Rubber-necking past the headlines splayed over the news of disgraced former Senator John Edwards, one can summarize the story of the former vice-presidential candidate who cheats on his dying wife with a breathless campaign videographer in one word: “Jerk.”
In a story as old as time, a political leader indulges his desires for a woman who works for him while his own wife is unavailable. And then he tries to cover it up. This is not exactly surprising, but it is in every way disappointing.
Most people want to believe that in the fine print of the wedding vows lays a promise to endure the unexpected and to persevere through the difficult.
Love stories carry the hope of men and women pledging to leave and cleave, to stand together for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, for as long as we both shall live. Those are noble words, for noble men and women.
But that is not story of John Edwards.
ABC News said in a headline this week “Hiding John Edwards’ Mistress was ‘most important job’ of the campaign.” It must have been a job handed off to one of the interns, as it has not been well done, for here we all are forced to learn about the ever so tacky John Edwards and his personal struggle to deal with his “needs” while his wife prepared to slip from this mortal coil.
Many women across American stand united in their mutual delight in not being married to such a cad. One is hard pressed to muster up great sympathy for a man who was asked to be true to his vows while his wife prepared to die. It’s not that we can’t understand that it was a hard place to be. It simply that it is what grown ups are supposed to do – to care for their loved ones, even at the short-term expense of themselves.
Real “shared sacrifice” (not the preening nonsense of so much political chatter) comes in such moments, when what you want must be put aside to do the right thing. It’s what gets parents out of bed at 2 a.m. when a child cries. It’s what our grandparents did, through wars and sickness, and great and small depressions, with plain old-fashioned grit. It’s hard.
Everyone can sympathize that John Edwards was in a tough spot. Life has a way of throwing curve balls at everyone.
But the revealed truth of John Edwards character could be found on any bathroom wall, where teen girls scrawl words of wisdom about the boys they know. Sometimes you can trust a bathroom wall better than a campaign news release.
Former Edwards aide Andrew Young testified that when Edwards learned that mistress Rielle Hunter was pregnant with a child later proved to be his, “He said that she was ‘a crazy slut,’ and it was a ‘one-in-three chance’ that it was his child.”
So he was just a good a boyfriend as he was a husband. Still, $1.2 million wandered into her accounts to keep her quiet about the affair and his child.
It didn’t work.
It’s not the affair that seems to have piqued the prosecutors’ interest in the case. How $1.2 million went from point A to point B is their purported target. Right now, they are shooting with buckshot as messy details and talk of “table money” makes news.
Meanwhile, thousands, maybe millions of dollars change hands as attorneys pick over the bones of the fallen in courts while media outlets guarantee their advertiser great ratings with the tabloidesque stories of a fallen political star. Disaster is big business.
Legal experts say that it is not clear that an actual crime took place, and that John Edwards could walk from the courtroom a free man.
But it will be a Pyrrhic victory that leaves his political career in ruins while warning away a nation of women who could conclude that John Edwards is not husband or boyfriend material.
This is a sad end to a career, and even sadder end to a love story. Not the story of Edwards and his employee – but the story of a husband and father who is losing so much more than his wife. And if only he had done that well, or even better, then none of us today would be contemplating such a tragic tale of loss and betrayal.
May Elizabeth Edwards rest in peace.
Kristi S. Hamrick is a media consultant.