Thoughts on Elizabeth Edwards at BlogHer 2007

Last year after the closing keynote address at the BlogHer conference — at which Arianna Huffington was one of the speakers — a close friend of mine asked if it bothered me to be politically distant from so many of my fellow conference attendees. I had enjoyed the keynote. It focused on issues that, for the most part and to varying degrees, were of interest to all women. And despite the party indicated on my voter registration card, the issues that interested me weren’t all that divergent from those of the other attendees.

This year was a different story.

Elizabeth Edwards was the closing keynote speaker at this year’s conference. She may be the wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but she is also an individual in her own right, and I looked forward to hearing what she — and she alone — had to say about various issues.

The discussion started off just as I had hoped. She took questions that were not at all partisan in and of themselves, and I appreciated hearing her views. Granted, I wasn’t in complete agreement with all of her stated views, but it was enlightening to see where we shared common thoughts — such as on the value of child care. And I liked that she was willing to speak to her own beliefs, not just those of the campaign, as she asserted that, "I try to answer the question that’s asked of me."

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However, the discussion soon shifted to topics specific to the 2008 campaign, and in turn Mrs. Edwards’ responses grew less personal and more focused on John Edwards’ campaign stances and how his positions differ from those of the other Democratic candidates. I was disappointed by what I saw as veiled campaigning on her part. I wanted to hear her thoughts on particular issues and her suggestions as to what we as individuals could do to make our voices heard, not why she thought her husband would be the best candidate to lead our country.

I was especially surprised by her statement that, "Probably most of the women in this room believe all the same things (that she and Hillary Clinton do)." While I’m sure Mrs. Edwards is accustomed to speaking to groups of Democrats, and I recognize that many women bloggers are generally liberal, I still felt somewhat alienated by her assertion and I appreciated Lisa Stone’s follow-on point that great political diversity exists among the BlogHer membership.

But my disappointment peaked when she never did manage to answer Lisa’s question as to whether she reads blogs written from differing viewpoints and what her top three blogs were. Considering that she stated, both before and after that question, that she simply answered the questions that were asked of her, I was bothered that she didn’t do so in that case. Even if she didn’t want to name sites, regardless of their political bent, I wish she would have said so. But by avoiding the question entirely, it led me to conclude that she doesn’t in fact read any conservative blogs.

So naturally I was pleased when Kathryn of Daring Young Mom spoke up as a conservative — a segment which is curiously missing from the final video blog post of this discussion on the BlogHer site. While I expect that Kathryn’s political views and mine diverge in many areas, I wasn’t looking to her to speak for me or the party on our voter registration cards, but simply to call attention to the assumptions that had been made during the discussion.

Over the more than two years that I’ve been blogging, time and time again I’ve seen how often bloggers’ views converge, despite what their voter registration cards might say. We share so many commonalities — particularly among those of us who are parents — that politicians (and their spouses) don’t see. I believe they are blinded to these individual commonalities because they are focused on highlighting the differences between the parties and assume that all people who call themselves a Democrat or a Republican believe the same things. It’s not true.

If politicians (and their spouses) want to reach out effectively to voters, I think a better approach would be to simply ask where voters’ priorities lie, what issues are most important to them, and how they’d like to see them addressed. It’s not up to politicians to provide us with solutions. It’s up to all of us to determine where we’d like to go and how we’d like to get there, and then work with our representatives — from local government all the way up to the federal government — to help make it happen.

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