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Mar 24, 2007

Your Turn: Chapel Hill

(click for full size)

Given the shocking and incredibly sad news of Elizabeth Edwards' advanced cancer, as well as the overt collision it causes between personal and political/ media identity, I was interested in your thoughts on these newswire images.  They were taken Thursday in Chapel Hill during the couple's announcement that John Edwards' presidential campaign would continue.

Edward-Cancer-5 Edwards-Cancer-4R2336505668

Because we've been focusing so much on visual spin and the politician's "public face," this development -- as "human" and as grounding as it is -- is an incredible development against the backdrop, or "stage," of this campaign (as well as Rovian "political reality construction" overall).

In this situation, there's no way to know how much John and Elizabeth are wearing the kinds of faces any couple would wear for each other given such news, versus how much derives from that "second nature" of being in front of the camera.  It's an open question, I believe, until you come to the "single" portraits.  At that point, rarely do you see such public figures so unguarded.

It was my instinct to offer you this many images, and these, in particular, out of the overall pool.  "Media-aware," or not, I'm interested in what you read.

(click for painfully  full size)

Finally, I've never once recommended that a photo be taken down, but I was thoroughly disgusted by the shot above, featured (with an enlargement option, no less!) in today's NYT article, entitled: Public Takes Up Pros and Cons of Edwards Bid. The photo features one David Redlawsk, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa, providing his two cents about the couple's decision to stay in the presidential race.

I'm sure Mr. Redlawsk is mostly innocent in this.  But could someone please tell me, where does The Times get off using this tragedy for John Edwards to frame this dark, anonymous, spotlighted and completely unreferenced visual link between him and Howard Dean?
(image 1: Gary Broome/AP. image 2: Sara Davis/AFP/Getty. image 3: Ellen Ozier/Reuters. image 4: Sara Davis/AFP/Reuters. image 5: Gerry Broome/AP. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. March 22, 2007. via YahooNews.  image 6: Mark Hirsch for The New York Times. March 23, 2007.


Maybe it's because I'm a gardener and it's almost spring here, but I couldn't help notice John superimposed on the tree (strength, deep roots), Elizabeth backed by greenery (life) and the brick wall of division from an unknown, unseen polar opposite (weakness, shallowness and death). The natural lighting further softens the images.

In addition to Howard Dean, that last also includes Michael Moore, who is far more despised than the sober and sensible chair of the Democratic Party.

Suffering, stress, the end of youthful good looks. Those single shots are very powerful.

The Edwards' are a picture of love and sacrifice. It's very hard for the republicans to compete with that. Instead of showing us their own specialness, they have to show the opposition as loony and extreme. The sun is shining on John and Elizabeth, can't we find a cave-dwelling commentator?

The John Edwards campaign is creating a problem for Rovians. I expect to see a lot of the filthy rich Edwards' mansion and to hear plenty of lawyer slurs.

I can not help but contrast this to how New Gingrich dumped his wife when she had cancer. It is the difference between mensch and monster. Is it telling who the supposed value crowd embraces?

My wife has recurrent breast cancer and that individual photo of John Edwards captures how I often feel (and probably look). Thanks for displaying those two truly authentic shots amidst all the political ones the media is using.

Wow. These photos -- to me -- attest to the strength of the Edwards' relationship AND their moral depth. I really, really respect the way they have handled this family medical crisis. The fact is, cancer really is a different disease than it was 20 years ago. I love these people!

As far as the poli sci guy...whatever.

I've seen the first three pix since the announcement and this is the first time I've seen them, y'know? Before, I thought they looked sort of distant from one another, but maybe that's because I wasn't LOOKING at them -- they were just sort of an impression and I didn't give them time to sink in. Maybe because I listened to the announcement on the radio waiting for my son at school and I could divine from all the careful wording that she is dying. I just didn't WANT to look at the pictures. It seemed both invasive and personally painful to me.

At any rate, having now LOOKED at them, I see the love and support between the two of them and yet, I wonder how much of a mask is still there, but not for the public -- for each other. It is the single pix that show how much this news has rocked them and, again, I just don't like to look. It hurts.

Love and support and bravery in the face of death. What more could we ask of them. They know, and yet they go on.

A good lesson in real values for us all, indeed.

The single photos don't tell us anything about how they feel for one another...they are only shots of two tired, stressed people who face what we all face to some degree or other. They are human, deeply human, in their behavior.

As for the pictures of the two together, their expressions are not of the generic "adoring" expressions one usually sees on politicians' and their wives' faces. These people have been married for 30 years, and they are used to carving out lives for themselves together, as well as separately, which is necessitated by his career as a lawyer (totally time-consuming work) and hers, also as a lawyer, but also, as a mother. They seem to know how to manage their time together to get the maximum enjoyment out of it.

And, we should mind our own damn business!

Oh, Margaret - you're spot on. Then there's this for added measure: "And, we should mind our own damn business!"

First - I watched the press conference. There were a few times I had tears in my eyes.

On March 19th, it was the 5th anniversary of my buddy's death from breast cancer. One of the hardest things about it all was the frame of her mind. It was hard for her, really hard. She couldn't figure out why G*d wouldn't answer her prayers.

It's also the 5th anniversary of another close friend (my AA sponsor) who underwent a 'proactive medical procedure' to rule out possible recurrence of her breast cancer. She had been cancer-free for almost 2 years. She didn't tell most of us. However, we had planned since learning of her cancer that she would attend my college graduation. Suddenly, she's having surgery the morning after my graduation & can't come. I was furious; I was hurt. I thought she was making it up. Why? Jesus Christ! Ya promised. So she told me: 'I don't want any shit for what I'm having done.' How could I give her shit? It's not MY life; it's hers. I'm not the one with an incredibly strong family history of breast cancer - three aunts died at the age she was when she was fighting it (42); I'm not the one who had breast cancer. I'm not the one - you are. YOU do whatever you think you need to do. And, she's still cancer-free after 7 years.

And to 'a reader' "My wife has recurrent breast cancer and that individual photo of John Edwards captures how I often feel (and probably look)." My friend above who's cancer-free had just gotten married the summer before. He wanted to stay home with her. She said, he'd drive her crazy. So we all kept on living. That's what Elizabeth Edwards is doing. Someone in the newspaper article mentioned 'oppressive women in marriages' - oh, whatever! I'm certain that if Elizabeth Edwards wanted to quit, she'd quit. And I'm just as certain that John Edwards would quit first. That picture in the center with them looking at each other....they are what defines their relationship, not any one of us.

Because it is none of our business.

Two wonderful people who care about our country and the people in it. May we show them the respect they deserve and may we stand against the Karl Rove feces that are probably going to come their way.

I watched the press conference live and it struck me then as it does me now, seeing these stills: they always seemed to have a wide gap between their bodies! They did not stand close together. They did not touch. Why didn't he have his arms around her? In these photos, notice how they're holding their own hands clasped (third photo from top) in what appeares to be an uncomfortable body language. If you did not know who these people were and just saw this photo, would you assume they even know each other?

Did anybody else notice this while watching the press conference?

Their body language in the press conference did not seem to match what we think we know about them (long, happy marriage, supportive of each other, etc.). The voice and their words did match up, but not the body language. Perhaps Bag can give an explanation for this body language. (And as always, thanks Bag, for all you do!)

wisechick, I noticed it too, and thought that maybe they weren't touching each other because actual contact would shatter them and give even more photgraphic ammuntion to nay-sayers and detractors.

I think Margaret is correct; it isn't our business but they needed to make the announcement and let people know what is happening. They have and now we let them be.

When these were taken, I'd bet the Edwards' were still reeling from the conferences with her medical team. They've been married for 30 years and by all accounts, very happily. That, in itself, is a rarity. May be my imagination, but his solo shot reads as concern for his wife; hers as if she were taking that next step into the unknown. They've been living with this possibility for about 3 years. Once you have cancer, you don't breathe deeply for at least 5 years. My guess is they are both still in a sort of shock. We will have to see as the days go on whether their decision will prove to be the right one, or whether their attention will have to be directed elsewhere. I think it quite possible that he is continuing his campaign FOR his wife, thus giving her some positive goal to look forward to during all the messy treatment she must have.

Would that any, repeat, any of the republican candidates were able to identify with the sort of fidelity these two have. Shown here is the kind of conservative compassion that the right-wingers can't even fathom. IMHO. And I loved most of the comments above. But for 'wisechick.' I, too, thought she looked very uncomfortable, but figured that she was in some pain........if not from the cracked rib, then from all the invasive tests. If he had put his arm around her, she probably would have screamed in pain. Cracked ribs hurt!

It never ceases to amaze me how the media, especially the press, manages to slam progressives while pretending to praise them, or at least just report the facts, ma'am. From the NYT:
" Is Mr. Edwards now the presidential race’s real embodiment of hope in all its audacity, or a symbol of blind ambition? A new profile in courage or a standard-bearer for callous disregard?"
Now, where have we heard the word 'audacity' before? And how about 'profile in courage.' Strike a bell? And the phrase 'blind ambition'? Surely someone at the Times has a Thesaurus! But slamming three democrats in just two sentences! The author must be chortling over his scotch'n'soda.

I saw those looks during the press conference and tried to study them here and the times they would show clips from the conference on the news. Both parties are trying to be strong and upbeat for the other. But, inside I believe Mrs. Edwards is scared and knows the prognosis and I was always struck by that look on her face. Mostly because I wanted to comfort her. Mr. Edwards looks scared and forlorn. How do you live without your best friend of 30 years. The person you turn to and trust the most.
Both of those pictures show the deep hurt that something like cancer causes in people's lives.
I have thought of two things seeing them. And maybe because I'm a supporter of another candidate who always liked these two I can be a bit objective:
1. How will John go on without her? I mean his life. She is so close to him.
2. How does Elizabeth remain so strong and manage to smile.
This is so unfair to two very very decent people.

John Edwards looks Lincolnesque.

Elizabeth Edwards looks private. There's a lot of human being there.

I just watched the press conference, and I'm amazed that they were so composed and articulate. I think I would be falling apart.

I had a positive impression of him anyway, but after listening to her, now I also have a great admiration for Elizabeth Edwards. I wish them all the best. I think it will be hard for them to have this play out in public, though.

Kitt: I'm not arguing John Edwards should or shouldn't stay in the race or even what's best for Elizabeth. I will say, in my case, I've kept at my career although there are scenarios where we would reverse that decision.

But what struck me about the photo of John is just how much emotional pain he is conveying. They have to still be in shock and this is the first indication I've seen of how difficult this really is. To do this in the glare of a grueling presidential campaign is unimaginable.

This week's events have also generated discussion in the metastisized breast cancer community about the appropriateness (or not) of "positive mental attitude." Of course, for a politician, being positive all the time is de rigeur. And yet, that photo captures the anguish he presumably feels. Did this photo not get wider play out of consideration by the press for its possible negative impact?

a reader -

No, I know you weren't. I surely didn't mean to have it come across as 'attacking' you in any way - really, I wasn't. If it seemed like it, I'm sorry.

But what struck me about the photo of John is just how much emotional pain he is conveying. They have to still be in shock and this is the first indication I've seen of how difficult this really is. To do this in the glare of a grueling presidential campaign is unimaginable.

I was attempting to illustrate that my friend and her husband had only been married a short time before being hit with something so devastating. My friend's husband is a remarkable man. He never said much to her about being scared, but he said it plenty to us. And - trust me, we NEVER thought less of him. Christ - WE were scared. I still shake my head in wonder that any of us survived that.

As an aside: my friend, Diane, who died from breast cancer. Her husband, Bob, said he went to a spousal support group and there were two other men there. He was thunderstruck at the number of men who leave their spouses. He couldn't, he said, how could he; he had loved Diane since the 7th grade. They were married for 27 years. And he did wonder "How do I live without my best friend of 32 years?"

I've decided that love is the absolute best!

I find these pictures devastingly brave and moving. I am astonished that wisechick interpreted their body language negatively; I'll hazard a guess that wisechick is not WASP. I also guess that she hasn't been married for 30 years. Putting his arm around her shoulders would have been the worst kind of smarmy patronizing sentimentality. Ronnie would might have put his arm around Nancy's shoulder, but it would have been an act for the camera...following the script. I see the Edwards protecting something private between them in a public place. What they have isn't for public consumption. This is not Hollywood.

I also see deep passion. One rarely sees this kind of genuine raw unmasked emotion. In the pictures of the two of them, her face is genuinely smiling. That's not a Laura">">Laura smile nor Nancy mugging for the camera. I see two people who respect one another and who have been dealt a terrible, terrible blow. Look in the first picture at how he leans into her as if he just wanted to hug her, then, in the next picture, how he responds to her grin of delight at him. And in the third picture, their two bodies--though the hands are clasped--are working together. Her shoulders are elevated as if she is receiving a spiritual charge from him and his body is completely open to her.

The two single shots are devastating, raw. She is gone inside to reflect on the prospect of her own death, and he wants to cry. I want to cry when I look at his face.

As for the Political Scientist in his darkened cave with his political memorabilia and books? Don't all political scientists look just like that?

This is a tough story, of course. I think there's a bit of over-analyzing going on with respect to the photos, both of John & Elizabeth, and of Prof. Redlawsk. I don't know if all political scientists look like that, but I do know that the choice of lighting was the photographer's, not his. And by the way - don't take much in the symbolism proposed in the initial post. Nothing in the office was moved for the photo - the last comment above is correct - it's just a bunch of memorabilia. In fact, I gave him the Dean flag almost four years ago!

We don't know anything, really, about these people; and these images are essentially meaningless w.r.t. either their situation, or the political event, here = "news".

there is nothing in these images that directly depicts, or even suggests a terminal cancer (in either the man or the woman), or pain, or the inevitability of loss; though there is, as margaret points out ~ that clear sense that one gets that this man & woman are a couple who are no longer "in love" but who "love" = are bonded, thus.

The Publicity of Privacy

now, given the text context : “My Wife Is Dying Of Cancer we can either: (1) assign our own illusions to these images, with our conceit implicit that we know what they are thinking and feeling; or, (2) identify ourselves with their images and indulge our own angst in how it must feel to be them, in their situation, rather than to be ourselves...

...after all, we are staring at them as unashamed Voyeurs ~ which is a price for privacy they are both only too willing to pay us, publicly, for our Vote.

The bottom left solo pic of Elizabeth Edwards looks odd, like someone got a little carried away with the Shadow/Highlight filter in the photo editing software.

Kitt--"I've decided that love is the absolute best!"

If there is a God with the attributes we imagine Him as having, then love is the only glimpse we get on this earth of His character, the only part of Him we manifest within ourselves. The only time we feel Him. Our little piece of heaven, if you will.

For God is Love. Or love is God?

Of course, that's all tripe nobody will ever take seriously, right?

It's amazing how flummoxed a certain kind of mind gets when confronted with an accomplished man who respects his equally accomplished wife.

Yesterday's "This Week" round table was particularly pungent with warped judgement and holy predictions, and I gather from a quick scan of the blogs that this curiosity has been rife out there as well. It reminds me of how clueless people sound when "analyzing" the Clintons' marriage, and the theme strikes again when looking at the Plame/Wilson matter: Not one person can properly explain to me what exactly the scandal was supposed to be where Joseph Wilson was recommended for a trip by his wife - not true, it only makes the whisperers look uninformed and true...what? That his wife knows something about anti-proliferation and is a partner with her equally knowledgeable husband?

The Edwards pictures are heart-breaking. More because I see two loving and respectful people who are confronted publicly with the private fact that their partnership will end.

For once, there is nothing remotely adequate or appropriate that can or should be said about these images.

John and Elizabeth draw strength and delight from one another. Separately they are painfully aware of the realities. That they are still willing to make the sacrifices involved in trying to improve our country, speaks volumes to me.

Visit the Schapira blog, "What we know so far ..." at

"... and tell 'em Big Mitch sent ya!"

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