This review is taken from the December 2006/January 2007 issue of The American Spectator. To subscribe to the monthly print edition, click here.p> strong> Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength From Friends and Strangers br> by Elizabeth Edwards br> (Broadway Books, 340 pages, $24.95) /strong> /p>
YOU REMEMBER ELIZABETH EDWARDS. She ran for Second Lady in 2004 and may run for First Lady in 2008 if her husband, former Sen. John Edwards, is nominated by the Democrats. Whether or not he becomes president is purely academic because Elizabeth has what it takes to become America’s First Lady on her own. She doesn’t need the White House; her memoir of bereavement and invalidism pulsates with so much lugubrious hysteria that she’s a shoo-in to become the Great White Oprah.
She had the best possible training for political wifehood. She was a Navy brat, accustomed to moving here and there and everywhere, meeting loads of people, and then moving again and meeting loads more. Her girlhood was dominated by the dreaded “Fitness Report,” which all officers get when they come up for promotion. The conduct of a man’s family could make or break him. “Everything we did was watched and recorded,” she writes; “nobody talked about it, but everyone knew it. We all had as our first allegiance the professional reputations of our fathers.” A wife who drank, or a pregnant daughter “meant a ruined career, a shortened tour of duty, a life spoiled by an indiscretion.”
She met John Edwards while they were both law students at the University of North Carolina and married him in 1977 when she was 28 and he was 24. Settling down in Raleigh, they had two children, Wade born in 1980 and Cate in 1982. In 1996, while en route to meet up with his parents at their beach house, Wade was killed in a weather-related auto accident and Elizabeth fell apart.
Her morbid excesses began with the sign she posted on the door of her son’s room ordering the cleaning woman not to vacuum or change the sheets: “I wanted the room to smell like Wade as long as it would.” The wake had hardly begun before her brother came with a video camera and interviewed the assembled neighbors and classmates about the dead boy. For months afterwards, TV and music were banned from the Edwards home as they gathered with friends each evening in the dark, quiet family room to talk about Wade.
It sounds as if all of Raleigh was involved in the grieving process, including perfect strangers that Elizabeth drafted into service: “If, in a restaurant, I felt Wade about to overtake me, I would go to the restroom and take out his picture. If someone, anyone, was there, I showed them the picture and told them about my boy.” Sometimes she drew a whole crowd of sympathizers. One day at the supermarket she happened to see a display of Wade’s favorite soft drink and fell into what sounds like a fit: “…he came crashing in on me, and I was literally thrown to the floor. I sat sprawled in the soda aisle at the grocery store and cried uncontrollably… flattened by Cherry Coke.”
She even roped in the gravediggers, giving the cemetery grounds staff presents on Wade’s birthday. She visited his grave every day and read the Bible aloud “to the place on the ground.” She also read him the letters that his friends had written about him, and when his SAT scores arrived posthumously she read him those, too. She enjoyed tending his grave because it reminded her of cleaning up his room, but it wasn’t enough, so she started tending other graves of children who had died years and decades earlier, talking to them all the while, because they had no mothers to clean for them. One day she washed some dead child’s muddy cross.
She went what can only be called berserk the day Wade’s grave was violated. The site contained a huge metal angel, and someone had tried unsuccessfully to drag it away. She began screaming and called the police, demanding that they come out and dust the angel for fingerprints. As she waited, it began to rain, so she fetched umbrellas and old quilts from her trunk to cover the angel to preserve the prints. When the police got there, they told her that prints could not be lifted from the statue’s surface. She was inconsolable: “He was in my every thought, in my empty arms, in my weary, beaten heart.”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
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