The Tragedies of John Edwards

Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is being raked over coals for his admission that he had an affair with a former campaign hanger-on. Rielle Hunter, a self-described former “New York party girl” and aspiring filmmaker, has been rumored to have borne a child by Edwards. In an interview on ABC News’ “Nightline” , the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina and 2004 Vice-Presidential candidate for the Democratic party, admitted the affair but denied fathering a child with Ms. Hunter.

Edwards told ABC News that he met secretly with former lover Hunter as recently as last month in a California hotel room at her request because “she was having some trouble, she just wanted to talk.” This eventually exposed their affair to the public.

This could end the career of one of the fastest-rising stars in the American political firmament.

Why’d he do it ? Probably for the same reasons ex-New York governor Eliot Spitzer did it, because of hubris and a sense that the rules don’t apply to him. Edwards said as much during his televised mea culpa.

Ego. Self-focus, self-importance. Xxx Adulation, respect, admiration. 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.

He admitted that the affair happened at a time his wife was battling cancer and he was running on a platform to establish “a moral, honest, just America.”

Maureen Dowd has a simple explanation.

Certain men assume that power confers sexual privilege. And in American politics, there is an eternal disjunction between character and achievement.

But however much his conduct deserves condemnation, I find much to admire in John Edwards as a person. He owned up to his transgressions and accepted the consequences. He has suffered difficult trials, including his wife’s grave illness, and has managed to deal with them with some measure of dignity and grace.

His most painful crucible is undoubtedly the death of his 16-year old son in a car accident. Wade Edwards was on the way to the family beach home in their home state of North Carolina, when a gust of wind swept his Jeep off the highway. Father and son were constant companions. They climbed Mount Kilimanjaro together the year before Wade’s death. They discussed Edwards maybe going into politics. Wade took his proud parents to Washington on a trip he won in an essay contest, where he was honored at the White House by then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Wade worked at his father’s law office and told friends he hoped one day to practice with him. Such a catastrophic loss would unmoor the strongest of men. Edwards later wrote:

The prospect of practicing law with my son was worth waiting for and worth living for. I could not see how such a thing could end. Nothing in my life has ever hit me and stripped everything away like my son’s death.

That’s a sentiment I can relate to and, for this most personal of reasons, am inclined to look at Sen. Edwards’ all too human failings with compassion and understanding.

Cenk Uygur at The Huffington Post asks how different is John McCain’s affair from John Edwards’.

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