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Why John Edwards’ Affair Matters

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It has become a stereotypical pattern with men. A lad with a salad-days libido has a girl in every port, plays fast and loose with feelings and breaks hearts. Then he gets older, marries, has a daughter, and becomes very protective. He doesn’t want her dating guys who are just like he was.

What this tells us is that when it’s our ox being gored, reality often becomes crystal clear. Sure, as a young man, dad no doubt rationalized his behavior. But when the object of ravishing eyes is his daughter, he knows what having good character means, why it matters and wants her beau to possess it.

Unfortunately, this pattern is exhibited on a wider scale as well. When Bill Clinton’s dalliances came to light, millions of people circled the wagons for the selfish end of preserving the career of a man who did their political bidding, despite the fact that many of them wouldn’t accept such scandalous behavior in their own lives. “Character doesn’t matter” became a mantra, and deviancy was further defined downwards.

The problem with this attitude is that it increases the chances that America will choose the wrong suitor. And, like that proverbial father, when we’re not blinded by a desire to justify our own misdeeds or those of someone whose cause we’re championing, we know character matters. Isn’t it obvious? Would you want to be pulled over by a policeman who had bad character? How about giving your car to a mechanic with bad character? Would you place your child in the hands of a daycare provider with bad character? If not, why would you consider giving the reins of government – and especially the nuclear button – to a politician with bad character (yes, I know that is almost a redundancy)?

When we ask ourselves these questions, we place the matter in perspective; it becomes clear that character is central to anything one might do. If the matter is a politician, what he espouses may sound good, but on what basis can we assess the probability that he’ll keep his promises and strive to advance our nation and not just himself?

Character.

This is why John Edwards’ affair matters; it is why all politicians’ indiscretions do. As for Edwards, while he is now a private citizen, he recently ran for president and presumably intended to do so again in the future. And, in all cases, a transgression is an important little picture that, when taken together with the other pieces of the metaphorical jigsaw puzzle, reveals the big picture. Thus, I don’t say one sordid event necessarily epitomizes a person’s life, but, nevertheless, it may be a crucial piece, without which the big picture remains indecipherable.

Many people will defend the character-doesn’t-matter position by self-assuredly saying that the only relevant factor is that a person is competent. This is a nice fantasy; it’s a bit like saying it doesn’t matter if a computer has corrupted files as long as the hardware is top-notch. An auto mechanic may have tremendous talent in his field – great “raw material” – but it’s all for naught if you can’t trust him to render honest diagnoses, only do necessary work, install new parts when you pay for them, and ensure the job is well done. Ability isn’t the only prerequisite for competence; conscientiousness and perseverance are two others. And what are they a function of?

Character.

Something else relevant to competence is the percentage of time one's mind is engaged in productive thought. It’s said the average man thinks about sex every 20 seconds, and, while I think this statistic an exaggeration, the fact is that the more time a mind spends engrossed in what it shouldn’t, the less time it has to focus on what it should. In this regard, Bill Clinton has admitted to having a “sex addiction,” which leaves one to wonder how much time he had to ponder policy. Oh, I know he showed up for meetings, but the point is that when you’re obsessed with sex, drugs, alcohol or some other untoward behavior, it doesn’t leave much time for deep thought or the introspection that breeds moral and spiritual growth.

Some will still say that private indiscretions are private matters, but different rules apply to aspiring public officials. If you think this is unjust, consider that if you want to work for certain media outlets, they demand you sign a morality clause; this ensures you won’t bring disgrace upon the organization and rob it of credibility. Similarly, politicians are applying for a job with us, the employers; thus, we have a duty, not only to make sure they possess that oft-unrecognized prerequisite for competence, but also that they won’t bring disgrace upon the nation.

If some scoff at this, I submit that their sense of shame is sorely lacking. There was a time when children often heard the admonition, “Don’t bring shame upon the family.” But you only have to surf YouTube, MySpace or some other juvenile den of iniquity to know that the “Hey, hey, ho, ho, guilt and conscience have gotta go” movement has been largely successful. No, we’re no longer “repressed,” we’ve regressed – to a state of licentiousness reminiscent of the ancient Roman ignobility. And don’t mistake it for the freedom of having shed shackles; it’s the bondage of having shed morality.

Of course, our libertine state is the reason why some people are loath to hold scandalous politicians accountable. Many times a decadent public official is simply the man in the mirror, and it’s human nature to go soft on transgressions of which we are also guilty. People will always be reluctant to uphold standards that would condemn themselves, even if it means that wanting statesmen will, consequently, continue to be visited upon the nation. This is why English poet William Cowper once rhetorically asked, “When was public virtue to be found when private was not?”

This is a tough psychological hurdle to overcome, but there is something I can say to such people. If you require the services of a pilot or brain surgeon, you want an individual who is absolutely superior to you in that area. And if you want to learn golf, do you seek guidance from the worst duffer simply so you can feel better about your own woods-and-water game?

The same standard must be applied to politicians. Since public virtue is necessary for good government, we should want public officials who are superior to us in that regard. (Although, if we were somehow able to craft a civilization where beauty at the top belied depravity at the bottom, we might be the very first nation in history to do so.)

This desire to justify ourselves by eliminating standards that would condemn us doesn’t dissipate upon taking an oath of office, and this is another reason why character relates to competence. Consider, for example, the recent revelations about 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge Alex Kozinski. While this right honorable jurist was presiding over an obscenity trial, it was discovered that he himself had a pornographic website. Kozinski said he thought the site “was for his private storage and that he was not aware the images could be seen by the public,” but isn’t it a good thing they didn’t remain a “private matter”? Isn’t it logical to assume he has rationalized his behavior and that this just might influence his adjudication of the case? Connecting the dots here isn’t difficult: Sound judgment is part of competence, and descent into depravity can corrupt judgment. This is why the Bible speaks of “eyes blinded by sin.”

If it seems I’m saying that character is defined solely by sexual propriety, think again. Shortly after the Edwards story broke, some on the left pointed out that John McCain also was once unfaithful to an ailing wife – sometime before electricity. And in all fairness, voters have every right to consider this when assessing the senator (although a complete assessment also allows that a man can change over the course of decades). We need to be completely fair, however. Thus, when comparing his character to that of Barack Obama, we also have to consider the latter’s attendance in a bigoted, black-theology church; his many sordid associations, which include an ex-Weatherman terrorist; his indifference to infanticide (BAIPA opposition); his criticism of America overseas; his refusal to visit injured troops upon discovering there could be no campaign-advancing photo-op; his advocacy of legalized theft (stealing money from oil companies to provide a $1000 “energy rebate”); and many other things.

But however you judge our public officials, character should be high up on the list. Because if it now means less than empty campaign slogans, it should be obvious what kind of government we deserve.

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About Selwyn Duke

  • Jordan Richardson

    Can you tell me why John McCain’s grotesque indiscretions seem to matter less than a former candidate’s?

  • [Googles “Why John Edwards’ affair matters”]

    Did you mean: Why John Edwards’ affair is overblown

  • Jordan,

    Please permit to to take a stab at it.

    When Mr. Edwards committed his sexual indiscretion, he was seeking the Presidency and was using his wife’s very serious illness and her proclaimed loyalty to him to garner votes while diddling someone else. His arrogance and stupidity in doing these things did not suggest that he would be other than arrogant and stupid were he to become the president. Lying about it when caught did not make him seem less arrogant or stupid. Does it matter now? I rather think not. He is burned toast and the less said about, or by, him the better.

    Senator McCain’s sexual indiscretions were a long time ago, back when he was a young Navy pilot. Although adultery was (and as far as I know still is) an offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it was (and possibly remains) quite common*. McCain was not a public figure then; getting caught might have been damaging to his military career but that’s about it. He might have been transferred but a court martial would have been quite unlikely. The potential damage was only to him and to his wife — not really a matter of public interest or concern. Unlike Mr. Edwards, he was was not using his wife for political purposes to attain high public office while diddling someone else. Nor did he lie about these things publicly.

    Dan

    * I recall an old toast in military circles. “To our wives and sweethearts; may they never meet.”

  • troll

    as are most politicians – Edwards is a sociopath…but he and Rielle do make a cute couple

  • Clavos

    Wonder if she’s as shallow as he is?

  • Jordan Richardson

    Dan, if the concept here is character, surely McCain’s rather soulless incident matters in present context just as much, as does the “cunt” situation.

    The notion that it was a “long time ago” doesn’t hold much water with me, especially in light of McCain’s obvious anger issues. While using one’s wife’s illness is soulless in just about every way, McCain’s less than admirable treatment of his significant others ought to be just as subject to scrutiny. Unfortunately, like his constant babbling and frothing, it isn’t.

  • Clavos

    One major difference I see between the two:

    temper (and he does have one) and all, McCain at least appears to be trustworthy from my point of view; Edwards does not.

    I don’t say this based on the recent revelations about Edwards’ private life; in fact, in both cases, that’s what the philandering is, sick wives and all: private; and IMO, not really relevant to either’s performance as a president. We have plenty of previous examples of philandering presidents, some good, some bad.

    No, Edwards, ever since he came onto the national stage has, from the start, appeared (to me) to be a complete phony. I remember asking my brother-in-law (an honest, good man, though sadly, a Democrat) nearly a year ago how he could possibly support such an obviously phony candidate. All of Edwards’ public persona is an act, and he’s a lousy actor; his phoniness clearly shows through, and always has.

    McCain is WYSIWYG, flawed as he is.

    And that’s an important difference to me.

  • All of this is well and good, but it seems to me to be about as silly and pointless as sending a job interviewee a rejection letter on Monday, finding out that he robbed a bank on Tuesday and then decrying him for being unsuitable for the job on Wednesday.

  • Clavos

    Good point, (and you DO have one), Doc!

  • Jordan Richardson

    McCain is trustworthy? What you see is what you get with him? Hmm…

    Even up here in Canada I have my doubts about that philosophy, Clav. Sorry.

    There’s his whole absolute reversal on Roe v. Wade. There’s his issues with Jerry Falwell, which shows a John McCain willing to do just about anything to win, even after decrying the fat sack of crap (rest in peace, of course) as “an agent of intolerance” and then almost literally cozying up to the guy at Liberty University. There’s his opposition to the Bush tax cuts and his reversal on that. There’s his condemnation of Texas businessmen Sam and Charles Wyly for using “dirty money” to finance the Bush campaign, only to reach out to the Wyly cronies in 2006 for campaign cash. There’s his shift on Grover Norquist. There’s McCain’s flip-flop on torture. There’s his gay marriage stance(s) that took all of 11 minutes to shift over on Hardball. There’s his opposition to the GI Bill for months and his sudden insistence to take credit for it after it became an inevitability.

    The fact of the matter is that the John McCain running for office in 2008 is a completely fucking different person than the John McCain running for office in 2000.

    How do you manage to trust this man, Clavos?

  • troll

    Dreadful – Edwards is only incidental to the article which in the end is an attack on Obama’s questionable character…one of Duke’s less shrill and more reasoned and ‘pointful’ partisan pieces imo

  • Clavos

    “Reversals” and “flip-flops” are a politician’s stock in trade, Jordan. Obama is certainly doing his share of them these days, as well.

    Would you really want a politico who took a stance and refused to revise it — ever? If so, when was the last time you saw one who didn’t change his/her stances? I have no problem with McCain (or any politician) changing points of view; if I don’t like the change, they may lose my vote (if they had it in the first place), but I don’t consider that a lack of trustworthiness.

    My point was that, McCain is open about where he stands, he’s not secretive and totally phony (and oily) like Edwards.

  • Jordan Richardson

    I would consider decrying someone from a moral standpoint only to go back and beg them for campaign money later as a significant problem, regardless of who does it. That’s not a simple flip-flop and it doesn’t help me trust the candidate.

    I have no dog in this fight. I couldn’t care less about Obama, McCain, Edwards, or whatever other Tooth Fairy you guys want to elect in America. But I do know hypocrisy and double-speak when I see it and I find it amazing that most McCain supporters seem to be absolutely oblivious to shortcomings and obvious problems that, had they occured on behalf of “the other guy,” would be absolutely damning.

    You’ve decided in your heart of hearts that McCain is “open about where he stands,” even if he’s standing somewhere else 11 minutes later. Well shit, at least you know, right?

    Personally that doesn’t help me out in the Trust Department.

  • Clavos

    Jordan, you say:

    But I do know hypocrisy and double-speak when I see it…

    From Merriam-Webster Online:

    “Main Entry:
    hy·poc·ri·sy
    Function:
    noun
    Inflected Form(s):
    plural hy·poc·ri·sies
    Etymology:
    Middle English ypocrisie, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin hypocrisis, from Greek hypokrisis act of playing a part on the stage, hypocrisy, from hypokrinesthai to answer, act on the stage, from hypo- + krinein to decide — more at certain
    Date:
    13th century

    1: a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion2: an act or instance of hypocrisy”

    Describes Edwards to a tee.

    McCain is not “feigning” anything. The truth is, it’s not his “hypocrisy” you don’t like, Jordan; it’s his politics, then OR now.

    Same source:

    “doublespeak

    Main Entry:
    dou·ble·speak
    Function:
    noun
    Date:
    1952

    : language used to deceive usually through concealment or misrepresentation of truth; also : gobbledygook
    — dou·ble·speak·er Listen to the pronunciation of doublespeaker \-ˌspē-kər\ noun”

    Again, a far better description of Edwards than of McCain.

    Chacun a son gout, Jordan.

    Why is it that every time one defends one aspect or issue about someone on these threads, he’s immediately seen by all and sundry as a supporter of that individual?

    I am not a McCain supporter, Jordan. Like you, I have no dog in this fight. I don’t vote for dogs.

    I’ll probably write in Diogenes’ name.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Clavos,

    My comments about hypocrisy and double-speak had more to do with McCain supporters willing to endlessly chastise Obama for “changing positions” while ignoring the obvious problems with their own candidate than it did with John McCain himself. It’s more of a general statement and I am not referring to you specifically. I realize you are not a McCain supporter.

    The whole statement of mine you partially quote delivers that thought:

    But I do know hypocrisy and double-speak when I see it and I find it amazing that most McCain supporters seem to be absolutely oblivious to shortcomings and obvious problems that, had they occured on behalf of “the other guy,” would be absolutely damning.

    Whether hypocrisy and double-speak applies to John McCain and/or John Edwards was not of my concern. Instead, I’m concerned with the idea of “trustworthiness” you generously afford to McCain. As I’ve repeated, I don’t see it. And I don’t see a need to measure him against another man, like John Edwards, who isn’t even in the race anymore.

    Instead, if anything, voters in the United States should be measuring McCain against Obama directly and not against hasbeen candidates.

    With that in mind, what is it about John McCain that makes him more trustworthy to you than Barack Obama?

    As an outsider, I’m trying to understand how John McCain can conceivably be seen as more trusthworthy than Obama by any intelligent, educated American.

  • Being an addict would affect ones judgment in business or politics. John Edwards does not have any history of sexual addiction. His sexual indiscretion has nothing to do with the ability to lead. If that were the case, the world would have been deprived of many business and political leaders. My problem with Edwards is the fact that he made poor decisions in the aftermath of the situation. In the heat of fire, he lacks the ability to look credible. That is a very important factor when leading. There is no way he could look a Vladimir Putin in the eye and play a game of political poker. Bill Clinton actually did a better job of handling the Lewinsky situation. We do not elect priests or nuns, we elect men and women who have personal lives. This over the top moralization of our leaders is too much. The only people he screwed up with were his wife and family. I do believe that he would say or do anything not to hurt them anymore than he has already. Hopefully, that does not include illegal activities. What Edwards did has been going on sinse the begginning of mankind, except in 2008 there is a massive number of news outlets, You Tube, tabloids, and a gazillion political bloggers.

  • WYSIWYG? Yes, true to a point.

    It could also be what you will put up with is what you get. If you have lowered your standards, can you really be surprised with “naughty” behavior?

    This is true in the private sector as well as for the government.

    Perhaps we as a society should consider raising the bar a bit, instead of putting up with a lack of character.

  • bliffle

    I don’t care about John Edwards – he’s not in the campaign.

    I’m interested in McCain and Obama, and I don’t think dalliance is horribly bad, especially since mere men are so easily seduced.

    The bad aspect of McCains affair with Christy is that his wife had been enduring for McCain and he treated her rather rudely. She had cancer and he dumped her cruelly (if you compare to Edwards you notice that Edwards didn’t dump his wife). IIRC, McCain left his wife without finances and Ross Perot paid her expenses.

    That’s pretty raw.

    But maybe that’s OK for a president, who may have to make some hard-hearted decisions. Hopefully for reasons better than his own libido.

    I fault McCain for surrendering to Bush so easily in 2000. What happened to his feistyness? What happened to that maverick? It blew away like a puff of smoke when confronted by Bushian Bluster.

    IMO, people voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 because of his bluster. His willingness to declare himself faultless and accuse others. IMO, voters saw this as a good thing in international relations.

    McCain folded. Unless he’s changed he’ll lose again.

  • Baronius

    Jordan, are you sure that you don’t have a dog in this fight? You’ve been as reliable as anyone on BC in your support of Obama. I don’t recall a negative word about the Dem, or a positive one about the Republican candidate.

    I think I’m with Clavos on this one. The affair doesn’t tell me anything about Edwards’ character that I hadn’t already assumed. That character excludes him from the presidency in my eyes. I don’t think this story reflects anything bigger than the end of Edwards’ career.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Jordan, are you sure that you don’t have a dog in this fight? You’ve been as reliable as anyone on BC in your support of Obama. I don’t recall a negative word about the Dem, or a positive one about the Republican candidate.

    I do tend to have left-leanings in terms of my personal philosophy, so I suppose it’s natural that I would lean towards a Dem in the United States election as opposed to a Republican. Seeing as how America is “two party state,” it’s hard not to side with Obama almost by default. I simply don’t agree with much of what the GOP stands for. I guess if I had to, I might wind up casting a vote for the Green Party.

    In terms of actual support regarding Obama, I’m not so sure. Simply not saying anything bad about a particular candidate doesn’t account to an endorsement, as far as I know.

  • Jordan Richardson

    Unless you guys have a socialist party…

  • Baronius

    That wouldn’t rightly explain why you find Obama to be so admirable, and why you dislike McCain. This goes to the heart of the article. Do we base our support on the ideology or the character of the candidate? (I guess we should add experience to the list as well.)

  • Jordan Richardson

    That wouldn’t rightly explain why you find Obama to be so admirable, and why you dislike McCain.

    I’m no political expert, but why doesn’t that explain why I would sooner vote for Obama than I would for McCain?

    In picking the “lesser of two evils,” I find myself agreeing more but never entirely with the policies of the Democrats, as I said. I also said that I’d sooner vote for another party altogether. I do suppose that if John McCain were a Democrat, I’d vote for him regardless of how articulate Obama was.

  • “McCain is trustworthy? What you see is what you get with him?”

    Yup, you can trust McCain is just like any other politician who changes his position when it’s politically expedient.

  • Most of McCain’s shifts have been made since he threw his hat into the presidential ring this time around. Does that sound like a true change of conscience or political opportunism? Again, it seems that nobody gives a shit because McCain is a “straight talker.”

    Obama shifts some positions and he’s suddenly a soulless flip-flopper.

    Duke had me for the most part until he turned it into a slam against Obama – making all the same bullshit charges against him that have been paraded out by Obama’s detractors with the same half truths and obfuscating language.

    Duke destroys the entire thrust of his article by turning it all, in the end, against Obama and in so doing, through his long winded supposed high minded set up, equating Obama’s character with Edwards’ pecadillo. Duke revealed his own penchant for political sleeze.

    B

  • Most of McCain’s shifts have been made since he threw his hat into the presidential ring this time around. Does that sound like a true change of conscience or political opportunism? Again, it seems that nobody gives a shit because McCain is a “straight talker.”

    Obama shifts some positions and he’s suddenly a soulless flip-flopper.

    Duke had me for the most part until he turned it into a slam against Obama – making all the same bullshit charges against him that have been paraded out by Obama’s detractors with the same half truths and obfuscating language.

    Duke destroys the entire thrust of his article by turning it all, in the end, against Obama and in so doing, through his long winded supposed high minded set up, equating Obama’s character with Edwards’ pecadillo. Duke revealed his own penchant for political sleeze.

    B

  • I get a laugh from McCain running on foreign policy, yet he keeps making statements that a) he either believes or b) are misstatements. Either way must have the ghost of Gerald “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” Ford shaking his head.

    “In The 21st Century Nations Don’t Invade Other Nations” HUH?! Even if he meant “shouldn’t,” then that certainly doesn’t jive with his support into Iraq or Afghanistan. In a world where perception is reality, McCain looks like a man out of step and past his prime.

  • Zedd

    Character does matter. Lets sober up. Politicians make a living by telling people what they want to hear. Not sure if many of them have character.

    Edwards had an affair. 60% of men will have an affair. While it is shameful, weak and dishonorable to cheat on a spouse, it is no more an indication of less character then any other “sin”.

    The issue in this situation is not whether Edwards is a man of character. The truth is, Edwards is tarnished because he did not living up to what we hope to have in a President. He is no longer a super hero. He looked foolish when he had to admit that he had been fibbing about the affair. The entire matter is/was icky and it seems as if he still hasn’t come clean. That kid may very well be his. Edwards is guilty of letting us down. We like happy endings and heroes and he didn’t deliver.

    However on the issue of character, Selwyn you are not the person to chide anyone regarding this matter. You uphold the most vile and dangerous principles that our species has conjured up. Your ideas are a stain on what humanity has accomplished. What you promote is anti human and anti God. You hide under the ideals that decent men and women cherish as you seethe in your dungeon of putrid lust for destruction (destruction of the human spirit). You are Hitler and far worse because you have his example to learn from.

    Please don’t use our ideals to hide your inability to live out humaneness. Take your carny act to the abyss where you will keep the gargoyles entertained. Good luck living out your life as the devils favorite fool. Now go slip on your tall white dunce’s hat and be merry with ya.

  • My goodness, Zedd – (good evening, by the way) – what brought this on?

    I’m guessing it wasn’t this – for Selwyn, pretty mild – article.

    But I’ll grant you that his overall worldview ain’t pretty.

  • Yeah, Zedd. Don’t hold back. Say what you really think.

    By the way, I know that the following is not the thrust of the article or most of the comment thread, but I just thought it worth noting that for every guy who cheats on his spouse, there is a woman (or man, if the fellow happens to be gay) who is the recipient of said cheating. It takes two to tango. What of the character of the “other” woman (or man) who knows full well that her new playmate is married or otherwise involved?

    I won’t argue against the notion that, as my wife puts it, cheating men are “dogs.” But let’s not let the other woman (or man) completely off the hook. What goes on in their minds when getting into such a relationship? Isn’t there at least some shared guilt and responsibility? I believe that in many cases the paramour knows the spouse, sometimes very well. I mean, what’s up with that?

    And I haven’t even gotten into cheating wives.

    B

  • bliffle

    It certainly appears that this Rielle woman was an opportunistic political groupie. But political types are surrounded by such types, according to Kissingers famous mot.

    But politicians must learn self-restraint: they are constantly surrounded by intriguers with flattering blandishments. The weak will succumb, and other people will suffer.

  • My comment regarding women and their share of responsibility was more of a general question, not particularly relating to the Edwards situation. Obviously, the stakes for Edwards were much higher than those of your average Joe with a seven year itch. Frankly, everytime his pulsing wang came a calling, Edwards should have smacked it down with a brick, or at least satisfied his itch with a little self love in the broom closet. Instead, he answered that call saying Hello, come on in! Aye, there’s the rub!

    B

  • Zedd

    Where character is concerned, being a groupie does not excuse you from exercising restraint and it certainly does not give you in an exempt status where character is concerned.

    She is just as guilty. His challenge was much greater to maintain good character. Hers was much easier. It is difficult to be married and remain with one person. She can have the pick of any man that she wants yet she went after someones husband. Who has less character of the two?