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Cancer and the Campaign

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Everyone has an opinion of what choice John and Elizabeth Edwards should make, but ultimately the decision is theirs. hide caption

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George Wallace button

As George Wallace plotted out his 1968 presidential run, his wife Lurleen was dying of cancer. hide caption

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Joe Must Go! button

Fifty-three years ago today, the first "Joe Must Go" rally — pushing for the recall of Sen. McCarthy — is held in Wisconsin. hide caption

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A lot has been said and written about the health of presidents and presidential candidates, and how forthcoming they have been (or not). Everyone from Woodrow Wilson and FDR to John Kennedy and Paul Tsongas has had issues about their health and questions about full disclosure.

It's less frequent when the conversation shifts to the spouse. Now comes the news that the cancer that first struck Elizabeth Edwards in the waning days of the 2004 campaign — which was thought to be contained — has returned, and has spread. John and Elizabeth Edwards acknowledge that the cancer is not curable, though treatable, and the Edwards family has decided that he will continue with his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Almost everyone has an opinion on the propriety of John Edwards' decision, probably because cancer is such a personal thing. Steffen Schmidt, a political scientist at Iowa State University in Ames, writes, "Everyone I have talked to says Edwards should have said 'Family comes first,' and then be available as a helluva VP choice, or for a big Cabinet position. I know several cancer survivors who said John Edwards will either neglect her as candidate and as president or he will be distracted from the campaign and from the presidency."

That seems a bit harsh. The very fact that the disease — which strikes far too many families — is a personal matter means that whether Edwards stays in the race is a decision best made by the Edwards family.

This might sound like a weird acknowledgement coming from a political junkie, but it appeared a bit unseemly to hear people immediately focusing on what this means for the Edwards campaign. Questions about money and strategy and polling came off as a bit ill-timed, I thought, given the shock of Elizabeth's condition. Ultimately, they will have to be addressed. Just not yet. Whatever the Edwards family decided, it was always their choice. We can talk about the marriages and families of Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani and others until we're blue in the face, but the answers were never ours to begin with. Let's just keep Elizabeth Edwards in our prayers.

... And, for that matter, let's add White House press secretary Tony Snow. It was revealed on Tuesday that colon cancer has spread to his liver.

History. After watching the Edwards' news conference last week, my mind immediately drifted to October of 1971. That's when Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh, an undeclared candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, ended his bid when his wife, Marvella, underwent cancer surgery. Bayh was not doing especially well in the polls at that point (though neither was ultimate nominee George McGovern). But Bayh cited his wife's cancer for his decision. Eventually, Marvella Bayh was thought to have put cancer behind her. Birch Bayh ran again, in 1976, but never made a major impact in the race; Marvella died of cancer in 1979.

A different response was given by George Wallace. Constitutionally ineligible to run for re-election as Alabama's governor in 1966, he had his wife Lurleen run in his stead — even though she was already diagnosed with cancer. Lurleen Wallace was elected governor overwhelmingly that year, and George went on to immediately plot out a third-party campaign for president. In both 1966 and 1967, Lurleen had cancer surgery. On Feb. 8, 1968, as Lurleen was undergoing radiation treatment, George made his presidential bid official. Two weeks later, she had a malignant tumor removed. From then on, her cancer rapidly spread. On May 7, 1968, she died at the age of 41.

On to this week's questions:

Q: Who were the House members who voted against the majority of their party in the vote to fund the Iraq war? — Andy Craig, Burlington, Vt.

A: I assume you are asking about the March 23 House vote, which in a 218-212 tally also called for a withdrawal of U.S. forces by Aug. 31 of next year.

Fourteen Democrats voted against the measure, a combination of liberals (who opposed funding the war) and conservatives (who opposed setting a timetable for withdrawal): John Barrow (GA), Dan Boren (OK), Lincoln Davis (TN), Dennis Kucinich (OH), Barbara Lee (CA), John Lewis (GA), Jim Marshall (GA), Jim Matheson (UT), Michael McNulty (NY), Michael Michaud (ME), Gene Taylor (MS), Maxine Waters (CA), Diane Watson (CA), and Lynn Woolsey (CA).

Two Republicans voted for the measure: Wayne Gilchrest (MD) and Walter Jones Jr. (NC). One member, Pete Stark (D-CA), voted present.

Q: Do we still have troops in Kosovo? - Richard Harris, Muncie, Ind.

A: There are about 1,500 U.S. troops in Kosovo that are part of NATO's peacekeeping mission there.

Q: As much as it frustrates me, I understand why the majority party must have 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate. When was the last time either party had 60 seats? - Douglas Gray, Pittsburgh, Pa.

A: The status quo Senate election of 1976 (neither party had a net gain/loss) left the Democrats with 62 seats, a total they maintained until they lost three seats in the '78 elections; no party has held 60 seats since. The last time the Republicans had at least 60 seats was prior to the 1908 elections, when they held 61.

Q: There was a recent item in David Brooks' column in The New York Times stating that since 1961, 40 senators have run for president, and their record is 0-40. Can you supply a list of the 40? - David Fischer, San Diego, Calif.

A: Actually, I count 45 — give or take some instances where, I concede, they may not have been official candidates. Here's my list, by presidential year, by party:

1964: Republicans - Barry Goldwater (Ariz.), Margaret Chase Smith (Maine).

1968: Democrats - Robert Kennedy (N.Y.), Eugene McCarthy (Minn.), George McGovern (S.D.), George Smathers (Fla. - favorite son), Stephen Young (Ohio - favorite son).

1972: Democrats - Birch Bayh (Ind.), Vance Hartke (Ind.), Fred Harris (Okla.), Harold Hughes (Iowa), Hubert Humphrey (Minn.), Henry Jackson (Wash.), George McGovern (S.D.), Ed Muskie (Maine).

1976: Democrats - Birch Bayh (Ind.), Lloyd Bentsen (Texas), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Frank Church (Idaho), Henry Jackson (Wash.).

1980: Republicans - Howard Baker (Tenn.), Bob Dole (Kans.), Larry Pressler (S.D.), Lowell Weicker (Conn.).
Democrats - Edward Kennedy (Mass.).

1984: Democrats - Alan Cranston (Calif.), John Glenn (Ohio), Gary Hart (Colo.), Ernest Hollings (S.C.).

1988: Republicans - Bob Dole (Kans.).
Democrats - Joe Biden (Del.), Al Gore (Tenn.), Paul Simon (Ill.).

1992: Democrats - Tom Harkin (Iowa), Bob Kerrey (Neb.).

1996: Republicans - Bob Dole (Kans.), Phil Gramm (Texas), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Arlen Specter (Pa.).

2000: Republicans - Orrin Hatch (Utah), John McCain (Ariz.).

2004: Democrats - John Edwards (N.C.), Bob Graham (Fla.), John Kerry (Mass.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.).

ONE MO FOR THE LIST: This all started with my note in the Feb. 21 column stating, incorrectly as it turned out, that Phil Crane (R-IL) was the first presidential candidate to declare two calendar years in advance when he announced in 1978. Not so, wrote Carl Leubsdorf in the Feb. 28 column, reminding us that Jimmy Carter, elected in 1976, announced on Dec. 12, 1974. Now Mark Bernkopf of Arlington, Va., supplies us with probably the first of the early birds: then-Rep. Morris Udall (D-AZ), who declared his 1976 candidacy on Nov. 23, 1974.

Speaking of adding one more to the list, the Feb. 28 column featured all the mayors and ex-mayors who ran for president. We subsequently were reminded of one we left out — former Mount Pleasant (Iowa) Mayor Tom Vilsack, who ran for president way back in 2007. Now comes a note from Karen Kilroy of Akron, Ohio, with one more that we had no business forgetting: ex-Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich.

And the item in the same column asking what to call Bill Clinton if his wife is elected president brought in a lot of suggestions, including this bit of advice from Michael Rebain of Washington, D.C.: "I'm not Miss Manners, but I think that the correct answer is simply 'former President Clinton.' 'First Lady' was originally a title given to the person designated by the president to serve as a hostess in social occasions required by the office. Very often a president's sister or daughter would fill the role if there was no spouse to do so. It's only in relatively recent years (I'm guessing since Woodrow Wilson's first wife died) that we haven't had a period when there was no spouse. If Hillary were to be elected, I would like to see her designate her daughter Chelsea as 'First Lady' to perform that role, leaving Bill to be the unofficial adviser that would suit him better."

BUTTON UP: While we like to say that the campaign buttons used in this column are just a sidebar to the deep, thoughtful political analysis we offer each week, truth be told, the buttons are very important to us. Acquiring them is something we do (and have been doing, for many decades) with great enthusiasm. And when some special items make it into the vaunted Rudin collection, we think it is our responsibility to share. In that vein, there was lots of good stuff we came across last Saturday at a meeting of the American Political Items Collectors (APIC) in Vienna, Va. Three items worth mentioning here:

Julian Bond button

(1) A badly-stained but nonetheless never-before-seen button for Julian Bond, from his famous 1965 election to the Georgia House. This is the seat from which he was briefly barred from holding when state legislators voted to exclude him because of statements he made (on race, the Vietnam War, etc.) that lawmakers claimed made him unfit to hold public office.

Muskie/McCarthy button

(2) A long sought-after presidential coattail button from Buffalo, N.Y., in 1968 featuring the Democratic ticket of Hubert Humphrey for president, Ed Muskie for vice president, and incumbent Richard "Max" McCarthy for Congress.

Morton, Romney, Hatfield, Rockefeller, Scranton, Nixon, Smith, Clay button

(3) Another button I've been searching for forever, from 1964, listing the names of Republicans Thruston Morton, George Romney, Mark Hatfield, Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, Richard Nixon, Margaret Chase Smith and Gen. Lucius Clay. I've wanted this since I saw it in a collection more than 30 years ago. I'm of two minds for the button's true meaning. Is it a list of potential running mates for GOP presidential nominee Barry Goldwater, or is it (even better) an "Anybody But Goldwater" button? I suspect the latter.

 

WE'RE ON THE AIR EVEN EARLIER: As many of you know, the "Political Junkie" segment can be heard every Wednesday afternoon on Talk of the Nation, NPR's call-in show. This week the segment starts earlier than usual: 2 p.m. ET. If the online column leaves you craving more, then you should tune in to TOTN each Wednesday for your fix! If your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web.

 

IT'S ALL POLITICS: Which just so happens is the name of our weekly podcast. The program got a big boost last Friday when Ron Elving and I brought our routine to Morning Edition. The good news: far fewer cancellations of public radio pledges than we anticipated. New program goes up every Thursday afternoon.

 

THE KEN SHOW: Needless to say, the response was mixed to the idea of having Ken Rudin on the air 24/7, despite a suggestion in last week's column. Michael Simpson is in favor: "I realize this would add to your workload but I believe the audience would appreciate it. I do not always agree with your comments or conclusions but I do appreciate your presentation of different perspectives. I have been surprised to discover in a few instances of having to change my point of view or position on a candidate or topic."

 

The opposite view came from Brook Soltvedt of Madison, Wis.: "Here's the deal: As it is now, I have little nuggets of Political Junkie to look forward to throughout the week. There's the TOTN segment on Wednesday. I read the column on Thursday. I listen to the podcast on Friday. It's kind of like that one delicious dark chocolate hazelnut cluster, that melt-in-your-mouth dark chocolate caramel with a coffee bean on top, that piece of crystalline chocolate-covered candied ginger that I allow myself every so often. You get a daily segment and it will be like scarfing down a bag of Hershey kisses. Instead of being a treat, to be anticipated and savored, you'll be another damn 15 pounds hanging off my backside. Don't do it! Overexposure is not a good thing. I say this as a big fan. All things in moderation. Please remain a small, high-quality delicacy, not mass-produced plop of trans-fat laden calories. I only have your best interests at heart. Trust me."

 

Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state.

 

This day in campaign history: Five hundred people, most of them Republicans, hold the first "Joe Must Go" rally in Sauk City, Wis., calling for the recall of red-baiting GOP Sen. Joseph McCarthy (March 28, 1954). McCarthy will be censured (officially, "condemned") by the Senate in December.

 

LUCKY BREAK: No "Political Junkie" column next week; we reappear on April 11.

 

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: politicaljunkie@npr.org

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