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Newsweek’s Howard Fineman on the Edwards cancer news.

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HH: Here with Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent for Newsweek. Howard, one of those rare days in American politics where something different happens. I’m trying to remember, have we ever seen anything like the announcement made in Raleigh today with Senator and Mrs. Edwards?

HF: No, Hugh, we haven’t. I think it was remarkable. I think the line between personality and politics has never been very sharp, actually, but this was a total mix of the two, because in a very heartfelt and I think quite moving press conference, the Edwards talked about their love for each other, their dedication, they talked about their determination to help Elizabeth Edwards fight the cancer that has spread from the breast cancer she had four years ago now to bone cancer, even as they continue their joint quest to get him elected president of the United States. You know, people who run for president are different, somewhat different from you and me, Hugh, I would say.

HH: Yup.

HF: They’re driven, yet on the other hand, I think if they’re correct about the prognosis here, which is that while she does have some involvement of bone in the cancer, it’s not of crisis proportion yet, she may be able to live for years, if not decades. So I think it’s a decision that while a few people might view cynically, I think most would view as the way we live today. You know, it was very much of a sociological moment more than a political one, I’ll just say.

HH: That’s what I’m thinking. I don’t know, do you have any experience in cancer in your own family, Howard?

HF: Well, I had it in my own life, Hugh. I had prostate cancer.

HH: I didn’t know that. When did you have prostate cancer?

HF: Last year.

HH: And so, I think that then…as a cancer survivor…

HF: Right.

HH: …how did you react when you got your diagnosis? I’m just going to keep working?

HF: Well, I couldn’t immediately. I mean, I ended up having surgery, and that required a recovery period, and convalescence, and so forth. Not radiation, though, because I went the surgical route, because I was lucky they had found the prostate cancer early in the process, and I was able to have an operation that gives me a very good chance of long term success. But yeah, I had to get off the beat and out of the office and stay home for a couple of months, and turn in convalescence and so forth. But if I understand correctly what the doctors are saying here in her case, she’s going to have be on chemo, some kind of chemotherapy, a different kind of chemotherapy, that will last the rest of her life, really. As new drugs are developed, perhaps it’ll change somewhat. But it’s not going to be immediately debilitating in any way. And the Edwards are in it, to steal a phrase from Hillary, in it to win it, and they’re going to keep on keeping on.

HH: You know, I was telling the audience in the first segment today I lost my mother to breast cancer, but I’ve had two sisters in law, both of whom are cancer survivors, and beyond their five years, et cetera, and moving forward. And every person I’ve ever known who’ve been diagnosed with cancer reacts that they’re going to fight, and they’re going to fight strong, and you don’t give up campaigns or jobs. And it’s their joint job, in many respects. They’ve both been running for president for a lot of years now.

HF: Yeah, that’s right, and I think most of the American people understand and identify with that. And as Bernadette Healey said, and I was on a TV show with her early in the day, and I thought she made a lot of sense, there’s been so much progress in treatment of cancer that it’s not the immediate death sentence, big C kind of thing that it used to be. It’s never great news, but it’s a condition of life, and it’s a condition that tens of millions of Americans are living with, whose lives do not grind to a halt, and who in fact have some of their most productive years, and go on living their lives. So I think that’s what the Edwards said. To me, the most interesting thing politically was that John Edwards said look, this is not easy, we’ve had tough things in our life, the death of our son in an auto accident, Elizabeth’s earlier breast cancer in ’04, but we’re tough, and we look on the sunny side, and we’re going to keep moving, and it has helped me learn to focus and to be mature. So in an odd way, he was saying that in terms of leadership strength, this if anything, was something that helped him learn how to deal with tough things in life.

HH: Well, that is one candidate. There’s lots of other news coming out of the campaign.

HF: Sure.

HH: Mitt Romney today gets hit for having endorsed the liberal mayor of Salt Lake City a few years ago, and I had him on the program talking about this yesterday. And Howard, I was on a blogger conference call today to flog my book, and I got asked do all these stories, Giuliani dressing in drag on Bill Maher, and Mitt Romney in Salt Lake City, and Obama’s ad guy coming up, do they matter? And I said I don’t think so. I think there’s so much information now because of new media, no one story does anything. It’s almost like they’re invulnerable. You’re comments?

HF: Well, I wouldn’t say they’re invulnerable, but it’s true. The flood of stuff is just overwhelming for those of us junkees who are paying attention to it. I think most of the American public is not paying attention to it. It’s so much noise over on the side of their lives. And you know, they’re picking up from the distance certain impressions that they may be storing away. If I can use maybe a bad analogy, it’s almost like a coral reef building up, you know, slowly.

HH: Oh, that’s pretty good, actually.

HF: Later on, they’ll look at it closely. But they’re not looking at it closely right now. And as far as Mitt Romney is concerned, or Obama, or any of those people, there will come a time when the American people will begin looking closely. This isn’t that time.

HH: And now, compared to the years you’ve been doing this, and I don’t know if this is your sixth, or seventh, or eighth presidential campaign, Howard Fineman, is this…

HF: A lot. Don’t say it in such an accusatory way.

HH: (laughing) Is it radically different how the news is happening this time around?

HF: Oh, yeah. I think so. I mean, I think the basic notion of it isn’t different, but the routes are different, the methods are different. And it’s the difference between…I seem to have lots of water references here. It’s not one big river, it’s a lot, a lot of little different streams that flow into it. It is true that the internet and independent money, and the way the schedule is set up this time with all these acres and acres of time, and the ability of people sitting at home with a laptop with some knowledge of graphics to create a professional level ad…

HH: Yup.

HF: That’s different.

HH: Howard Fineman, always a pleasure. Look forward to checking in with you throughout the campaign from Newsweek. You can go to, read Howard’s column today. I’ve already posted on the Edwards.

End of interview.


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