Sunday, August 17, 2008

Can We Give John Edwards a Break?

Now that we have had a little bit of time since the John Edwards adultery scandal has been at the top of the headlines, maybe we can try to look at this whole story with a little more perspective and a little less over-the-top emotion.

While I do not wish to condone adultery, the extreme shock and outrage that some give to something that is
relatively prevalent — for example, pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found in his studies back in the supposedly more conservative 40s and 50s that 50% of males and 26% of females had extramarital sex — is a bit much in my view.

And considering that politicians who wield status and power that undeniably lead to more potential sexual opportunities than the ordinary person can even dream of, it’s hard to understand how anybody nowadays can be shocked in disbelief when we hear of a politician exposed for sexual indiscretions. Indeed, so many of our politicians present and past have been associated with affairs that we seldom mention those affairs when we evaluate that person’s political future or legacy (with the notable exception of Bill Clinton and his impeachment).

So given this, why has the media in particular been so unforgiving of John Edwards while so many other politicians seem to have gotten a free pass? Three reasons immediately come to mind. One is that this recent story is still very fresh in our minds. Affairs from years ago, especially long ago, tend to fade from our consciousness. The second is due to the very prominent and public role that Elizabeth Edwards had in her husband’s presidential campaign. And third, Elizabeth is an especially sympathetic figure due to her public battle against incurable cancer.

Again, I do not wish to condone Edward’s cheating. But while most people would agree that the most hurtful thing one can do against a spouse is adultery, in my book, people who cheat on a wife and then dump her are not only hurtful but downright cruel! And in this category are at least three examples of politicians who are or were part of the presidential campaign or seriously considered running. And the outrage (if any) directed at these people is nothing like what Edwards is now receiving.

Newt Gingrich served as the Speaker of the US House of Representatives
from 1995 to 1999. As a prominent voice for conservative politics who was part of the impeachment process of Bill Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, he was widely encouraged to run for president and announced his interest in competing for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination if the necessary money could be raised. His personal life includes this sordid account:

He married Jackie Battley..(and)..they had two daughters. Jackie worked to put Newt through graduate school and was a loyal political wife during his two unsuccessful campaigns for Congress in 1974 and 1976. Gingrich had an affair in 1977 with Ann Manning, then the wife of a West Georgia professor. Gingrich walked out on Jackie in the spring of 1980. That fall, while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery for uterine cancer, he appeared at her bedside with a yellow legal pad outlining the details for their divorce. The divorce was finalized in 1981.

Gingrich refused to pay both alimony and child support. The local First Baptist church took up collections for support of Jackie and their children.

In 1981, six months after his divorce was final, Gingrich wed Marianne Ginther. He remained married to Ginther until 2000, although he had a six year affair with a then 33-year-old Congressional staffer, Callista Bisek. This affair was going on during the Clinton impeachment probe.

Former presidential candidate and New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani’s personal life included public appearances with future wife number 3, Judith Nathan before the very public dumping of wife number 2, Donna Hanover.

In early May 2000, the New York Daily News and then the New York Post broke news of Giuliani's relationship with Nathan. Giuliani first publicly acknowledged her on May 3, 2000 stating that Nathan was his "very good friend."

On May 10, 2000 Giuliani called a press conference to announce that he intended to separate from Hanover. Hanover, however, had not been told about his plans before his press conference, an omission for which Giuliani was widely criticized.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s first wife Carol also has a compelling story to tell that is not well known. In June, the UK's Daily Mail published The wife John McCain callously left behind, the story about how McCain came home from Vietnam to a once beautiful wife who had become disfigured from a near-fatal car crash. (Thanks to blogger John McIntire aka MacYapper for sharing this article.)

In 1979 – while still married to Carol – he met (his present wife) Cindy at a cocktail party in Hawaii. Over the next six months he pursued her, flying around the country to see her. Then he began to push to end his marriage.

Carol and her children were devastated. ‘It was a complete surprise,’ says Nancy Reynolds, a former Reagan aide. ‘They never displayed any difficulties between themselves. I know the Reagans were quite shocked because they loved and respected both Carol and John.’

Another friend added: ‘Carol didn’t fight him. She felt her infirmity made her an impediment to him. She justified his actions because of all he had gone through. She used to say, “He just wants to make up for lost

Indeed, to many in their circle the saddest part of the break-up was Carol’s decision to resign herself to losing a man she says she still adores.
This may well come back to give McCain problems in the upcoming election campaign if the US mainstream media decides this is worth a closer look. So far, only liberal blogs like this one in The Huffington Post along with Fox News token liberal Alan Colmes in this video have spoken up on this.

In any event, if these three men can be forgiven by the public for their admittedly cruel behavior to past wives to at least be able to still run for office, John Edwards should at least be given a chance to someday serve in an appointed role to contribute toward improving the lives of those suffering the effects of poverty or lacking health insurance (which were more central issues in his presidential campaign than with the other candidates). Or maybe he would do well as a czar reporting to the president and adminstering the long neglected tasks of finishing the rebuilding of New Orleans along with helping remaining Katrina victims to finally get back on their feet. A disgraced man like this would have an especially powerful incentive to make a meaningful contribution in hopes of making amends for the mistakes he made.

I conclude with a passage from a recent New York Times op-ed column by Paul Krugman:

…if we do get real health care reform, a lot of people will owe a debt of gratitude to none other than John Edwards. When Mr. Edwards dropped out of the presidential race, I credited him with making universal health care a “possible dream for the next administration.” Mr. Edwards’s political career is over — but perhaps he and his family can take some solace from the fact that his party is still trying to make that dream come true.

No comments: