Will the Right Plumb New Depths and Go After Elizabeth Edwards' Cancer?

It's bad enough to learn that Elizabeth Edwards' cancer has returned -- now we have to worry about what ugly things the right-wing and mainstream media are saying.
Ever since John and Elizabeth Edwards revealed that her cancer is back and has taken up residence in her bones, I've lived in fear of what Ann Coulter might have to say about this grim situation.

It's bad enough, for someone like me who's been treated for breast cancer, to hear about anyone else's recurrence, but it's worse when you're worried about a recurrence of Coulter's hoof-in-mouth disease, which led her to suggest, on March 2, that John Edwards is a "faggot." Will she now charge that the Edwards are faking the whole thing -- or that Elizabeth is actually a male transvestite who will be using the alleged cancer as a coverup for his sex-change operation?

It's true, the Edwards' joint announcement of their medical crisis does unfairly highlight the fact that the top three Democratic presidential candidates are all married to their first spouses, while the two top Republicans are serial marry-ers and Newt Gingrich has just paved the way for his own candidacy with a confession of adultery. I see no reason why a divorced person or an adulterer should not be president. But there should be a law against their ever invoking "family values."

Strangely, it's not Coulter, but girl-next-door Katie Couric who's hinted, in a 60 Minutes interview with Elizabeth Edwards, that the couple might be "capitalizing" on the disease. Can't you just see them cackling over the bone scans, eagerly calculating what the results would do for them in the polls? Convening their children for the good news that, although Daddy's been almost eclipsed by Obama, Mommy has a potentially fatal disease?

Couric also told John Edwards that some people might judge him "callous" for campaigning through what might be his wife's last months. Is Couric forgetting that she was working as a $7 million a year NBC anchor while her own husband was dying of colon cancer? And just in case we do get a Gingrich candidacy: Recall that he had his first wife served with divorce papers while she was in the hospital with cancer. In contrast, campaigning with your spouse, for as much time as she will be able to spend on the trail, seems downright romantic.

All right, I have a stake in all this. For my money, John Edwards is the best candidate out there. Clinton has Iraqi and American blood on her hands; Obama has yet to lay out clear economic alternatives; and, although they might once have been Republican moderates, McCain and Giuliani are shamelessly snuggling up to the Christianist right. I like Edwards because he's taken up the banner of the little guy and gal in America's grossly one-sided class war. He's laid out a plan for universal health insurance; he wants to repeal Bush's tax cuts for the rich; he shows up at workers' picket lines.

I met him on a panel last fall, and he is good-looking enough to merit Coulter's suspicion that he can't possibly be straight (though, really, Ann, if you want to crank up your "gay-dar," you should get away from those pimply right-wingers and meet some new guys.) He's modest, low-key, friendly, and, although he's wealthy now, he spoke movingly from his family's experience of poverty.

As for Elizabeth Edwards, all I know is this: When I was being subjected to chemotherapy six years ago, the one thing that kept me going was work. Every morning I would go down to my desk in the basement to confront the computer screen and the stacks of books and papers around it. I ended up not using the chapter -- on ancient Roman games -- I was writing at the time (for the book just published as "Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy"), but I desperately needed to be at least 2,000 miles and 2,000 years away from my affliction. So I say to Elizabeth, if I may call her that: Get out there, girl, and campaign like hell!
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of 13 books, most recently "Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy."
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