Writes Judith Warner in today's New York Times, "Her story made them believe something good about themselves. It was a kind of Everywoman's fable: behind the imperfect physical shell, a gem of inner beauty resides. And is loved and recognized."
In a recap of the fracas caused by the muckraking Game Change, Warner analyzes Elizabeth Edwards' appeal. Basically, she says, women liked the fantasy: "Before the news of the Rielle Hunter affair, the Edwards story made many women happy." Was it because she was accomplished, or seemed smart? Nope - or at least, not just this:
It wasn't just that Elizabeth Edwards - who looked considerably older than her eternally baby-faced husband - was a woman they admired and believed in...This story was a dream come true for many women. "I like that he's got a fat wife," a woman in a focus group told an Edwards pollster in his 1998 Senate race, as recounted in "Game Change." "I thought he'd be married to a Barbie or a cheerleader." If it was thus for Elizabeth Edwards, there was hope for us all.
Huh? This seems predicated on a number of odd assumptions. One, that Elizabeth Edwards is particularly unattractive. Two, that John Edwards is some sex symbol and three - well, that womens' collective self-worth is based on the former two being true. It's the same odd assumptions that seem to underlie every Nancy Meyers film. Middle-aged women, allegedly, want to see stories in which older women steal desirable men away from young, hot women (the "Barbies.") That this is still an ugly premise - that cheating on a younger wife with an ex-wife is not markedly less abhorrent than the reverse - and indeed, somewhat insulting to the intended audience, doesn't seem to bother anyone particularly.
If anything, Elizabeth Edwards, in early says, served to humanize her husband, not because she was an ugly sad-sack but because he seemed so patently false, so instantly creepy, that finding someone relatively normal and down-to-earth at his side provided a measure of relief to a public who wanted to believe. (And that's these many who allegedly canonized her in the first place.) It was not his making her look good, but the other way around. And to misidentify that seems to me to do "women" who loved her something of a disservice.