Crimson Interview: Elizabeth Edwards

Wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, now a visiting fellow at the IOP, answered the Crimson's questions on privacy and politics

Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, is currently a visiting spring fellow at the Institute of Politics (IOP). The Crimson sat down with Edwards for a brief interview on her last day on campus.

The Harvard Crimson: During your husband’s presidential campaign, there was a lot of focus on the recurrence of your cancer. What was it like having all this personal information out in the public sphere?

Elizabeth Edwards: I’ve never been a very private person. I’ve lived in very small communities where everybody knows everything, and our house was always the meeting place for all the kids. I long ago got used to the idea that I wasn’t going to have any secrets.

THC: Why has health care been such an important issue for you?

EE: It’s not just my personal condition. This was something that was of great concern to me before I realized that I either had breast cancer or that the breast cancer returned. Partly because everybody knows that if you have a health problem, it is like you don’t have any other problems. Basically, health care issues can take over your life. It’s something we all share universally, both fear of health care issues and the very high probability that all of us are going to face some health care issue in our lives.

When John was developing his health care policy, since he’d heard the same stories, one of the things we wanted was a truly universal health care program.

THC: Will you or your husband be endorsing either remaining Democratic candidate before one drops out of the race or receives the nomination?

EE: He’d have to speak for himself. As for me, if something drastically changed, I guess there would be some possibility. In the current landscape, I don’t really see any need to use the tiny bit of political capital I have on a person. I’d rather use it on an idea or policy.

THC: In your speech yesterday you criticized the role of the media in politics, saying that we do not have a “vigorous press.” How do you think we got to this point? What do you think should be done about this?

EE: I don’t really know the causes. It’s sort of a chicken-and-egg question about whether you produce something people really don’t want to see or whether people don’t want to see it because they’ve gotten used to something much more superficial. I heard commentators all the time, almost with some embarrassment, explaining why it was that we were watching so many minutes of the determination of who Anna Nicole Smith’s baby’s father was—inconsequential to everybody’s life except the participants there.

THC: Why did you decide to take the time to serve as an IOP visiting fellow?

EE: I’d like to say that this was my idea to continue to contribute, but honestly, for me, this is what I enjoy doing. I hope the people on the other side of whatever table I’m sitting at have got something out of it, but I always get something out of it. I know it’s supposed to be work, but it’s like a three-day vacation for me to get to talk to smart people about the issues about which they care and the issues about which I care.

THC: If you could advise our generation about one thing we need to change about American politics, what would it be?

EE: Raising money is such an impediment to so many valuable voices that we have to change campaign finance. We have to be willing to fund elections in a different way so that people who really can contribute but can’t raise the money can be part of our legislative process. I know it seems like an issue unrelated to you, but if you don’t do that, you’re going to end up with a really elite kind of leadership.

I also think that if I was a young person today, I would probably agree with what I hear over and over that you are likely to grow up not enjoying the same standards of living your parents enjoyed. It’s easy to get idealistic about things—and as a college student I certainly was—but we need to be able to translate that idealism into policies that give you back the dream. We are the most optimistic people in the world. And I really hate that I see in this generation the possibility that we’re starting to lose a little of that. That is our national personality, and we can lose it if we’re not careful.

—Staff Writer Lauren D. Kiel can be reached at lkiel@fas.harvard.edu