In Memoriam

I wanted to say something worthwhile about the death of Elizabeth Edwards, and yet when I think about her, I'm overwhelmed by a contempt for her husband. I don't think that's any way to remember anyone. Fallows has better ideas:


Fairness to Elizabeth Edwards is seeing her apart from these burdens -- as a sophisticated thinker and political actor, rather than a tragically fated figure. That's hard, but easier for me as I remember one extended performance I saw. 

Nearly seven years ago, during the New Hampshire primary campaigns of the 2004 election, the Atlantic hosted a dinner for politicians and strategists in Manchester. At the time John Edwards was fighting hard against John Kerry, Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, and the others. The dinner had a lot of genuine big-shots who were used to listening to themselves and having their views sought. Two of the TV network news anchors; other journalistic big-foot types; some academics, plus several candidates' campaign managers; and Mitt Romney, then the sitting governor of Massachusetts, there to represent the GOP. 

The longer the evening went on, the more people kept deferring and asking questions of, Elizabeth Edwards. By the end, it was like a seminar that she was conducting for the rest. She was talking mainly not about her husband's campaign but about her assessment of the larger shape of the presidential race. Where Bush and Cheney would be most vulnerable in the general election; what Karl Rove had figured out; how the New Hampshire results would position the Democrats for "mini-Tuesday" the next week and "super-Tuesday" a month later; how Democrats could talk about economic justice without sounding like big-government spendthrifts; what to say and do about Iraq.There was nothing "brave" or tragic about it, just someone who was intelligent, clear-eyed, and tough. I would like to remember that accomplished side of her.

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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