Alex Blaze

John Edwards sex scandal!

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 11, 2008 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: John Edwards, Maureen Dowd, New York Times, sex scandal

I just got back to regular internet access, and I find out the oh-so important piece of information that John Edwards couldn't keep his rocket in his pocket. Oh my.

I can't even begin to imagine why the 24 hours and pundit class thinks that this is an issue at all. Edwards isn't working in politics right now, there's almost no chance, even before now, that he would have been the VP nominee, and his ability to live up to someone else's standard of fidelity doesn't reflect on his leadership ability whatsoever. If adherence to monogamy actually showed something about leadership ability, then George W. Bush would be universally understood as one of the best presidents the US has seen in a while.

It can be tempting in the queer community to laugh along with everyone else when these pols don't live up to what panned out a long time ago to be an impossible standard of sexual restriction, but it's not going to help us any. Reifying a sexual morality tied to nothing besides "ZOMG did you hear about how he wuz cheetin on his wife!!???!" won't work out in favor of the LGBT community, even if we're often frustrated when sexual morality with about as much to back it gets thrown in our direction. Sexuality, relationships, and the psyche are all complicated enough that we can pretty flatly say we don't know enough to judge anyone here.

These sorts of situations are inevitable for humans, and, no matter what, I'd much rather be governed by humans than any alternative I can think of.

Nothing annoys me more than the propensity to get all excited and giggle over rich and famous people behaving badly, but our media do it over and over again. They breathlessly report one scandalicious detail after another, occasionally reminding us why this might be important (character! lying! hypocrisy!), and then go right back to the sexy sexy sexiness.

It's not at all like reporting every detail of the Madonna/A-Rod affair, you see, because John Edwards was at one point a candidate for president. Sure, he lost after a crushing defeat, and he has no plans to get back into politics, but did you hear that he lied to the media, as if he thought this would destroy his life? Did you hear that he might have made a love-baby with his lady? Can you believe that they all met up in the Beverly Hilton? I'm glad someone staked that out - it's such a great use of investigative journalism!

Ask yourself, does this sound more like the paper of record or what got rejected from a Leno monologue?

But the Breck Girl wants a gold star for the fact that he sent his marriage into remission when his wife was in remission. That's special.

In his statement, he bleats: "You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself. I have been stripped bare." Isn't stripping bare how he got into this mess?

It isn't like we didn't know that the son of a millworker was a little enraptured by himself, radiating self-love from his smile and his man-in-a-hurry airs and the notorious $800 bill for a pair of haircuts and his two-minute YouTube hair primping to the tune of "I Feel Pretty." [...]

Back in 2002, Edwards sent me a Ken doll dressed in bathing trunks, Rio de Janeiro Ken, with a teasing note, because he didn't like my reference to him as a Ken doll in a column.

In retrospect, the comparison was not fair -- to Ken.

But, hey, she's at least talking about people who were at one point working in politics, so she can make all the dumb jokes she wants. It's a serious discussion of politics.

A few years ago I was backpacking in the south of France with an American woman who I didn't know very well who loved celeb gossip news. She was always picking up the latest tabloid, excusing herself by saying that it would help her learn French. She would, every now and then, recount a story from the magazine, and I'd nod along, wondering why she cared about the sex lives of people she never even met.

We discussed it further, and she said that, fundamentally, these people (like Paris Hilton) lead interesting lives. I said I disagreed, and she said, "Well, it's basically like politics. Except more fun."

It was time to change the subject since the idea that the way government functions, the people we choose to enact policy that will materially improve or hurt our lives, and what they say and do in the process to earn our respect, that process being compared to paparazzi trying to get the best picture of Britney Spears's vagina seemed to me like she just didn't get it and was never going to.

That was then, and the more I read from traditional media about these scandals, the more I see them asking for the smelling salts because politicians don't always live up to Norman Rockwell's image of American life, the more it becomes apparent that our media outlets simply don't care about politics and are looking for anything to distract them from policy. And it seems like we're just going to have to ride it out, because they think that this is real journalism (from the NY Times' public editor):

I would not have published the allegation of a McCain affair, because The Times did not convincingly establish its truth. I would not have recycled the National Enquirer story, either. But I think it was a mistake for Times editors to turn up their noses and not pursue it. "There was a tendency, fair or not, to dismiss what you read in the National Enquirer," Keller said. "I know they are sometimes right." When the Enquirer published its first "love child" report, The Times was going energetically after the McCain story. It should have pursued the other story as well.

So if a newspaper doesn't hold the effin' Enquirer up as a standard of journalistic excellence, then they're too elitist to appeal to the average American? Do they think America's that lame?

Well, I'm guessing they do. This might be a side effect of the media all going public so they have to keep huge profit margins for investors. Or maybe political journalists and commentators are just so empty that they think that picking away at the details of the sex life of a former politician is more important than picking apart the details of Bush's case for war with Iraq several years ago.

Or maybe I'm just too elitist to sit down and have a beer with a Real American. I'll add Perez Hilton to my RSS feed so that, next time around, I get it.


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John R. Selig | August 11, 2008 4:38 PM

Personally I am furious with John Edwards (and Elizabeth Edwards as well). This story began to surface nearly a year ago and yet the Edwards continued to push their campaign for the White House. What John Edwards does with his dick is of no concern to me. However, and it is a big however, our future will be much darker if we have another four years with a Republican in the White House especially one as bumbling as John McCain.

Is John Edward's ego so large that he is willing to risk having a Republican in the White House by their exposing his affair during the last 4t5 days of the campaign. Don't tell me that the Republicans wouldn't have surfaced the mess had Edwards been the nominee for either President or Vice-President. Is he stupid enough to think they wouldn't. The impact of Edwards sexual behavior is private and between him and his wife. However, the whole country didn't deserve to be screwed which is what would have happened had he been the nominee.

Personally I feel used and abused by both John and Elizabeth Edwards. Shame on both of them!

Was totally not looking at this from the perspective of an edwards supporter (which I was not). Thanks for bringing that into this discussion!

I think that we have a political system that's not based on doing the best for the people, but simply rewarding the greedy and vain. So situations like this are inevitable, where someone puts his personal career ahead of the greater good.

So, I guess, one big Democratic sigh of relief that Edwards didn't get the nomination.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | August 11, 2008 4:39 PM

While I agree that it would be very easy to overstate the significance of this story, it is a reasonable newsworthy issue. Contrary to your claims, Edwards has not "withdrawn" from politics and was a plausible appointment in an Obama administration. In fact, it was Edwards' status as an active political figure that compelled him to "confess" in the first place. While I also agree that failing to adhere to popular standards of monogamy is not a bad thing in and of itself, it's quite clear that Edwards decisions to lie and cover-up suggests not only dishonesty, but pretty bad judgment in general, which, in turn, seems relevant when assessing his political future. As someone who supported Edwards vigorously in the primary, I'm very glad to have this information.

In general, it seems pretty reasonable that a person could care about this story without falling into the superficiality of the tittering classes or the shrill piping of the aggrieved moralists. That's to say, orchestrating an extensive, expensive cover-up of your affair doesn't reflect well on your judgment. Whether the media's coverage has been adequately understated seems like another issue altogether.

bah. Big picture is that they wouldn't have had to have covered it up if we just didn't care from the start. Smaller picture is that this doesn't reflect on judgment any more than it does on any other politician. As far as we know, Bush, Nixon, and Reagan were never involved in anything like this while they were politicians. Either they were all really good at covering it up, or they all had good judgment.

And Edwards was not being seriously considered for the veep slot. There's not evidence of that, and I'm thinking rumors of this were enough to have taken him out of the running.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | August 11, 2008 6:13 PM
Big picture is that they wouldn't have had to have covered it up if we just didn't care from the start.

I think it's reasonable to be interested about whether or not people are honest in their personal relationships when trying to predict if they will be honest in general. I'm not saying it's the be all end all, but yes, whether a person is honest seems relevant, even if not dispositive. I think it's pretty ridiculous to argue with that point, given that John Edwards himself has already publicly stated that the affair reflects poorly on his character and judgment. If he seems to think it's relevant, why can't I consider it?

Smaller picture is that this doesn't reflect on judgment any more than it does on any other politician. As far as we know, Bush, Nixon, and Reagan were never involved in anything like this while they were politicians. Either they were all really good at covering it up, or they all had good judgment.

Come now. That's a pretty absurd argument. Orchestrating an extensive and expensive cover-up reflects bad judgment, but it's clearly not the only potential proof of bad judgment. So, yes, it's quite possible to never cheat on your wife and still have catastrophically bad judgment (Herbert Hoover!). Nor is my claim that orchestrating a cover-up means you must, on the balance, have bad judgment -- only that it reflects poorly on your judgment. That means it's a piece of evidence you consider alongside all sorts of other evidence.

And Edwards was not being seriously considered for the veep slot. There's not evidence of that, and I'm thinking rumors of this were enough to have taken him out of the running.

Your argument seems to function like this: (a) John Edwards was not being considered as a VP candidate because of media rumblings about Rielle Hunter. (b) Since John Edwards was not being considered as a VP candidate and was no longer running for office, he was politically irrelevant. (c) Therefore, since John Edwards was politically irrelevant, media rumblings about Rielle Hunter aren't newsworthy. Circular...

In any case, Edwards was being publicly discussed for Labor and AG. In addition, the fact that he was actively campaigning for Obama and hoping to speak at the convention (until that un-newsworthy story broke!), would, again, seem to contradict the notion that he had retired to Mount Vernon or whatever.

I still don't think this has anything to do with honesty. Wow, a politician says it does while he's begging to save same face in front of 300,000,000 viewers. That's not exactly proof of anything.

Relationships are a lot more complicated than "He done cheated on his wife so he's a liar to everyone." I dunno, maybe my relationship experiences are very different from yours, but I think that fundamentally everyone lies in relationships, from small things to big things, and they do it for lots of reasons other than mere moral failing. I think that saying that it's just because Edwards's is morally inferior is overly simplistic and far, far beyond what you or I know about him (unless you have inside info).

Actually, that's a follow-up post in and of itself - buying into the Religious Right's framing of relationship problems or relationship complexity as resulting from moral failing doesn't help the queers. Cheating is never a simple moral failing, like homosexuality isn't a simple moral failing. Saying that sexuality is simple enough that you either play by the rules or you're just a bad boy only reifies that overly simplistic view of sexuality. Good times.

Re: judgment, yeah, it's pretty absurd to only look at his relationship history as evidence of his judgment. That's, like, the entire point of a ridiculous extension of an argument, to show how ridiculous the argument was in the first place. Would good judgment in a bunch of other areas redeem your opinion of his judgment?

Re: VP chances, it makes total sense. He wasn't being considered. Prove that he was, after he couldn't even deliver NC for Kerry in 04. And then that the fact that he was even on the table means that this story is newsworthy (hell, I think that even if he was president of the US this should get a couple of inches on page 17 and that's it).

More importantly, his love life shouldn't affect that, but it will, and the Obama camp probably understands that it would only hinder them.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | August 11, 2008 8:00 PM

I certainly haven't claimed that Edwards is "morally inferior." I've only suggested that this seems like a relevant issue when talking about his judgment and character, meaning it seems like something the press should report. If Edwards can cite his devotion to his wife and family over the course of a campaign as evidence of his character, it seems relevant to note that he had an extramarital affair and orchestrated an extensive cover-up and lied repeatedly in the process to hide it. Does that mean John Edwards is a "bad" or "dishonest" person? Not necessarily, but it clearly has bearing on what sort of person John Edwards is, no matter how complicated his moral framework.

In general, I share your desire to recognize politicians as morally complex creatures. That's precisely why I favor the inclusion of more evidence.

Re: judgment you write,

yeah, it's pretty absurd to only look at his relationship history as evidence of his judgment. That's, like, the entire point of a ridiculous extension of an argument, to show how ridiculous the argument was in the first place. Would good judgment in a bunch of other areas redeem your opinion of his judgment?

Oy vey. Two things:

(1) Who exactly do you think was arguing we should "only" look at his relationship history? It sure as hell wasn't me. If you think that's what I wrote, read it again.

(2) Yes, obviously good judgment in a bunch of other areas would influence my opinion of his judgment in general. That's why I wrote, "That means it's a piece of evidence you consider alongside all sorts of other evidence." Sheesh.

Re: Lying in relationships, this seems like a much longer and larger discussion. A few pithy thoughts:

(1) I am willing to stipulate I have never lied to my partner about infidelity or illegitimate children, and, if I had, I would stipulate that it was wrong of me to have done so.

(2) I don't tend to invest sexuality with the sort of power where I think it functions as a blanket excuse for doing whatever I want whenever I want to. I tend to think honesty is a good thing and while I'm not always honest, I consider it a bad thing when I'm not. The belief that the magic and power of sexuality frees us from ethical constraints we would otherwise consider reasonable ,seems to me, ironically, to be a resurrection of the liberationist gambit: Liberate yourself! Lie to your partner! Honesty is bourgeois repression! If this is truy the state of queer theory, I weep for the queer youth.

Finally, re: VPhood, what you wrote is pretty nonresponsive, least of all because I've never said anything about Edwards being a VP, but repeatedly stated that he was regularly discussed as a Presidential appointment. VPs are elected, not appointed. Regardless, your argument is still circular.

It's not blanket immunity, but it's just realizing that a decades long relationship with one person makes lying complicated, more complicated than a simple moral failing, a lack of self-control, or an exercise of poor judgment. I have no idea about the details of this situation, the history of fidelity or infidelity of either Elizabeth or John, how they treated each other on a day-to-day basis when the cameras weren't there, how they defined "honesty" in their relationship, if Elizabeth helped create some need for John to go outside the relationship, if there were unresolved issues from the start, if they changed as people as a result of the 2004 election process and needed to get some perspective, etc.

That's pretty much the opposite of saying that it "suggests not only dishonesty, but pretty bad judgment in general." No, it doesn't. It suggests that John Edwards is a complicated human being. Of course he had to have known that sleeping with a woman who wasn't his wife would damage his career, in the same way Larry Craig had to have known that hitting up men in bathroom stalls wouldn't help his career. But there's a desire there, a powerful need, that figured into their calculus of what to do that transcended career goals. What they were, in John's case, is unknown to me, but I'm going to guess that he knew it was a pretty bad decision.

Just as, for me, sleeping with men, holding hands with my boyfriend in public, telling people I'm gay, etc., won't do anything for my career. I guess one could say doing all those things is a sign of poor judgment, but I'd rather think of them all as a more complicated version of judgment.

As for honesty, oy vey. It's not like the press corps ever cared about honesty while they were photocopying GOP talking points. But knowing what it would do to his career, the fact that no one would have understood, and considering that our whole political system is designed to reward the greedy, the vain, and the dishonest, I can't bring myself to care there either.

I guess people could also call those soldiers who lie about their sexuality to stay in the military dishonest, or people who lie to protect their lovers dishonest, or introducing a lover as a roommate is dishonest, and all flatly, morally wrong and never justifiable and a sign that someone is a liar kind of dishonest. I guess I just don't see these issues as black and white as you do, and I'd rather focus on larger issues of intellectual honesty related to policy, but that's never going to happen.

Re VP: well, then, electability isn't a factor in appointments. So it has no relevance at all. Do we know how many affairs the current Sec. of Labor has had? Why won't anyone stake her out?!

Would we think it appropriate for any other employer to stake out hotels to see if a job candidate was talking with his ex-lover? Would it be appropriate for any other employer to look into someone's love life in the hiring process? If it does relate to honesty and judgment in general, then more employers should be checking out their candidates' affairs, marriages, families, and former lovers. I personally would find it horribly inappropriate, but, then again, who knows what they're going to start doing. I mean, the French even use handwriting analysis to screen candidates, so maybe it isn't too wacky to stalk baby-mamas for shocking pics.

Tyrion Lannister Tyrion Lannister | August 12, 2008 2:52 PM

I think your response does an excellent job of distorting basically everything that I'm arguing, introduces a series of red herrings, and effectively responds to none of my points. Rather than respond to the line-by-line, which seems to be counter-productive, I'm going to write out my thoughts and post them over at TBP-I. You can read it there if you like. peace,
-Ty

I think we all get what we deserve. Elizabeth Edwards knew about her husband's affairs back in 2006. Had Ms. Edwards told John the fact that the affair would come out sometime (as Rielle Hunter had told many people plus she was pregnant later)? What about the 1/3 of Iowa voters who were duped by John Edwards would have helped put Hillary on top? Seems like Elizabeth has some moral issues of her own. Elizabeth Edwards drank the koolaid (like Hillary Clinton did when Bill dated Jennifer Flowers as governor for 12 years!) and refused to call her husband on his infidelities. Now, Elizabeth is stuck in the lies of John and all the after-effects. Elizabeth's power-drunk quest for power with John left out the later feelings of three innocent victims who will forever be scarred by this enabled betrayal: the Edwards' young chidren. God help Elizabeth's soul!

John R. Selig | August 11, 2008 6:50 PM

We don't get to know politicians up close and personal. All we have to judge them on is their record and their behavior. I tend to be a trusting person until somebody gives me a reason not to trust them. Once the trust is broken, it is hard to get it back.

The relationship issues for John and Elizabeth Edwards is their business. How they decide to navigate their relationship is their business. However, when John Edwards began to lie to the media it is fair for voters to think, "Well he lied on this issue, how can I trust him on anything else?" It is easy to rationalize that others have cheated before him including FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, probably Nixon and also probably Daddy Bush (not to mention Reagan's divorce. But bringing up their behavior is not relevant. Media coverage of politician's private lives was different back then. Today the media covers such matters. Clintons undoing wasn't so much that he cheated but that he lied about it.

It is also not relevant to apply ones own view on whether or not monogamy is important. Even though most husbands cheat on their wives and many wives cheat on their husbands, society sees cheating as being bad and such behavior, if exposed, would have gotten many from the religious right who might have sat out the election to vote for McCain.

But again, my comments aren't about whether or not monogamy should matter. I wasn't an Edwards supporter. My first, second, third, fourth anx fifth choice for President was Al Gore, followed by Barack Obama. The fact of the matter is that Edwards could have won the nomination or he could have been selected for Vice President. Both he and Elizabeth let their thirst for power overcome a sensible analysis of the likelihood that the Republicans would have outed his affair costing him and the Democrats the election. I am furious about that. It angers me when any politician puts their own self-interest ahead of what is good for the nation. That is the root of this issue. I understand their wanting the power and prestige pf the Presidency. However, such behavior is far too similar to the greed of the Bush family and Dick Cheney and Mr. Rove.

Shame on both John and Elizabeth Edwards I have lost all respect for them. I hope they fade into obscurity.

John R. Selig | August 11, 2008 7:11 PM

We don't get to know politicians up close and personal. All we have to judge them on is their record and their behavior. I tend to be a trusting person until somebody gives me a reason not to trust them. Once the trust is broken, it is hard to get it back.

The relationship issues for John and Elizabeth Edwards is their business. How they decide to navigate their relationship is their business. However, when John Edwards began to lie to the media it is fair for voters to think, "Well he lied on this issue, how can I trust him on anything else?" It is easy to rationalize that others have cheated before him including FDR, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, probably Nixon and also probably Daddy Bush (not to mention Reagan's divorce. But bringing up their behavior is not relevant. Media coverage of politician's private lives was different back then. Today the media covers such matters. Clintons undoing wasn't so much that he cheated but that he lied about it.

It is also not relevant to apply ones own view on whether or not monogamy is important. Even though most husbands cheat on their wives and many wives cheat on their husbands, society sees cheating as being bad and such behavior, if exposed, would have gotten many from the religious right who might have sat out the election to vote for McCain.

But again, my comments aren't about whether or not monogamy should matter. I wasn't an Edwards supporter. My first, second, third, fourth anx fifth choice for President was Al Gore, followed by Barack Obama. The fact of the matter is that Edwards could have won the nomination or he could have been selected for Vice President. Both he and Elizabeth let their thirst for power overcome a sensible analysis of the likelihood that the Republicans would have outed his affair costing him and the Democrats the election. I am furious about that. It angers me when any politician puts their own self-interest ahead of what is good for the nation. That is the root of this issue. I understand their wanting the power and prestige pf the Presidency. However, such behavior is far too similar to the greed of the Bush family and Dick Cheney and Mr. Rove.

Shame on both John and Elizabeth Edwards I have lost all respect for them. I hope they fade into obscurity.

Well, there goes that Attorney General position.

Naah, put Edwards on the Supreme Court. He can womanize there all he wishes, for the rest of his life. After all, William O. Douglas was a notorious womanizer, and is considered one of the finest Justices who ever served on the Court.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 12, 2008 9:10 PM

If adherence to monogamy actually showed something about leadership ability, then George W. Bush would be universally understood as one of the best presidents the US has seen in a while.

Could anyone say it better than this?!!

Excellent post, Alex!!! And needless to say, I couldn't agree with you more on every point.