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Edwards' Affair Intriguing, Bothersome

Now that it's broken out into the open, there's something about the Edwards-Hunter affair that makes it impossible to ignore.

I know all the arguments about how the private lives of politicians should remain private, and that if it's OK with the spouse or spouses, why should we inquire.

Truth is, it wasn't so long ago that I was making all those arguments myself. And I'm the first to acknowledge that as much as some of us in the media might like to claim that what's at issue here is not the sex but the lying about it (not to mention Howard Wolfson's crazy theory that it cost Hillary the nomination), the fact is that what we're all really interested in is the sex.

Nonetheless ...

What bothers me, in no particular order: First, the hypocrisy. Former Sen. John Edwards, addressing the question of Moncia Lewinsky's relationship with then President Bill Clinton, was full of holier-than-thou outrage about the injury Clinton had inflicted on his wife and daughter.

Sen. Edwards said on Feb. 12, 1999: "I think this president has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter. It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen."

How about John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth? Hillary didn't have cancer. Chelsea was off to college. John Edwards has two small children, and one in law school. His wife and his older daughter already have endured the loss of their son and brother. "Breathtaking" doesn't begin to describe it.

The second piece of the story that bothers me is that he had gotten away with it. He got lucky. The Enquirer broke the story last year. No one likes to get in bed, as it were, with the Enquirer. There was incredible good will towards Elizabeth Edwards, a woman of uncommon courage. So no one touched it. There was a lot of talk, but the mainstream media, as it were, cut him slack.

By the time Ms. Hunter had the baby, he was an ex-candidate. All he had to do was stay away from her and the Beverly Hilton, stay away from the woman he claims he ended his affair with in 2006 and the child he claims he didn't father, and he could have spared his wife and his family, not to mention himself, the wall-to-wall public humiliation.

But he didn't. There he was, sneaking into the Beverly Hilton, a visit he admitted he didn't tell his wife about, to see the woman he was no longer involved with and the baby who wasn't his. And worse than sneaking in, sneaking out — hiding in the bathroom at 2:30 in the morning.

What is a guy whose wife is fighting incurable cancer doing hiding in the men's room at 2:30 in the morning after visiting a woman he proclaims not to love? Hubris? Disgraceful, actually.

The third piece is that when he finally came clean, the story didn't add up. The affair was over in 2006. Except her friends say it wasn't. Except associates still were paying her until the spring of 2007. Except she was telling people she was in love with him, and saying unkind things about Elizabeth Edwards.

He was willing to take a paternity test, but she doesn't want one. Why wouldn't she? What mother doesn't want to know who the father of her child is? The only logical reason is because she knows the answer. His people were paying her, supporting her, arranging for her to live in a $3 million dollar house and he didn't know. Except maybe he did. It was his only visit. Except maybe it wasn't.

John Edwards was a very good trial lawyer before he ran for Senate. He knows that the way you tear a story down is by finding all of the little inconsistencies that undercut confidence in the one who is telling it. He had to know that his version of events, filled with as many holes as Swiss cheese, was going to invite more questions than it answered.

The fourth piece, while we're still at it, is the timing. Who does he think he is, Vladimir Putin? He arranges to tell all on the night that more than 15 percent of the world, let alone the TV audience in America, will be watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Sort of like invading Georgia when nobody's watching.

Then he has the audacity to be angry at ABC News for actually promoting the interview once it was completed, resulting in coverage by other networks, including FOX News, before people could be distracted by the opening ceremony. How dare ABC interfere with his efforts to bury the story?

The final piece goes to taste, writ large. Here's a guy with a great wife, who was diagnosed with cancer and encouraged her husband to run for president anyway. And who encouraged him to stay in the race even after her cancer returned, in an incurable form.

And not only does he have an affair, he has an affair with a woman who from all recent reports is some kind of New Age wacko, who talks too much and says too little, who is into astrology (sorry, astrologers) and celebrity.

What was he thinking? What was he doing? And what does it say about his judgment? In my book, it's not the lying or the sex but the judgment that really stinks.

Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission. A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership. Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.