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