I voted for John Edwards in the 2004 presidential primary. I thought his policies were mostly centrist and pragmatic, and that he was more charismatic (and therefore electable) than John Kerry. Still, I realized that his trial lawyer background made him likely to lie even more than the average politician, and I noticed that he had a habit of blinking way too much (which tends to make one seem less than trustworthy).
When The National Enquirer first broke the story about Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, I wasn't surprised. Mickey Kaus had reported the rumors, given traction by the bizarre suppresssion of the video footage that Hunter was hired to shoot for the campaign, months earlier. I hoped that Edwards was a savvy enough politician to learn from Bill Clinton's mistakes. I hoped he and Elizabeth would take the opportunity to usher in a new political era, where people stopped focusing on politicians' sex lives because most voters really don't care, and the United States freed itself from our unfortunate Puritan legacy.
When the Lewinski scandal broke, Clinton followed the politician's natural instinct to Deny, Deny, Deny. However, the cover-up proved worse than the initial transgression, bringing about an impeachment trial for perjury. In the end, the affair became public knowledge, and Hillary's belief in a "vast right-wing conspiracy" became a source of humiliation for both of them.
John and Elizabeth Edwards seemed like intelligent, educated individuals. They had made their family life and relationship a focus of John's campaign. They could have continued in that vein. Elizabeth could have given a press conference and said something like: "There is no doubt that my cancer treatments put a strain on our physical relationship. While, ideally, John would have chosen celibacy over adultery, he is only human. Out of respect for me and our children, he made every effort to be discreet. I would ask everyone to please respect our family's privacy and allow us to handle this situation in the best way that we can."
John could have said something like: "Out of respect for my wife and children, as well as Ms. Hunter, I will not comment on this situation except to say that I am making child support arrangements out of my personal fortune, and no campaign funds will be used. Any campaign donors who feel personally offended by this situation may contact the campaign and request a refund of their donation."
It would have been a brave stand for privacy rights. It would have played well with America's youth, who have much more libertarian attitudes about sex. And it might have even resurrected his political career. After all, Grover Cleveland survived a paternity scandal and won the presidency.
But, as it turns out, John Edwards is a spineless idiot, and Elizabeth Edwards is a drama queen. She apparently forgave him enough to remain in the marriage, but not enough to refrain from writing a tell-all book about her reaction to his affair. They deserve each other (and political obscurity).
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