The news was released yesterday afternoon that John Edwards engaged in an extramarital affair in 2006 and that he lied about it during his campaign for President last year. Edwards' paramour, Rielle Hunter (who, apparently, is also the inspiration for a Gen-X literary character), now claims that Edwards is the father of her young child, making his very-inconvenient news downright disastrous. And, to add insulting injury to insulting injury, it looks as if Edwards' people might have also doled out a significant amount of hush money to keep the affair under wraps.
Edwards defended himself in the press yesterday by saying that although he was completely and painfully honest with his family about the affair, he was only "99% honest with the public," using the fact that reporters' version of the story included many false details as a way to deny the whole thing. Hmmm... to use a Southernism with which I am sure he is familiar, that dog don't hunt. That dog don't even bark. Hell, that dog barely breathes.
Like most of Edwards' supporters, I'm somewhat disappointed. He always impressed me as a politician who managed to remain above the fray. It is a monumentally bad show of judgment for a father of four children (one who died tragically in an automobile accident) and the husband of a supportive (and cancer-ridden) wife to go skirt-chasing in his mid-fifties. So, yes, shame on him. His judgment was bad, his will was weak, and he erred or sinned or transgressed or whatever you want to call it.
But would I still vote for him as President of the United States? You bet I would.
Let me take a minute to serve as Edwards' apologist-- not an apologist for his affair, which I believe is a matter only between him and his family, but for his lying about it, which is all that does (or should) really matter to the rest of us. The thing is, I don't want politicians who lie to me anymore than the next red-blooded American does, but even more than that, I don't want to permit the possibility of any imperfect human being-- even a politician-- to be forced into a panopticon. Public representatives are surveilled more than the rest of us, as they should be, but there are limits to what we should be allowed to ask them and, consequently, I think there are limits to the disclosures of "truth" we can justifiably expect them to provide. I am more bothered by the fact that the question was asked to Edwards about his sexual activities than I am about the fact that he lied about it. At least he wasn't asked under oath, a small but significant consolation.
One of the drawbacks of our celebrity-obsessed culture is that we in the hoi polloi are led to believe that every personality whose image shows up on our little box is open to unrestricted scrutiny. I'm going to go out on a limb here and speculate that there isn't any one of us who could dodge all of the arrows of that kind of microscopic examination. This puts our public figures in a pickle-- they can't lie, they can't tell the truth, and they most certainly can't say "it's none of your damn business." If I were Elizabeth Edwards, then John Edwards' lie would matter a great deal to me, because it may mean that he is a bad husband. But I'm not her. I'm just a voting American, and John Edwards' lie tells me nothing about what kind of President he might be, save for the fact that he may be a President who makes mistakes, which distinguishes him from all the others in no way whatsoever.
Let me be clear: I am not issuing a blanket excuse for infidelity, which I really do believe is one of the most painful things that one human being can do to another. But I find the self-righteous media circus surrounding Edwards' affair sickening, naive, disingenuous, and grossly exploitative. Did we not learn this lesson back in 1998? It's deja vu all over again.
It'll almost make you lose faith in humanity. Thank god for Zhang Yimou.