Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Presidential Scam of John and Elizabeth Edwards

I doubt there's much new insight I could add to the John Edwards sex scandal, but it's troubling that Elizabeth Edwards knew of her husband's infidelity in 2006.

Mrs. Edwards
has written an essay asking the public to understand her family's trauma. What's most striking about her comments is the blame. She blames the media and the public for turning a "private" matter into a public scandal. She's lauds her husband's courage to admit his infidelity on camera, saying it shows "honesty in the face of shame." But then she excoriates the "hurtful" and "absurd lies" the tabloid press has inflicted on her family:

I ask that the public, who expressed concern about the harm John’s conduct has done to us, think also about the real harm that the present voyeurism does and give me and my family the privacy we need at this time.
The "real harm"?

Isn't the real harm found in John Edwards' forsaking his vows to forsake all others? Isn't the real harm found in the purposeful family lie that was the foundation of the Edwards 2008 campaign for the presidency, in the collusion that's apparent between John and Elizabeth Edwards to foist this abject political dishonesty on the public?

Recall that the couple made the marriage bond, in sickness and in health,
the basis for much of their political appeal. In this they played on the public's deep culture and respect for family - they pulled on the heartstrings of America for partisan gain.

Kristen Powers sums up the Edwards scam perfectly:

Normally, cheating on your spouse is a private matter. Many Americans wind up facing it; many families stay intact and recover. I hope that's so for the Edwards family.

But this is not a private matter: Following his affair, Edwards chose to run for president, using his family as a centerpiece for his campaign. In June of last year, he accepted the Father of the Year Award from Father's Day/Mother's Day Council. Shortly afterward, he renewed his vows with his wife and provided pictures to People magazine.

And in December, Katie Couric asked the candidates about the importance of marital fidelity in assessing a presidential candidate. True to form, Edwards said that it was a "fundamental" way to "judge people and human character" - but shouldn't be a "controlling factor" in choosing a president.

Unfortunately she didn't ask him what it would tell you about a politician if he used his family as a campaign prop and then lied to the public repeatedly about an affair.
This story's a genuine tragedy.

John Edwards very well could have become president of the United States. He's young, handsome, and smart, and his working class origins provide authenticity for upward mobility in America.

Yet, the Edwards family has always embodied the contradictions of Democratic power politics, especially in John Edwards' concern for the poor amid his ostentatious displays of wealth and privilege.

The Rielle Hunter scandal strips the mask of hypocrisy off it all. The Edwards family has the right to expect concern for their family's privacy. But they shouldn't be so quick to criticize the media for paying inordinate attention to the scandal. John and Elizabeth Edwards lived a scam. The fact that so much this evolved through tremendous physical and emotional pain makes it almost too much to think about.

John Edwards is a major political figure in Democratic Party politics, and may very well have been a top offical in a Barack Obama administration. This story's not off limits to the intense coverage it deserves.

The Edwards family nevertheless deserves our prayers for their personal recovery.