Johnny, we hardly knew ye

Lord, another politician has fallen. If politicians were trees in a forest, citizens would be going deaf from all the careening trees of late. Today’s infidelity poster boy is John Edwards, the handsome and charismatic ex North Carolina senator blessed with teeth so wide and bright they could burn your retinas. Edwards was John Kerry’s running mate in 2004 and was a twice a Democratic presidential candidate.

Count me as one of those not the least bit surprised by these latest revelations. Part of my problem with John Edwards latest presidential foray was that he was too good: too handsome, too eloquent, too slick, too squeaky clean. He was more rock star than presidential candidate. He was the politician’s equivalent of a traveling evangelist. He could fill up a tent, or a town hall and like the Pied Piper have the crowd in the palm of his hands. Among liberals, he was the clear favorite for president. Until he dropped out, he consistently outpolled the other candidates on the liberal blog Daily Kos. Many of his supporters were heartbroken when he dropped out of his presidential campaign. Many of them now are furious, for they gave hundreds or thousands of dollars to his campaign and poured out their passion because they believed in him. They thought he was the real deal. They believed not just in his politics, but his image. Here at last was a handsome, charismatic man dopily devoted to his wife, who was also a few points lower than him on the attractiveness scale. That he was standing by her in spite of her terminal illness made him even more of a principled human being.

Instead, he was getting a bit on the side. Her name is Reille Hunter, age 44 (Edwards is 55), a skinny platinum blonde whose firm also earned a cool $100,000 from Edwards’ political action committee for producing four short web videos. To quote George Gershwin, it’s “nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try.” I bet Hunter did not have to try too hard. Oh, she did have to change her name. Lisa Druck just wasn’t cutting it. Reputedly, the two first met in a bar.

Why did he do it? Only John Edwards can answer that one, but I would view any rationalization he comes up with suspicion. If I had to guess the real answer would be very close to Bill Clinton’s: “Because I could”. Hunter was younger than his wife and arguably prettier. Hunter must have found plenty of men to admire in the Edward campaign because she produced a child that Edwards says is not his, but instead is apparently one of his staffers. For John’s sake, I hope he wore a condom.

I have ruminated before on the subject of infidelity. Among the recent politicians with problems keeping their pants up was the former governor and attorney general of New York State, Eliot Spitzer. Virtually everyone publicly decries infidelity. (It also keeps a number of newspapers and magazines in business.) It is also probably true that something like half of all marriages have at least one incident of infidelity. With statistics like these, you would think the shock value would wear off.

However, when you are a politician running for office, it’s all about trust. Fidelity with the voter has to be your main selling point. Biologically you may have the same yearnings as the rest of your brethren, but you must sell yourself as someone beyond the casual, tawdry affair. Few spouses who have been cheated on can even muster the courage to trust their partner with a checkbook. Can politicians successfully compartmentalize, as Bill Clinton seems to have done, and really keep their bedroom shenanigans separate from their public duties?

Since most of us cannot compartmentalize like this, when we find out our politician du jour is capable of such infractions, we would rather see the bum kicked out. Yet, infidelity is hardly a death sentence for a politician. Rudy Giuliani cheated on his wife openly in front of the press corps, and yet for months was considered the most likely Republican to win the nomination. Ironically, he lost to another adulterer, John McCain, who clearly was getting a bit on the side from Cindy well before his first marriage ended. He likely got some other tail during this period too. Yet, people seem to look the other way regarding his infidelity, perhaps because the press doesn’t want to raise the issue. Or perhaps it is okay in McCain’s case because he is a maverick and thus being consistent with his persona. So I would not assume that John Edwards political career is over. At least his failing was typical stuff. At least he didn’t grope for sex with men in airport restrooms. If you have to cheat, Americans can be more forgiving if she is a hot babe, and that seems to be the case with Reille Hunter.

I guess what amazes me the most is how effectively Edwards mesmerized us in spite of his egregious sin. His wife was fully aware of his moral lapse, and he ran with her apparent blessing. I remember seeing a news report in 2006 or so when this affair was taking place. It showed him and Elizabeth eating at a McDonalds where they had their first date. They made a habit of doing it on their wedding anniversary. It was just so cute and seemed so heartfelt. He seemed so dopily devoted to Elizabeth. Yet, he was stepping out on her.

In any event, I saw Edward as one of the slickest of the slick. He was too slick, which made me naturally suspicious of his genuineness. Given that many of the positions he espoused running for president in 2004 were discarded for the 2008 campaign, my suspicion was probably somewhat grounded. His slickness was the principle reason I avoided endorsing his candidacy and remain a bit leery about Obama’s. I sensed that something was not quite right. My unease has unfortunately now been validated.

I expect his rehabilitation will be complete by 2012, providing there is an opening in the Democratic race, and if not by 2016 for sure. I bet he will still look plenty handsome. I do not know what it will take for him to remake his reputation, but I am confident that Edwards will find a way to make us believe that he has been reborn.

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