Elizabeth Edwards: Tragic Heroine or Enabling Conspirator?

At this point, we've come to a rare national consensus -- not on the Russo-Georgian war, or gas prices, or even Michael Phelps, but on former presidential candidate John Edwards.

Whether you believed that he was the one who could heal the rift between the Two Americas or you thought all along that his great passion was his hair, whether you feel that what happens in a marriage has no bearing on public life or you're convinced that a person's behavior in private life is a crucial indicator of character, by now you concur with the conventional wisdom: John Edwards is a putz.

John may have begun digging his own grave when he was introduced to Rielle Hunter in the bar of the Regency Hotel in 2006. He certainly shoveled himself deeper when he met up with her last month in the middle of the night at the Beverly Hilton. But there's no question that his now-infamous Friday night confessional sent him hurtling down to rock bottom.

Even if we put aside the ironic narcissism of John's admission that he was narcissistic and therefore he sinned, it now seems quite evident that the tale he's been peddling is far from the whole story (even the mainstream media are finally on to it). Given that John revealed the extent of his affair to his own wife "in installments," as People magazine puts it, it seems apparent that he's not through with the rest of us. From gossip bloggers, to Republican senators, to his own former campaign manager, the general consensus is that he's still lying and his political goose is cooked.

But what about his wife?

On Elizabeth Edwards, we have no such consensus. In fact, we seem to be developing two distinct schools of thought: Elizabeth as tragic/heroic victim and Elizabeth as down-in-the-mud-with-her-husband villainess. Bluebeard's wife versus Lady Macbeth, as it were.

Predictably, People has taken the lead on Elizabeth as tragic heroine. In a fairly skimpy article, various friends and relatives are quoted on her anguish and her dedication to her children. She's being strong in the face of hardship, the argument goes, because she's that kind of gal.

Another such argument goes that, just like any other loving wife, in fact just like you and me, she loved him and wanted to believe him, and then there's the kids. Women who have long idolized the plainspoken, unglamorous politician's wife with a mind of her own, are chiming in with their paeans to Elizabeth as victim and heroine.

But there are those who find plenty of blame to place right on her. Nobody is suggesting that Elizabeth told John to go out and find himself a bimbo ("Honey, now that my cancer's in remission, you could use a little reward for being so supportive during all that chemo..."), though Rush Limbaugh, in classic form, argued that she drove him to it.