I'm usually of two minds when it comes to the "sex scandals" of politicians, especially when it comes to this blog.
My immediate gut feeling is that it's nobody's business. Yes, it's often despicable and yes, it says a lot about character. But ultimately it's not the kind of stuff that should be paraded on the front page of newspapers, or on TV, or here. It's something for families to deal with. I feel that way about Tiger Woods as well. So he wasn't the guy we thought he was. So what.
Then there are the gray areas. A senator is arrested in a sting operation. A governor disappears for five days without telling anyone. Public funds are used. Blackmail is involved. Then it becomes less about sex and more about the law, the public's right to know, or not doing the job voters elected them to do.
There's another gray area: the issue of so-called "hypocrisy."
David Vitter campaigned in Louisiana as a pro-family conservative, only to be outed when his telephone number was found among those called by an escort service. Eliot Spitzer was the crime-fighting prosecutor in New York who sent people involved in prostitution to jail, only to be exposed as a customer himself.
Some journalists argued that gave us the reason, or the right, to focus on what happened, though I am a bit uncomfortable at us becoming the moral arbiters of the world. So it remains, to me, gray.
I'm also of mixed opinion when it comes to Bill Clinton. The word on Bill, as far back as his Little Rock days, was that there were always other women other than Hillary: Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey, Monica Lewinsky, to name very (very!) few. We knew much of this well before the New Hampshire primary in 1992. Voters decided that whether or not it was true, it was less important to them than the issues they were faced with during the campaign. Congress decided it wasn't enough to throw him out of office. Do I think he soiled his presidency because of it? I do.
But to me, John Edwards is a different case.
And I'm struggling to figure out why.
Maybe it's because he started out as so goddamn sincere and earnest. Maybe because he cared so much about the poor. Or because he would never betray his wife who was suffering from breast cancer that was incurable. Or because he had earlier lost his son in a car accident. Not everyone trusted him, as I later learned. Not everyone bought into John Edwards Inc. But, in my mind, if anyone was having an affair (and fathering a child in the process), it would not have been the boyish looking lawyer from North Carolina.
Still, that was besides the point. Even if Edwards didn't fit my profile as an adulterer, the proper role of the media was still fuzzy, in my view. As I wrote in my Political Junkie column (Aug. 14, 2008) at the time, I had trouble deciding what made this scandal newsworthy?
Is it anyone's business, besides his family, that Edwards had an affair? I would say no. There are scores of far more important issues out there that the media need to focus on. Not who's sleeping with whom. It may be titillating, but that's why God created the Enquirer — so we don't have to touch it. ...
Here's why I think we should care. Let's say Edwards won Iowa and was going to be the Democratic presidential nominee. Or let's follow the scenario I envisioned, that Edwards would wind up on Obama's ticket. Let's say that the story broke, late in the campaign. I am convinced it would have ended the Democrats' shot at winning the White House.
With so much at stake, it is silly to simply say this is a private matter that's nobody's business, when we all know it theoretically could have affected the course of the nation for the next four years. We can be as holy-minded as we like when it comes to stories like this, and argue until we're blue in the face that the American public doesn't care about things like marital infidelity. But I think it does. And in instances like this, with so much at stake, it should.
I also made two points that may or may not have been relevant:
First, there is no one who is not aware that Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, is suffering from incurable breast cancer. Her public fight against this disease has touched millions of lives. Is the American public really going to accept Edwards' "explanation," which I thought bordered on the obscene, that his 2006 affair with Rielle Hunter occurred while Elizabeth's cancer was in remission?
And second, Edwards' national finance chair in his two runs for the White House, Fred Baron, says he gave Hunter "assistance" to get her out of North Carolina and into a $3 million mansion in Santa Barbara, Calif., so she could escape the hounding of reporters following her. Baron says he never told John Edwards. Edwards said he had no knowledge of any money paid to Hunter. This defies belief. Assuming Edwards was fearful of the affair's becoming public, wouldn't he wonder how she could just find her way from the Tarheel State to a gated community in wealthy Santa Barbara? And he never talked to Baron about this? Puh-leeze.
And even when Edwards went public — "confessing all" on ABC's Nightline — he completely denied that Hunter's daughter was his. Here's what he said on the show back in August of '08: "I know that it's not possible that this child could be mine because of the timing of events, so I know it's not possible. [I'm] happy to take a paternity test, and would love to see it happen."
So even when he promised to tell all, he lied.
Today's statement from Edwards told a different story. "I am Quinn's father," he said, speaking of Frances Quinn Hunter, who is almost two years old. He said he was "truly sorry" to those he had "disappointed and hurt."
And why did he come clean now? Could it be because a week from now, the man who initially confessed to being the father of Hunter's child, former Edwards aide Andrew Young, is coming out with a new book in which he says that Edwards asked him to arrange a fake paternity test?
Maybe this is more about me than Edwards. Maybe I got suckered in to his Boy Scout image, touched by the precarious health of his wife, and got angry — at myself — for believing the lie.
Whatever, I can let go now.