Saturday, August 9, 2008

Let's Focus On Irrelevance, Shall We?

[John Edwards near the end of his 2008 campaign. This was a photograph from his campaign's Flickr site.]

Since I endorsed his candidacy in this election, it's at least possible that some of you reading this wonder what I think of the recent revelations about John Edwards. In case you haven't heard, which probably means you pay even less attention to broadcast news than I do, here's the gist:

The John Edwards “love child” story finally hit the national news media and made the front page of yesterday’s Times. For weeks, Jay Leno joked about it, the Internet was abuzz, and readers wondered why The Times and most of the mainstream media seemed to be studiously ignoring a story of sex and betrayal involving a former Democratic presidential candidate who remains prominent on the political stage.

They could ignore it no longer when Edwards, who had been running away from reporters for weeks, sat down with ABC News and admitted he had an extra-marital affair and lied repeatedly about it. He denied he fathered Rielle Hunter’s 5-month-old daughter, as the National Enquirer reported in December before the baby was born.

Sometimes, There’s News in the Gutter

[As an aside, I find the tone and title of this article precious - as if these assholes haven't been living in the gutter the last year and a half rather than discuss how the candidates might deal with the issues we face.]

Here's the executive summary: It doesn't make much difference to me.

I never assumed that Edwards was an angel. I don't assume that about anyone running for President. I expect that the person I support will try to live up to the oath he takes, not make any serious blunders in foreign policy, and maybe try to make our lives a little better. These days, anything else is gravy. We haven't seen the potatoes, let alone the gravy, in a long time.

So I personally couldn't care less what John Edwards, or any other politician, does in his spare time. I care about what the manner in which he conducts those activities might say about his character, and in that regard Edwards may have disappointed me a little. Beyond that, though, I don't give a rat's ass, and I'm continually astonished that anyone in this country does these days. Isn't an illegal and ruinous war, a failing economy, and the potential loss of our freedom enough?

Some folks who have criticized him have a point. Jane Hamsher points out:

But Edwards did play the family card quite heavily during his campaign, and if he'd gotten the nomination, the Democrats would be sunk right now and we'd be looking at four years of John McCain. So on that count, I'm profoundly grateful that he didn't get it. He was risking a lot for all of us by doing this stuff and running at the same time. It was incredibly stupid.

John Edwards Admits To Affair

There's a lot of supposition in this analysis and a little amnesia. The supposition is that somehow this would have been enough to torpedo his candidacy when anything else they could have invented wouldn't have. John Kerry was slimed when he did nothing wrong. What makes anyone think Edwards would have been any different? There's also the supposition that the "family" thing was what made Edwards interesting to those of us who supported him. In my case, that was a very small part of it.

The amnesia comes in because six months ago, Edwards couldn't catch a break with the broadcast news. They chattered endlessly about his expensive haircuts, how he didn't stay home with his sick wife, and (ironically) how gay he looks.

What anyone who has watched this campaign unfold as closely as Jane has should realize by now is that the press doesn't need a reason. If the Right can't find something to criticize about a Democratic candidate, they'll make something up, and the news corporations will parrot it. That's what they do.

The one part of this criticism that makes sense to me is that Edwards didn't handle this well from a political perspective. If he'd just admitted, of his own volition, that this had happened back in 2007 then this probably wouldn't have affected his campaign at all. Some voters are surprisingly pragmatic, and many of us who are were already his supporters. He didn't handle the politics well. Let's face it, handling politics is a big part of being President. Barack Obama has handled the Jeremiah Wright issue well, and, astonishingly, hasn't been touched by the Rezko business at all. On that level, Edwards doesn't look quite as good as he once did.

The only thing I can think of to explain this decision, beyond utter foolishness, is that he didn't want to put his wife through any more humiliation than she felt already. He had, so he claims, told her about this affair after it happened. This would have come up some time before her illness was announced, but maybe it was a factor. I don't have any inside information or special insight here - I'm only guessing. The difference between my guesses and many peoples' is that mine are identified as such. Take that for what little it's worth.

This is the first such scandal I've encountered regarding Edwards. That would imply that there aren't many others waiting to be discovered. If what we know now is any indication, this was a rare screwup on his part, if not a singular one.

I don't regret supporting John Edwards one bit. He was still the person most likely to be the kind of President we say we want in this country. I'm not angry. To my mind, the only people who have any business being angry are Elizabeth Edwards and the rest of Edwards' family. The rest of us need to grow up, because this isn't even a minor consideration. It's nothing at all. If you think you've never done anything foolish or hurtful in matters of sex or love, then you're either a damn fool or a hermit. If you think people over the age of forty are immune to such foolishness, then you're either much younger than I am, very lucky, or frighteningly uninformed. In fact, there's no reason to assume that you're not all three.

Being good at the job Edwards was applying for is difficult enough. If you have to be a saint, then we might as well shutter the White House now. We'll never find anyone who's really qualified.

UPDATE (Aug. 10): Lotus has some thoughts and a link to an interesting article by Newsweek reporter Jonathan Darman on Rielle Hunter, the woman with whom Edwards had the affair. He met her while she was working with his campaign.

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