Why the John Edwards scandal matters

Now that John Edwards has confessed his affair, the blogosphere has stopped talking about why the mainstream media wasn't covering the allegations, and started talking about whether and how it matters.

It matters to me, and here's why.

On a personal level, I feel betrayed as a campaign contributor. Edwards' 2008 campaign was the first I had ever been significantly involved in. I admired his ideas and respected his willingness to bring Progressive ideas to the mainstream Democratic table. Living in Chapel Hill, I had a chance to meet him on several occasions and I thought his charisma would help promote his important causes, ending poverty and establishing health care. Now I know that the money I donated and raised from others may have gone to support his mistress in a well-compensated, fairly bogus job, paying her over $100,000 to make four short campaign "webisodes." Score one for political cynicism.

Knowing that Edwards went forward with his Presidential bid after the affair had not only begun, but had been revealed to his wife, creating a situation that could have cost the Democrats the election had he been the nominee--score a million for political cynicism and anger.

A lot of bloggers say this scandal shouldn't be about sex, but as a woman I feel compelled to point out that the situation does raise every wife's worst nightmare, that her husband would cheat on her and she wouldn't even know it. I mean, this guy was publicly cultivating the image of the perfect husband, and using it to sell his political candidacy, at the same time that he was cheating.

Score one for life cynicism.

Hypocrisy obviously plays a big role in our judgments of Edwards. Edwards himself gave speeches invoking morality: "I want to see our party lead on the great moral issues - yes, me a Democrat using that word - the great moral issues that face our country," Edwards tells the crowd. "If we want to live in a moral, honest just America and if we want to live in a moral and just world, we can't wait for somebody else to do it. We have to do it."

Edwards said of President Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, "I think this president has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter. It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen."

If politicians are going to build their politcal platforms on moral issues, then their own internal consistency to those principles is fair to examine.

I find it ironic that I am pondering this story just as I wrote about how turning 40 makes me realize that life's rules do apply to me. John Edwards surely knows on a deep level that this is true of him as well, yet he has escaped into a zone where he has acquired such hubris and arrogance that he thought he could get away with his deception. This seems to be embedded in the very essence of politics, which is what I find truly disturbing. I perceived Edwards' Nightline interview as totally disingenuous, but I did believe him when he said:

Then I went from being a senator, a young senator to being considered for vice president, running for president, being a vice presidential candidate and becoming a national public figure. All of which fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want. You're invincible. And there will be no consequences. And nothing, nothing could be further from the truth.

You do have to be pretty arrogant to run for President. Who could really know that they were qualified for such a job? But what will we get from leaders who believe that they can do whatever they want with no consequences--pretty much what we've had for the last 7 and a half years with George Bush. I had hoped that Edwards was a chance to turn the page beyond that kind of illegitimate leadership, but now it is clear that he is not immune to the narcissism and entitlement that comes with political power.

Many powerful men share elements of this core flaw, whether they are Bush administration officials promoting torture or forging intelligence to justify the Iraq war, social conservatives denouncing homosexuality and voting against civil rights for gay people while leading closeted lives themselves, Eliot Spitzer prosecuting prostitution while being a client, or Republican politicians promoting policies that will curtail reproductive rights for American women while knowing that if their daughter, girlfriend, or wife needed an abortion, they could always arrange to get one (see Vice President Dan Quayle and others).

What goes on in another couple's personal life may not seem like our business. But the fact that we are governed by leaders who think that the rules don't apply to them is something that should concern all of us. The consequences of that kind of thought can affect our lives, all the way from most personal decisions we make, to the United States' role on the world stage.

One solution is to get more women and more regular people into leadership positions. I know that is a hug challenge as long as it takes millions of dollars to run for political office. But organizations such as Emily's List and our own amazing Lillian's List here in North Carolina have made a real difference. We have to keep going. National office might be out of the question right now for some Moms, but what about state or local leadership? We need excellent school board members, town council leaders, mayors, and state legislators. And those positions create experience that can leader to higher office later.

For some women, I suspect that the question about entering public life is not so much "Can I do the job?" but rather "Can I stomach the political process?"--the insanity of it all: the money, the media, and the pressures and temptations of power that affect not only men but women as well.

I have House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's new book Know Your Power in hand. I have not read it yet, but I did hear her interviewed on NPR when she talked about how Congress seemed like the ultimate Old Boys' club--Congressmen around the table even had a conversation about childbirth without inviting input from the women who were present! Ultimately though, Pelosi ultimately learned that there is no "secret sauce"--despite the aura and mystique the men tried to create, there is no secret recipe for success.

I wrote in my book Mojo Mom that the world needs your leadership. That was true when the book was new and I believe that is more true than ever now. So I ask each of you to look at what we can do to cook up your own recipe for public engagement.

Comments

I've been giving the benefit of the doubt

but I do feel swindled in many different ways. I gave money to John early on - instead of Obama - because I trusted his judgment and his integrity. I didn't think he would win, but I wanted to see his vision around poverty get center-stage. It's all so disappointing.

Great post, Mojo Mom.
_____________________________________

Jesus Swept, this December

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We are not amused.

The only part that bothers me.

Knowing that Edwards went forward with his Presidential bid after the affair had not only begun, but had been revealed to his wife, creating a situation that could have cost the Democrats the election had he been the nominee--score a million for political cynicism and anger.

I agree that we need more "normal" people running for office, even though more than 50% of those normal people are probably cheating on their spouses as well.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Why are we supposed to remain nonplussed?

@ Robert P.

I know that politicians are all-too-human, but why should we be expected to remain nonplussed when a candidate's consciously-constructed family-values/high-morality image turns out to be built on a fraudulent illusion?

It's hurtful when it's Newt Gingrich or John McCain--hurts even more when it's Bill Clinton or John Edwards. I'll never forgive Clinton for squandering his political capital on his lying philandering ways. And if Edwards is too narcissistic to realize that the era of sweeping it under the rug and getting away with it is over, then he's not smart enough to be President.

I'm not nonplussed at all.

I guess I assumed this was true when it first came out, consider me jaded. I think David Bonior spells it out for me, from the Dome.

According to the Associated Press, Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign manager is disappointed and angry over revelations of an extramarital affair.

"Thousands of friends of the senators and his supporters have put their faith and confidence in him and he’s let him down," said Bonior, a former congressman from Michigan. "They've been betrayed by his action."

Asked whether the affair would damage Edwards' career, he said yes.

"You can't lie in politics and expect to have people's confidence," he said.

At the same time, I think personal life including your marriage and faith issues should not be part and parcel of a political campaign. George Bush has been a faithful husband, but that offers no insight into his blackened soul. Bill Clinton was, to all appearances, a complete philanderer, but that didn't stop him from overseeing one of the greatest economic booms in the history of mankind. John Edwards did something horribly wrong that his wife and family will have to live with long into the future, but that doesn't mean he would not have been the greatest President for the poor and lower-middle class in the last half-century.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Please. Look it up.

People misuse this word "nonplussed" an awful lot.

nonplussed

A state of perplexity, confusion, or bewilderment.

I'm not nonplussed.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

not nonplussed

Does that mean you are plussed?

Have you ever heard of a liberal shooting up a church?

Preach it, Bru!

I was going to make a similar post...

--
recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

--
Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Sad

I really don't care that he cheated on his wife. Yeah, I do feel for her and the kids, but that's a personal issue.

What makes this a political issue, and personal for me, is that I was ready to push for whichever of the top 3 Democratic candidates was chosen. (I voted for Obama in the primary, but any of the 3 was better than ANYTHING the GOP could offer.) But if Edwards was chosen, and this came out, that would have hurt the country's chances of digging out of the hole the POS in charge has dug for us. I'll forgive Edwards his affair, and hope that his family comes through it as painlessly as possible, but I can't yet forgive the potential screwing we could have gotten if our Presidential candidate got torpedoed by something like this.

You make some good points, but...

If politicians are going to build their politcal platforms on moral issues, then their own internal consistency to those principles is fair to examine.

A comment snatched here and there does not a political platform make. John Edwards' platform was mainly focused on working towards ending poverty and health care for all. He did not run on a "family values" platform. It doesn't mean his affair should be ignored, but it also shouldn't be viewed as a betrayal of a "core" political stance.

as a woman I feel compelled to point out that the situation does raise every wife's worst nightmare, that her husband would cheat on her and she wouldn't even know it.

Please understand that I agree with you about needing more women in office. But narcissism and infidelity aren't strictly male traits, and (if pressed) I would have to rate fidelity in marriage about 37th on my list of traits I prefer my leaders to have. Many of the higher-rated traits (compassion, understanding, empathy, etc.) would probably ensure the fidelity part would be there anyway, but there are many faithful spouses out there that are dangerously bereft of some very critical traits.

All too often we judge our leaders using the wrong template, which is how we end up with poorly thought-out and sometimes inhuman policy decisions.

Edwards did sell marriage equality down the river...

...as recently as this year.

John Edwards said he couldn't support marriage equality for LGBT citizens.

Saying he wasn't ready for "gay marriage", all the while knowing he couldn't handle his own straight marriage, keeps this point relevant.

It was a values position - whatever that means - that he took. And now like every other exposed hypocrite, he needs to take a bath for his hypocrisy.

 

thank you on that point

The folks over at my pad were quick to point out this hypocrisy. He couldn't cross that bridge for same-sex couples to have the civil right to marry, but the self-proclaimed Baptist chose to commit adultery -- and used his faith as a reason he couldn't cross that bridge for gay couples. He did, however, "cross the bridge" to get it on with Rielle Hunter.

Note to Dems and Republicans -- once you toss out the faith and values card, be prepared for the blowback when your hypocrisy is exposed. The affair is a family matter, but once you have a mistress on the payroll, paid for with donations from supporters who 1) believe in you and your issues, and 2) place trust that you're not going to have any skeletons that will deep six putting a Dem in the White House, people do have a right to feel disappointed, even angry.

--
Pam Spaulding
Durham, NC USA

Pam's House Blend
www.pamshouseblend.com

--
Pam Spaulding
Durham, NC USA

Pam's House Blend
www.pamshouseblend.com

f@#$ the cheating, NOW he has lost my support.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards is pulling the plug on a scholarship program he started at an Eastern North Carolina high school -- a program he once promised would be a model for the nation under an Edwards presidency.

Edwards' presidential hopes have evaporated. And he recently informed Greene County officials that he would end the pilot program at Greene Central High School.
...
The program cost a total of $600,000 for the first two years and helped 190 students go to such colleges as East Carolina University, Lenoir Community College and N.C. State University...

Pamela Hampton-Garland, the director of College for Everyone, said the Greene County effort was always designed as a three-year pilot...

Patrick Miller, Greene County school superintendent, said the Edwards program helped raise the college-application rate from about 26 percent several years ago to 94 percent this year.

Although the College for Everyone Program is being phased out, Miller said he hoped it helped create a culture of college-going in the county. He also noted that there were other programs in the Greene schools encouraging students to further their education...

Edwards had been responsible for raising the money for College for Everyone. It was financed by the Center for Promise and Opportunity Foundation, a Greensboro-based nonprofit organization he started. Edwards' spokesmen had previously declined to disclose the foundation's donors.

Man, alive. Is this really the time to pull the plug on this wonderful program?

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Holy....crap.

That program was one of the best things he ever did. Damn. Damn. Damn.

Old news

It was a 3 year pilot program set to expire this year. The AP might not want you to know that, but this was never supposed to be a permanent program funded by John and Elizabeth.

My question is, why aren't the rest of us pushing for the state to pick up the slack? And why didn't we push the state to pick up the slack a year ago so there wouldnt have been a funding gap?

"Keep the Faith"

"Keep the Faith"

Couple things.

  1. They said it was a three-year program, you say it, so I believe it.

  2. That said, it would have been a good time to insure a little civic good will by extending the program for another year.
  3. The program was paid for by a private committee, so I don't think all $600,000 came from the Edwards' personally, but who knows.
  4. I think this program speaks for itself and that NC politicians SHOULD pick it up and run with it.

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

There are a million other programs all vying for money.

I could make an equally compelling case that all children should be given access to high quality early care and education from age 3 up - and that it would ultimately benefit our state more. (I'm not going to waste time doing that here.)

The best thing about this program is that it proved it's worth, and hopefully will show results in improved employment in Greene county down the road.

Hypocrisy, with sincerity

I like to refer to myself as a professional cynic, therefore I'm not outraged, only disappointed in John Edwards. I met John Edwards last year when he visited Charlotte on a book signing tour, before he began his campaign. During a Q&A, I had a chance to ask him a question. I asked how we could get good people to run for president. The political environment is so vicious that it just tears people apart and this probably deters many good people from running for office.

John Edwards gave what I would call an inspired and impassioned reply which must have gone on for 10 minutes in front of 150 people. In summary he said that the quality of our leaders is of paramount importance and that we need a president that can command the personal respect of not only the American people, but also the respect of other world leaders. What I understood from him is that the quality of a candidate's character is more important than their policies. A person can change their policies, but much more difficult to change their character.

When he announced his candidacy for president, I thought he was the one. But I waited for him to say the same thing during the campaign that he said to me. He never said it, but now I know why. If he had followed his words and stayed out of the presidential race because of them, if he had raised this issue publicly, I think the result of the democratic primaries would have been different.

I still believe in those causes that John Edwards worked for and campaigned for. I just hope the message doesn't go down with the messenger.

That's where we come in.

I still believe in those causes that John Edwards worked for and campaigned for. I just hope the message doesn't go down with the messenger.

It's politically expedient these days to talk about the struggles of the Middle Class, but (I believe) it's going to be up to progressives to bring about positive change for those who dream of being in the Middle Class.

Well, Mojo, when you're right, you're right

And I hate, hate, hate it, but if it is established that Edwards abused campaign funds to ensure that he and Hunter had access to one another, then yes, it is very much a matter of public interest.

I hope it ain't true but have an ugly suspicion that it is.

That, to me, changes the story from what it originally appeared to be. I actually got some indication that there was more to it in an exchange with a journalist who warned that there was more to come. I reacted to what there was, and felt sure of my ground in doing so. Now I am doing the old forehead slap and saying "AARRRGH!"

Were the story simply a matter of a man having an affair, I'd still insist that this is not a matter of public interest.

I'm so sorry about it, though. I still feel more compassion for than anger toward Edwards. He's just a freakin' human being, and he's one who has the kind of natural/foolhardy/understandable/damnable/ emotional/mental/sexual needs most of us have in common with one another.

I'm not going to join the crowd in jeering him. I'm hopeful that among the many who believed in him and his message there are still a significant number close to him and Elizabeth who can offer the love and support they need. I'm pretty sure they aren't looking for it on blogs.

That reminds me of one thing you said, MojoMom, that I disagree with. I disagree that there was anything disingenous about his nightline interview. I think he has been living in hell about this for well over a year, and so has his family. And now everything they've been struggling to deal with is that much more difficult.

I don't blame you or anyone else for being angry and disappointed. But I sincerely doubt that your disappointment, sadness, or cynicism is going to be nearly as much for you or anyone else to deal with as this episode is for each member of the Edwards family, and my heart goes out to them.

Nonplussed

Someone used this word before, and that truly describes me. I know this because this is my fifth and final attempt to post this comment. I don't know exactly what I want to say, or at least don't know how I want to say it.

Lest I close my browser again in utter confusion (or nonplussness), allow me to bullet point it:

- The cheating does not make me regret my vote nor my support. I never supported Edwards because of his faithful and happy marraige. I voted for his policies.

- Whether he cheated when his wife had cancer, didn't have cancer, whatever, makes no difference.

- Had Edwards received the nomination, he would have just handed McCain the keys to the country.

- Had I known there was a pending scandal, and Edwards certainly knew that, I could have spent my time and money more wisely on Obama.

- Edwards' reputation is now shit, removing any shot he had to help the country in as meaningful a way as he could have.

That said, my main issue is this: I live in a very red county in a very red district. I spend most of my time trying to convince voters that the Democrats would represent them better and more effectively than Republicans.

This is a tough enough sell (to them) on policy issues, and crap like this makes it all the more tougher. How do I walk up to one of these people now and deliver my pitch when they can look at me and say "just a few months ago you told me that Edwards was your guy."

People aren't perfect. Candidates aren't perfect. But you should never ask someone to put their credibility on the line on your behalf with something like this going on.

Screwing another woman is one thing, but Edwards screwed more than her. He screwed his biggest advocates in the worst way possible. At least he told his wife. When she supported him it was with full disclosure. We didn't have that luxury and now we (as political acitvists) are paying for it, and so may the other candidates we support.

I think that some of you are over-reacting.

I'm sure that you felt saddened, betrayed, etc., by this sad situation, but the fact is, he's not the nominee, and this situation will probably not even be a blip on the radar in November.

If campaign funds were misused, it's a matter for the FEC. My feeling is, if you feel that John Edwards betrayed your trust when he screwed Rielle Hunter, you had too much emotionally invested in the man. It's easy to get caught up in the emotion and believe these men are gods -- they aren't. They're just guys. Men. Women. Just regular people who do stupid things. Who make mistakes. The sooner we stop talking about it, the sooner it will drop out of the news cycle and stop hurting actual candidates.

Great

Now Democrats are taking the "ignore it and hope it goes away" tactic.

It won't matter in Novemeber, and I have never deified any candidate for office, nor anyone else.

He likely did not violate FEC standards, but if he did, the FEC is an arm of the government, therefore an arm of the people.

That aside, as I said in my post, when you knock on somebody's door and tell them that candidate x is a great guy, then candidate x makes a horrible decision, your pitch for candidate y is automatically diminished.

I don't care if John Edwards screws every hooker on Trade Street, but let me know before I go door to door singing his praises.

Yeah, men are men and women are women, but when you run for office, you place your trust into others and they with you.

This is my final post on the issue, but I ain't letting the guy off the hook so easily.

No, that's not what I said.

I didn't say "ignore it and it goes away". The point of my post is be realistic about the people you are supporting in politics.

I suppose that in order to be a believer, you must be a true believer, but to act like this is akin to the fall of man, and that it will affect all democrats, everywhere, is ludicrous.

You said it well, Crowbar317

That aside, as I said in my post, when you knock on somebody's door and tell them that candidate x is a great guy, then candidate x makes a horrible decision, your pitch for candidate y is automatically diminished.

Yes, that is it. I did my first-ever heavy-duty fundraising for Edwards, putting my reputation on the line with friends and family when I asked them to contribute. The loss of my own time and money stinks, but what really burns me is knowing that I persuaded other people to contribute when he was engaging in behavior that was dishonest and doomed his candidacy.

That is a very good point.

----insert witty remark here----coming soon----

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me