Edwards’s fall—the inside story

In 2008 I summed up my view of John Edwards:

I find him to be an unreal figure in several dimensions…. There’s the pretty boy aspect, and then there’s the cynical amoral aspect which was evident as soon as he arrived in the Senate, and then there’s the leftist demagogic “Two Americas” aspect. These things don’t fit together at all.

Of course many people were aware of Edwards’s shallow, callow, and, as I put it, unreal quality. But there was another side to him that no one suspected: he was half nuts. In New York magazine’s lengthy (ten web pages) excerpt of John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s book, Game Change, about Edwards’s affair with Rielle Hunter when he was running for president, Edwards is revealed as not just slick and empty, but as massively delusional—openly carrying on a relationship with a woman not his wife in front of his campaign aides, and ignoring their repeated warnings to end the relationship, until it all came crashing down. It’s astonishing that a man so ambitious and calculating was also so heedless and reckless.

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Sage McLaughlin writes:

You write, “It’s astonishing that a man so ambitious and calculating was also so heedless and reckless.” Yes, it really is astounding. It’s very much like the Mark Sanford episode—a recklessness so extreme that it can only be accounted for either by a strong self-destructive impulse, or actual mental illness.

But even as I say that, I’m aware of a third possibility, less clinical and pop-psychology-ish: the slavery of sin. It’s remarkable to see such extraordinary men of power so enchained by such base and ordinary passions. They are no longer their own masters, yet seek constantly to be master of others.

Ken Hechtman writes:

I read the New York Magazine piece, and maybe I’m too liberal and maybe I’ve worked on too many election campaigns, but I didn’t react the way the writers expected me to. I’m not outraged by John Edwards’s conduct. So he had a campaign fling and cheated on his wife? So what? He’s not the first guy to do that and he won’t be the last. He’d still have made a better president than anybody else running that year.

But I am outraged at his staff for leaking the story and deliberately sinking his campaign “for the good of the party and the good of the country.” That wasn’t their decision to make. There’s a sacred bond between campaign staff and their candidate, a bond of loyalty and trust and mutual obligations and if anybody can violate that bond anytime they want, it’ll be the end of civilization as we know it. A campaign staffer has to keep the candidate’s secrets and defend the candidate’s public reputation, no matter what the cost to his own. The catch-phrase some of my friends use for that is “part of the job is burying dead hookers.”

If you ever saw or read “Primary Colors,” it ends with the Betsey Wright character threatening to expose the candidate’s secret. After that, she goes home and kills herself. At that point, she has to. Her life in politics is over and she has nothing else. That part isn’t explicitly spelled out, it’s just taken as obvious: After betraying one candidate, she can never work for another one again. If I were the dictator of the Democratic Party, I’d make sure Edwards’s staffers never worked again, not on so much as a local zoning ordinance referendum.

LA replies:

As far as I remember, this is the first time in the years we’ve corresponded that you said you were “outraged” by something, let alone that you expressed concern that something that outrages you will mean “the end of civilization as we know it.”

You once said to me that when you stopped believing in the “large truth” of Communism after the demise of the Soviet Union, you rejected any large truth, because if there’s a large truth then another person can impose that truth on you. In other words, you became a liberal relativist. However, it seems that you do believe in certain large truths—truths that are not based on our personal feelings and preferences but that are objectively true, and you believe, moreover, that civilization itself depends on people adhering to these truths. Namely, you believe that it’s objectively right for a campaign staffer to be loyal to his candidate, and objectively wrong for the staffer to reveal damaging private information about his candidate. So you’re not a liberal relativist. You believe in an objective moral order, even if you would never call it that, and you believe that this order is the foundation of civilization.

The question then becomes, what is the basis for your belief that it is objectively wrong, indeed an intolerable violation of the social compact, if a campaign aide breaks the bond of trust he has with his candidate and reveals damaging information about him, but not objectively wrong, indeed a matter of total indifference, if a man violates his marriage vows and is unfaithful to his wife? Why is the bond between campaign staff and their candidate “sacred,” as you call it, but the bond between husband and wife is not?

Laura Wood writes:

Does Ken Hechtman truly find the joke about burying dead hookers funny? No wonder he has no objections to Edwards’s behavior. Also, is he forgiving of infidelity only with other people’s husbands and fathers, or does he feel the same way about, say, personal treachery by his own wife or mother? Hechtman talks as if there were no real-life hookers and no human casualties of Edwards’s behavior. This is the liberal moral code. If the ends call for private ruthlessness, so be it.

Michael S. writes:

Ken Hechtman wrote:

“There’s a sacred bond between campaign staff and their candidate, a bond of loyalty and trust and mutual obligations and if anybody can violate that bond anytime they want, it’ll be the end of civilization as we know it.”

Please. This makes me want to vomit. Telling that he regards the bonds among political operatives as the essence and core of civilization.

Rick U. writes:

“He’d still have made a better president than anybody else running that year.”

I find this statement stunning. In the first place, Edwards’s behavior with the campaign aide shows that he doesn’t have the moral and ethical foundations to be a good President. Please spare me the rationalizations that others have done it and so what? Bill Clinton proved this with the Lewinsky affair when he later pardoned some very despicable people, and proved it wasn’t just about sex. It was about character, ethics, and the law. Once that was cast aside by the liberal relativists, Clinton was empowered to use the Presidency for some very shady deals.

Second, what historical evidence is there that Edwards would have made a good President? His background as an ambulance chaser? A one-term Senator? Perhaps it was his “two America’s” rhetoric—champion of the little guy. Meanwhile, back on the campaign bus he’s sexually exploiting women who work for him- so much for champion of the little guy. Sorry, in my view, Edwards was a bigger “empty suit” than Obama albeit with a better haircut.

LA replies:

I wouldn’t say that Edwards was “exploiting” Rielle Hunter.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 12, 2010 01:09 PM | Send

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