“For a while you try to kid yourself that you’re going with an unmarried man. Then one day he begins to look at his watch…and it all begins to look- so ugly” – The Apartment, 1960
The moral issue of adultery is as old as the Scriptures, and the prudent man defers to them when it comes to judging someone else. Which means that we don’t judge. Or shouldn’t, anyway.
While politicians are human beings, and thus deserving of the same charitable dispensation, they are also public figures, and thus there is a dimension of their behavior that requires judgments, albeit not moral ones. The slithery Mr. Shelldrake in “The Apartment” was wreaking havoc in his private life, with a modest impact on the pubic square as represented by his executive position in a big insurance company. (Under the circumstances, there is some irony here, no?) John Edwards was a credible candidate for president, a possible VP pick, and an almost certain choice for high political office in an Obama administration. His behavior matters.
Morality aside, there are several reasons to be appalled by it. First, there is the hubris. The poster boy of populism projected a family values persona right out of the 1950’s- to his staff, his supporters and millions of prospective voters. Now we all knew Bill Clinton was prone to stray, and Mr. Clinton himself obliquely acknowledged it. John Edwards presented an entirely different package, a choice that reflects an astounding lack of judgment.
Second, there is the addiction to high-risk behavior and the potential for blackmail. Edwards pursued an affair in the middle of a political campaign conducted under a media spotlight more intense than our society has ever known. The judgment thing again. Other politicians may stray, but the presidency is the big enchilada of American politics. There is simply no way people will leave a presidential guy alone once the bloodhounds are on the prowl. Which means that he will be consuming incredible amounts of time on damage control, excuses and possibly coverups. That means time he will be STEALING from his supporters, his party and the nation.
Third, there is the whole question of the vetting process for presidential candidates. And Mr. Edwards is not the issue here. Once again, the MSM has failed miserably through a combination of partisan bias, professional negligence and sheer laziness. The bias is startling. A few months ago the New York Times ran with an unsourced, rumor-laden and fact-deprived account of dalliance by John McCain. The MSM in general has used sex scandals to great effect on prominent Republicans, most recently in the 2006 mid-term elections. But for the astounding discovery of John Edwards en flagrante we had to rely on – The National Enquirer? And what would have happened if the Great Hotel Visit occurred AFTER the convention, after a rousing Edwards speech full of family values imagery and after his possible selection as VP? A more telling indictment of the sloppiness of the MSM, there never was. Or a clearer explanation of why the formerly great newspaper and network news franchises are in freefall. It’s getting so bad that even Democrats are at risk from malpractice. (Another irony?) Time after time the public looks to the MSM for objectivity and thoroughness, and scandalous episodes of professional malfeasance keep coming one after another. This may be the ultimate fallout of the Edwards affair. He may be an adulterous sinner, but the MSM powers have screwed with us once too often.