Starving the Metaphor

Judith Warner says we should leave Elizabeth Edwards alone. She’s the exception to the rule, apparently.

“I don’t want to discuss John Edwards’s extramarital behavior here,” she wrote in her Domestic Disturbances column in yesterday’s New York Times. “I don’t want to beat up on Elizabeth, a woman who, it seems to me, has already endured many lifetimes’ worth of pain.”

Well, maybe only 1,000-or-so words’ worth. Warner’s rant, called “Starve the Beast,” on why Elizabeth Edwards has been unnecessarily protective of her husband, is not much worth reading. Except, that is, for the rather odd sentence that sticks out halfway down. Here it is, with its preceding one discussing the former senator’s shelf life going forward:

But I have no doubt that, in the future, he’ll be back - with a few well-planned wrinkles, a few grizzled hairs to connote wisdom and suffering, and, most important, a more personal and immediate relationship with God. One simply wonders, with a shudder, whether Elizabeth will be with him.

Is Warner referring to Elizabeth Edwards leaving her husband, or no longer being alive? The ambiguous statement leads in two different directions: either Warner is talking about some culpability on Elizabeth’s part for not more rigorously “starv[ing] the beast” (a shudder of self-righteous horror) or a culpability on Edwards’s part in trying to “re-brand” himself when his wife is battling cancer (a forecasting shudder).

The ambiguity just adds confusion to what already reads like a familiar feminist screed:

When will she learn? If you keep on feeding the beast, you’ll get your hand, then your arm, then your head chopped off.

“When the door closes behind him, he has his family waiting for him,” [Elizabeth] said, on the day John made his “Nightline” confession.

That door should stay closed now.

And if you’re going to keep the door open for a little longer, misleading statements (and the awkward re-appropriation of a fiscal metaphor) aren’t doing anyone any favors.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Jane Kim is a writer in New York.