Saturday, August 09, 2008

John and Cindy and John and Rielle

What should be the political consequences to John Edwards of his admitted affair with Rielle Hunter. Let's put aside for a moment, the fact that he lied about it and his odd claim that he had been 99% honest, I don't want to get into the "lying about sex" exception to the general admonition for honesty.

Should this end his political career?

Before conservatives and Republicans quickly assent, they ought to remember that John McCain may have done the same thing. Whether or not he took up with Cindy Hensley before his marriage to Carol McCain had ended in fact (if not in law as it most certainly had not), he apparently has admitted to running around with other women during that period of time. If Edwards career is over, why wasn't McCain's?

I actually don't think Edwards' political career should be over because of his dalliances. (There are, however, many other reasons to end it.) But I am reluctant to say that it doesn't matter or that it is entirely private - at least not at the level of the Presidency.

Certainly it does say something about his character although I dislike the part of our politics that destroys otherwise good people for getting caught in a piece of bad business which is comparable to what many others are guilty of but not caught at. I appreciate the we cannot know what goes on in someone else's marriage and that the cause of this type of thing can be complex. I also understand that we are flawed and no one of us is without sin (or, as we call them today, "mistakes.")

But, in a way, that is why it can't be ignored. It is hard to do the right thing. Fidelity is difficult and marriage, while it is a great blessing, is a lot of work. Yet it is vital to society. This was a grave betrayal of Elizabeth Edwards and the Edwards children and, in a way, of Rielle Hunter and, if it is his, her child. When engaged in by someone aspiring to the Presidency or Vice Presidency, it is scandalous in the theological sense of the word, i.e., it offends moral standards in a way that may discredit them or become a stumbling block to others.

A HuffPo blogger asks whether, in light of that affair, "Edwards care[s] less about poor people today than he did yesterday?" He notes that history has revealed extramarital affairs on the part of other leaders and suggests that they had nothing to do with how they governed.

Is it just that they did not get caught? Is it just that it was long ago?

In part, yes, it is. Edwards has modeled behavior that has been and is disastrous for poor people in particular. It is behavior with public consequences and, in public figures, must be condemned. One of the ways that happens is that he gets his time in the wilderness. In someone standing for our highest office, respect for doing the right thing seems to demand that John Edwards suffer public consequences for doing the wrong one.

In its immediate aftermath, John Edwards, just like Newt Gingrich, cannot expect to be a national leader. There may come a day, when a contrite Edwards, like Newt, can be rehabilitated. But it flouts our moral standards to reward him with a prominent speech at the Democratic convention or serious consideration for the Vice Presidency.
My guess is that Obama will do neither.


Display Name said...

No condemnation of Rielle Hunter, just the Dem politician? Your compassion has limits? "Disastrous for poor people in particular?" Adultery works out better for the rich? Time wounds all heels? If they wait a decent amount of time and act contrite with at least the same sincerity they showed before we learned of their affair, they'll still be rich but we'll forgive them? McCain went into the wilderness at what point? Newt, too, but not yet long enough? When the hypocritical Pharisees brought forth a sinner, did he say she needed to be condemned, suffer some public consequences and spend some time in the wilderness?

Anonymous said...

As one that took care of his wife who was disabled from cancer that finally claimed her ten years later, I can say that Mr. Edwards has shown no consideration or respect for his wife at her worse moment.

If you ever have a life threatening medical problem, you do not want to also be worrying about what your spouse is doing behind your back. Apparantly, Edwards cares only about himself and my opinion of him has completely changed.

Anonymous said...

Happy to see we're done with the Packers for awhile.

I've always viewed Edwards as an egocentric self-promoter, and never viewed his "mission" to eliminate poverty as anything other than image building. His affair only tends to confirm what I thought about the man ... interested only in himself.

Newt will never regain his political presence because of his infidelity. But Newt offers truly challenging game-changing ideas and puts them out there in a convincing way, so he maintains a listenership. Edwards lacks imaginative ideas, so I suspect he's headed for the ash heap.

Anonymous said...

Any parallels here with your own spousal abandonment, Ricky?

Anonymous said...

Any parallels here with your own spousal abandonment, Ricky?

Anonymous said...

You're an idiot, 12:42.

Anonymous said...

You're an idiot, 12:42.

Rick Esenberg said...

My stalker returns. Actually, there isn't. That's one failing that I have managed to avoid.

Anonymous said...

anony 12:42 & 12:42

This again? You're getting boring.


Anonymous said...

I agree with anon 7:47. If you are going to accuse Rick of things that aren't true (and of which you know nothing about), please come up with a new one.

By the way, by making this particular accusation toward Rick, you could be foolishly attempting to drag herself through the mud. Watch it anony - I know some pretty devilish leprechauns.

Anonymous said...

This columns reads, to me, as:

-Edwards and McCain are guilty of similar infidelities
-I don't like Edwards' politics
-So Edwards' should be punished in the political realm, but McCain should be given a free pass

Note that I don't actually support bringing up McCain's marital problems- whether or not he slept around Cindy is between him and Cindy- its unfortunate that in this day and age, public figures don't have the luxury of a private life.

Anonymous said...

Geez. . .I've noticed more and more that the Reddess certainly has a mean streak to her.

But getting back to the original post, what Edwards did was wrong--it always takes two to tangle and giving Hunter a pass is wrong, too. Just as the Newster and McCain were wrong in what they did. Oh, and Anon 3:35, I do believe the Newster told his wife he was leaving her when she was in a hospital bed.

Anyways, as cynical as many of us have become, we shouldn't be surprised. This has happened many times in the past and will happen again, unfortunately, in the future.

Hey, but at least Edwards had an affair with a woman and not another man or boy.

Anonymous said...

You can always count on Wife #2 to trash Wife #1. It's as predictable as the night following day.

Anonymous said...

anon 8:17

Whose post did you read? I said nothing about wife #1.

Anonymous said...

The topic of infidelity among our “leaders” is inflammatory, and especially so when it is raised by those of one political bent regarding the fitness to lead of someone of another bent.

Does it matter?

A frequent riposte to such assertions is that in Europe it is passé, or in the past, other powerful leaders have engaged in it.

It seems to me there are two critical elements to the analysis in the American political context. In America, even though many are philanderers or have, it is still an expectation that it is bad. Whether this is hypocritical, passé, or outdated is irrelevant. If, among Americans, it is generally held so, then it is an expectation that American leaders will not do it. Those who aspire to political power and public life know this in advance as a potential prerequisite for such aspirations. Thus it is fair game; if they fail in these expectations they’ve failed the model of leadership desired by Americans irrespective of how the plebs choose to conduct their own affairs (sorry for the double entendre but I couldn’t resist).

In other places, for certain people, and other times, perhaps there was not such an expectation but that is not so in current America.

Does it actually relate to “leadership”?

Perhaps one reason that the issue is so touchy is that it not only relates to lying but is that is among the worst class of lies – oath breaking. Every culture counts truthfulness among the highest values and every legal system is theoretically underpinned by it in all aspects of its process. There is a visceral human aversion to lying hardwired into every human being, in Judeo-Christian belief the embodiment of evil is Satan and one of his many pseudonyms is the “Father of Lies”.

The association is that those who lie are not to be trusted.
Now there is lying, and there is LYING, but among the latter we generally find oath breaking. The concept of the oath, especially those publicly taken (as the wedding vow is), is to ensure truthfulness in conduct to what is sworn. When it is violated there is a serious public breach.

When, much younger, I was a fresh faced enlisted soldier who aspired to positions of leadership as an NCO, and later an officer. One of my first commanders told me he would never trust a subordinate who cheated on their spouse. Explaining his logic, he stated that why would he expect them to keep their word to him to be in position (on the battlefield) when he needed them if they were willing violate an oath given to that which they supposedly loved more than anything else in the world? Simplistic, and of course people can fall out of love, but it also meant denial of temptation and resistance to the taking the easier road. Qualities that are desirable in those whom you place your trust, as the public does when we duly appoint our leaders. Later, as a commander, I found a strong correlation between personal integrity in my subordinates and their general performance – particularly in extremis or while under general pressure.

In today’s America if you want out of a marriage you can have it. My wife has told me that cheating would be the worst thing I could do to her and out of respect for her I should end our relationship before ever doing it. Divorce, I imagine, is traumatic and akin to cutting off a body part without anesthesia. Divorce, for most, comes with great consequences. If a spouse is as opposed to it as mine cheating is likely an easier, cheaper, and a more expedient means of gratifying what you need or want. In other words it is indiscipline; it is selfishness; it is taking the easier road. Generally qualities one does not desire in their leaders.

My best friend, who is not a public leader, but has (through much hard work) amassed significant wealth, is in the divorce process due to his philandering (recently revealed to his wife and myself). Because of his wealth the dollar cost of divorce is not a concern to him. In talking with him about his situation he posited the argument that the powerful throughout history have done it. The argument falls short not only with me but him as well because he cannot escape the fact he broke his word. Though he may have “fallen out of love” he certainly had less an obstacle to divorce on demand than those with less money. He took the easy road to avoid the emotional trauma and satisfy his perceived needs. Is he a wretched human being? No, and he is still like a brother to me but I would not vote for him were he to pursue public office despite his great intellect, drive, talent, and skill.

Edwards, wealthier than my best friend by far, lied about his oath breaking not because he feared the economic calamity that befalls most middle and lower income couples when they divorce, but because he well understood the cost in political capitol he would pay. In America, if faithfulness to an oath was not an expectation, he would’ve not expected to lose political capitol and would not have bothered to lie about it. He took the easy road and it should matter.

I believe there is much truth to the relationship between integrity in one’s personal life and integrity in public office, as well as other matters in one’s life. Why shouldn’t we demand it of our leaders both Democrat and Republican, and discard them when they fail? Is there actually such a shortage of qualified people to replace them? In a nation of 300+ million can we not find someone possessed of both integrity and talent?

Because Joe Six-pack may do it, get away with it, or feel better about himself because the boss did it too doesn’t excuse it in our leaders. I don’t want to be led by Joe Six-pack because he doesn’t have what it takes to lead me out of a wet paper bag.