Despite his too-perfect toothpaste commercial smile and his million dollar haircut, had John Edwards become president of the United States he would have been known as the “Commander-in-Sleaze.” He is not alone. Why are such men allowed to rise so high?
At this moment, all we can say is that there have been reports that mere weeks after his wife Elizabeth’s long , slow death from cancer, Edwards has introduced his “Baby Mama” and their love child to Elizabeth’s children.
Well, of course, they are his children too—he is a man with two families. Some say that he has already proposed to Hunter but this is only an unconfirmed rumor.
On the one hand, I think that we, the people have access to too much information, that privacy rights have gone the way of the dodo bird. Contrary to those who are glamorizing Julian Assange’s WikliLeaks, I do not really need to know what diplomats privately say to and about each other; I am no more than a voyeur here and the collateral damage in terms of how such “transparency’ endangers human lives and hampers diplomacy is more important than my access rights to gossip.
Likewise, in principle, I do not want to know about the sexual and reproductive lives of celebrities and political candidates. I want to know where they stand on the issues.
But wait a minute. If a political leader presents himself as an honest and moral citizen—but secretly takes bribes, is a pedophile, a rapist, abandons his family, refuses to pay child support, is an alcohol or a drug abuser, is addicted to pornography and prostitution -- then he may be committing criminal offenses and is not worthy of public or high office.
The men who do such things are arrogant and lack prudent judgment. There are so many politicians -- not to mention sports and film stars -- who do all or some of the above that their names are legion. They have each had their fifteen minutes of infamy. Some have been punished, most have risen again, some even have their own television programs.
What are we to make of a politician who moves out and leaves a dying wife behind—a wife who has put her own career on hold to further his, and who has put her body to hard reproductive labor in order to have children at a later age?
The otherwise lovely Elizabeth Edwards increasingly looked almost old enough to be her husband John’s mother, or at least his older sister. The stress showed. John kept looking young, radiant, healthy. This difference was uncanny and unsettling.
Was John drinking Elizabeth’s blood? Or, rather, was he simply enjoying the high life with other women, including Rielle Hunter, with whom he fathered a child out of wedlock while Elizabeth was still alive?
Some say that Elizabeth was tyrannical, a perfectionist, and that John was entitled to happiness too.
But she was deathly ill and ultimately left alone to battle a terrible disease while John moved on as if he had no responsibility to her.
First, John lied about being the father of Hunter’s child and ordered an aide to “take the fall;” then, he admitted the truth. First, Elizabeth insisted they were a very happy couple; then, she too, joined the ranks of all the other publicly humiliated political wives.
On the one hand, while I am not comfortable with “prying,” I do want our leaders to actually embody certain virtues and values. If a politician lacks all self-control and compassion in one realm, e.g. the private family realm, chances are he won’t exhibit these qualities elsewhere, including on the political and historical stage. Chances are there will be many bodies in his wake.
I know: Human nature is human nature—but we all have the choice to struggle against our baser instincts and to rise above them especially when we are responsible for other people’s lives, those of our own families, those of our nation.
Yes, rigid, hide-bound anti-sex “Puritans” can also be cruel and corrupt; men of the cloth can be the mightiest of sinners. Here are my questions for us:
- Do we really want our priests to be pedophiles or charismatic rapists of their flocks? I think not.
- Do we want our rabbis and ministers to put their hands in the till and make deals with the Devil so that they may lead jet-set lives? Absolutely not.
Are these the kinds of people whom we want to represent us on high?
Likewise, do we want our political leaders to conduct themselves in sleazy, selfish, unethical, uber-tabloid-like ways when it comes to how they treat women, beginning with their wives, but including their mistresses, girlfriends, and the “hired” help? I am talking about ethics and morality, not only about what is legal or even normative.
Just because “everyone” does it, (lies, cheats, steals, philanders, murders, engages in corruption), does not make it right. Ideally, our public leaders should be above that.
The fact that this is not so—and the fact that we, the people, don’t seem to care, suggests how far our public standards have fallen.
Dr. Phyllis Chesler is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies. She is the author of 4 studies about honor killings and 16 books.