Why Don't Politicians Have Higher Standards When They Cheat?

The crazy John Edwards scandal won't end. Now, his former aide has come out with a tell-all book (and there are reports that his wife, Elizabeth, is threatening to sue over it). The book makes Edwards' mistress out to sound a little ... um, desperate...

Rielle Hunter circa 2010
(Image credit: Screenshot/Marie Claire)


Plenty of stuff happened over the weekend here at MK headquarters (including way too much sleep deprivation)--and I'll get to that later. (For a tiny hit of intrigue, check my Fbook page.) But today, can we talk about the Edwards scandal-that-will-not-die? (Those of you who have managed to ignore all the headlines, I commend you--and warn that I am here to drag you down into them.) The whole thing is just so much more nutty and dramatic than even your average political sex scandal story, isn't it?


-The fact that the Edwards marriage was celebrated as an example of enduring, unshakeable true love.

-The fact that the people bankrolling John Edwards' presidential run cooked up a story that a campaign aide, Andrew Young, was actually the one who'd been having the affair with the impregnated woman, Rielle Hunter,who'd been employed to make videos about Edwards.

-The fact that Hunter used to be involved with the novelist Jay Mc­Inerney, who based a character in his book "Story of My Life" on Hunter, long before Hunter even met Edwards, describing heras a woman whose credo is: "Maybe we sometimes resist the urge to jump on top of some guy in the elevator or on the sidewalk. But we probably give him our phone number for later that night." Uh ... wow.

-The fact that after the affair was revealed, John Edwards uncannily continued to deny that his ex-mistress's child was his, to the point of even[link title='John Edwards interview' href='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WbL-vj-RKxQ&feature=related' link_updater_label='external' target='_blank']insisiting repeatedly on Nightline that he would take a paternity test (while clearly knowing full well that Rielle Hunter, his ex-mistress, would never agree to that).

-The fact that Elizabeth Edwards, once celebrated as a role model, found out about the affair long before the public did and continued to act out the marriage charade during her husband's presidential campaign.

-That Elizabeth, despite her purported concern for her children, helped to keep the affair in the news by writing a memoir about it.

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And NOW?

Now we have:

-An angry memoir from Young, in which he claims, among other things, that Hunter said Edwards' efforts to placate her during her pregnancy were "not too bad, considering I was sleeping in my car a few years ago": and 

-reports that Elizabeth Edwards is threatening to sue Young for contributing to the break-up of her marriage.

Is it just me, or is this whole thing even more insane than the average story about a politician caught with his pants down?

Also--with apologies to Rielle Hunter--does anyone else wonder why politicians and other incredibly famous and powerful men (Tiger Woods, cough, cough) go for people who are not exactly, shall we say, winners? Like: If they're going to cheat, can't they cheat with elegant women? Rather than those who look like they just walked off the set of a very low-budget soap opera? With the kind of woman who wouldn't make us say, "You chose to ruin your entire career over HER? Her? Really?" Someone who doesn't present as a little ... trashy?

(Am I being too mean?)

I suppose the idea is that they're going for women who are unlike their brilliant, successful wives (like Elizabeth and Hillary Clinton); cheating with women who seem to worship and adore them, around whom they can turn off their brains a little and relax.

But ... still.

The only big shot in recent memory who gained my sympathy in the midst of his adulterous scandal was Gov. Mark Sanford. Why? Part of it was that he was with an age-appropriate woman whom he called his "soul mate"; their relationship seemed to be about two equals who really cared about each other. I didn't get the sense he primarily viewed his lady friend as a repository for his sperm. Plus, in the very few pictures of the woman that have become available, it seems clear she has style:

She looks like a rock star on her day off--rather than an aspiring reality TV-show star who dresses like she's in high school and has big hair. And as Oscar Wilde would say, "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances." (What I'm trying to say is that I think someone who has a unique look also has a unique sense of self and identity--and I can get behind that.)

Here's another question: Do you think the real problem isn't with the Edwards and their rather off-kilter band of now-disillusioned followers, but rather with the media? With our culture? Would we all be better off if such things weren't newsworthy--if a politcian's adultery was not sensationalized and obsessed about, but rather treated as a more private matter, something for husband and wife to negotiate without public intrusions?

Related: I was reading The Scarlet Letter over the weekend. It is, as you might remember, a story about adultery. In the book, the real villian is neither the adultering minister, Dimmesdale, nor his "soul mate," Hester Prynne, she of the infamous red alphabetical symbol. Rather, the real bad guy is Hester's husband, who cops on to the fact that the (rather spineless) minister, who won't come clean about what he did, was the guilty party. Hesters husband then exacerbates Dimmesdale's guilt so much that the minister eventually dies of an uneasy conscience (so it is implied). The author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, seems to make the point that any sin of passion is not as egregious as lying about your transgressions; and that what may be even more egregious is pointing fingers--guilting other people into painful and prolonged ignominy.

We sure have not come a long way since then. If anything, the shaming has become even more acceptable. And I suppose you could say I'm just as bad as anyone else in the media ... but at this point, all the damage is done. The story has been unraveled. I'm just commenting on it.