On CBS's

60 Minutes

, John Edwards told Katie Couric that judgments and questions about his decision to stay in the presidential race are "entirely legitimate."

"I mean, you offer yourself up for service to the country as the president of the United States, you deserve to be evaluated," he said.

He won't like this evaluation. My judgment is not another in the chorus of those celebrating this choice as an embodiment of the human spirit.

Call me crass, but I see a selfish determination by a political power couple more anxious to prolong a presidential run than to go home and spend time with two young kids who may soon be missing a mommy.

Don't misunderstand. I'm praying for Elizabeth Edwards and wish her a long life.

But never did I imagine she'd have incurable (but treatable) Stage IV metastatic cancer that has spread to her hip, among other places - and he'd still run. Or that the decision would be made before they even left the hospital.

The way the two have been feted by pundits and the public as doing something courageous despite having young children likewise took me by surprise.

Eugene Robinson was typical of the support they have garnered when he wrote in the Washington Post: "Run, John and Elizabeth, run. Enjoy the campaign, every thrilling minute. Enjoy it together."

Even the Wall Street Journal, friend to no trial lawyer, much less one running for president, editorialized in support of Elizabeth Edwards, praising her "demonstration of fortitude that is itself a lesson for the rest of us."

Those views must speak for many. A USA Today/Gallup Poll said Americans supported the decision by a 2-1 margin. And the Post revealed that John Edwards had received more than 5,000 online donations totaling more than $500,000 in the days after the March 22 news conference. It used to take three months to raise a million online - now the Edwardses are halfway there in a little more than a week.

But I see something else in the data. The USA Today survey has John Edwards ranking fourth in the Democratic presidential sweepstakes, behind Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and Al Gore. He's a dark horse at best - a one-term senator who, despite being his party's VP candidate in 2004, and despite running for president ever since, has been unable to break out of the pack.

On Monday, John Edwards was asked how he thought Americans would respond to his decision.

"I think it's unknowable. We believe that the way to conduct your life, private and personal, is openly and honestly, and that's the reason we disclosed the facts. We felt people needed to know," Edwards said. ". . . How it will affect the campaign, that probably depends on how America responds. I think this is uncharted territory."

Not exactly. In 1971, Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh had established an exploratory committee and opened a national campaign headquarters in anticipation of seeking the Democratic nomination in the following year's presidential election. When his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, he stopped mulling that run, saying he'd rather be with her as she recovered.

"At a time when our nation so desperately needs to reorder its priorities," Bayh said at the time, "it is time for me to reorder my own priorities."

There are two reasons - two priorities - why the Edwardses' decision is appalling. Their names are Emma Clare and Jack. They are only 8 and 6, respectively. Another daughter, Cate, is off at Harvard Law. Instead of going home to be with their children, John and Elizabeth Edwards are going to continue with a career path that is 24/7. Monday found him in California, and her in Ohio.

Elizabeth Edwards told Katie Couric that "the most important thing you can give your children [is] wings. Because you're not gonna always be able to bring food to the nest. You're . . . sometimes . . . they're gonna have to be able to fly by themselves."

Baby birds, as Couric pointed out, is more like it. The kids are in elementary school, for goodness' sake.

If this sounds like too harsh an assessment, consider the public reaction if the affected family were out of the public limelight, and the parents no longer needed to work. What would be the reaction of friends and neighbors if the couple immediately pursued a path that would keep them on the road and away from their kids? I think it would be revulsion. So why should our judgment of the Edwardses be any different just because he is running for office?

Again, I hope Elizabeth Edwards has many more years with her family. I wish her a long life. I simply doubt that whenever her days end, she will look back at this time and be thankful for day trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Michael Smerconish's column appears on Thursdays in the Daily News and on Sundays in Currents. He can be heard from 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. weekdays on "The Big Talker," WPHT-AM (1210). Contact him

via the Web at http://www.mastalk.com.