Even With A Scarlet Letter, Edwards Isn't Out Yet Between an affair and a love child, things for Sen. John Edwards aren't looking so peachy right now. Commentator Lester K. Spence suspects he is one of the few who still believe in Edwards' political influence — and he's not afraid to tell you why.
NPR logo Even With A Scarlet Letter, Edwards Isn't Out Yet

Even With A Scarlet Letter, Edwards Isn't Out Yet

Could you put your weight behind a politician you knew had moral infidelities? Eric Thayer/Getty Images hide caption

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Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Could you put your weight behind a politician you knew had moral infidelities?

Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Lester K. Spence is an assistant professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. His book Stare in the Darkness: Rap, Hip-hop, and Black Politics will be published in August 2010. He shares his insight on his blog The Future is Here.

I knew from the moment I saw Barack Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention that he'd be our first black president. Because I figured that John Kerry would beat George Bush, that he'd get two terms ... and then be succeeded by his VP John Edwards, I knew he'd be the man. Literally and figuratively.

However, when Obama was able to throw his hat into the ring 12 years early (by my math), I didn't support him at first. I supported Edwards because of his strong anti-poverty platform in the 2008 campaign. Both parties have done a pretty effective job of blaming the poor for their own circumstances, and most politicians (up until the recent economic tsunami) only acknowledged the poor to demonize them. Edwards was different. I believed then, and I believe now, that the only way to rebuild America is to reverse our trickle-down politics by replacing them with an agenda that starts first by acknowledging and addressing the needs of the least of these. I saw Edwards as being committed to that project. My perfect team would have been Edwards-Obama, racial allegiance (and my own nationalist politics) be damned.

After word leaked about Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, his campaign staffer — an affair conducted while his wife suffered from cancer — I privately felt lucky that no one listened to me. No way in hell would Edwards have been able to win against John McCain once the press revealed his affair and the circumstances surrounding. Obama was able to take the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's statements about racism and spin them into a counternarrative in his Philadelphia speech on race relations, one powerful enough to catapult him into the presidency. There is no counternarrative here, no narrative that can reverse the damage done by lying about an affair conducted while one's wife is suffering.

Now we find out that the child that his campaign staffer had is his. And that he lied about this as well, in effect stating that there was absolutely no way the child was his.

Lester K. Spence believes John Edwards deserves another chance. Courtesy of Lester Spence hide caption

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Courtesy of Lester Spence

I feel torn.

My wife and I have been married for 16.5 years and have five children. I now have enough time "in the game" so to speak to have seen couples wrestle with infidelity, in some cases successfully, in others unsuccessfully. My heart aches for Elizabeth Edwards, for 2-year-old Quinn Hunter, for Rielle Hunter. They should not have had the intimate details of their lives subject to scrutiny because of John Edwards' actions.

However, at the same time I also believe strongly that we need a better politics. A politics that acknowledges human complexities and frailties, while wrestling with the fundamental issues of our time. While I cannot support Edwards' actions, any more than I could support those of former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, I strongly support the causes each fought for. As a result I am probably alone when I say that I hope Edwards not only recovers from this but that he runs for office again ... using the opportunity to fight for the causes we both believe in, and to perhaps create a space for honest discussions about politics and about relationships in doing so.