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The great sin of America is to subordinate the personal to the professional. We Americans are ferocious competitors. We know how to make money and have created the world's highest standard of living. What we don't know is how to love, how to stay married, and how to raise children.
Never in human history has there been a country that was so good at one important thing, business, and so bad at an even more important thing, family. While our economy is strong, our families are a shambles.
But we are fast approaching a time in which family dysfunction is bound to undermine our economic health, as happened in so many civilizations that preceded us. Out-of-control children make for irresponsible employees, and adults who do nothing but fight with their spouses bring that turmoil into the office environment.
If America is to retain its prominence and its promise, it must begin prioritizing the home front.
Take John Edwards. He has an opportunity to inspire America with exactly that message by terminating his presidential campaign and helping his wife recover from her second bout of cancer, this time a metastatic stage four in her ribs.
Staying in the race, as he has vowed to do, sends the message that being president is more important than being a husband, and leading the country is more important than supporting one's spouse.
Edwards might make a fine president. But right now he has to be an even better spouse. We dare not be so ambitious as to allow professional goals to run roughshod over the most precious things in life.
RUNNING FOR the US presidency is the most grueling undertaking in the whole world. Candidates clock up millions of miles, and are forever on the move. The fundraising alone can kill you. With all this, will Edwards really have the opportunity to tend to his wife's needs?
All of us know someone who is being treated for cancer. We watch them as they slowly lose their hair and experience constant fatigue. Women, especially, often feel that their dignity is lost along with their looks.
A wife needs constant reassurance that she is beautiful, special and loved. And it is a husband's, rather than a doctor's, reassurance that one will triumph over an illness and live a long and prosperous life that is really convincing. If her husband is travelling to three cities a day for 50 weeks, there is little chance that Edwards can provide the comfort and support his wife's needs.
It is not for me or anyone else to judge a man who, aside from his wife's first bout of cancer, has also suffered the unspeakable pain of having buried a child. For I all know he is a better husband than me. So I write none of these words in malice.
But if he pulls out of the race for the White House and instead stays home with this wife, he can run again later, with the blessing of a devoted companion to accompany him through the arduous journey. In the process he will also earn the love and respect of America, which can only add to his chances of victory later.
LAST WEEK I was in Israel for meetings about developing a show on Israeli TV. The meetings were to last three days, and we hoped to walk away with a deal. But after a day and a half it was announced that there would be a general strike that would close all transportation, including the airports.
The upcoming weekend was my daughter Shaina's bat mitzva. I panicked that if the strike continued for a few days, I would miss my own daughter's bat mitzva, something utterly unthinkable. I quickly cancelled the meetings and left Israel a day after I arrived, on one of the last flights before the strike.
Was I upset that a family celebration got in the way of my professional responsibilities? Of course. And all 12 hours back on the plane I ate my heart out at the possible loss of an important opportunity. But was I sure I had done the right thing? Of course.
SO MANY presidents have messed up their kids. They didn't mean to. It was just that their public responsibilities got in the way of their private duties. Franklin Roosevelt had five children, all of whom later divorced. Their father could rescue the world from Nazism, but he could not instill within his children an ability to form lasting emotional relationships.
That's why John Edwards's gesture would have so much meaning for his own kids. If he quit the race now, his children would see him as a far greater hero than any president. After all, he is giving up the foremost professional dream of any politician and putting their mother first.
A gesture that grand constitutes true greatness, and his children would certainly notice.
Bill Clinton learned the hard way that disrespecting one's spouse is not something America takes lightly. Even those who hate Hillary Clinton's politics felt sympathy for her public humiliation; and even those who love Bill's politics felt let down by his personal choices.
To be sure, even someone with a messed-up personal life can make an outstanding leader, and we in America have had many such examples. Indeed, I do not believe that a public official should be punished for his private choices.
So why, then, should a politician prioritize his family above personal success? Because love for his family should always come before any power he can acquire through elected office.
The writer hosts TLC's Shalom in the Home on Sunday nights. His newest book by the same title has just been released by Meredith (www.shmuley.com).