Edwards Far Less Than 99% Honest

John Edwards failed in applying a basic principle of scandal management by not being totally honest in his “confession” last Friday. By telling a story which appears to be little more honest than the lies he has been telling for months he keeps the scandal alive. The National Enquirer published further information on Edwards’ affair with Rielle Hunter including these accusations:

After Edwards confessed the affair to his wife, he restarted it, and was sexually involved with Rielle when she became pregnant.

Despite his denials, Edwards WAS aware that his former finance committee chairman, Fred Baron,  was funneling money to Rielle.

After being ignored by the mainstream media, columnists are now discussing various aspects of the scandal. Anne Taylor Fleming asks what Elizabeth was thinking in allowing John to run:

There was a bit of that, and the implication that her ego, too, might be involved — that she wasn’t quite as selfless as she appeared. But, with her energy and accessibility, she made believers of just about everyone, especially after she announced the cancer was back and she — they — would still run full-tilt.

Amazing, touching and, perhaps in hindsight, a little nuts. Because she knew all that time about the affair. She had to know the tabloids were after the story and after her husband — stalking him as he stalked the White House. It’s just a little bit bizarre, that disconnect, even from someone so special and admirable.

Somewhere in all this, she, too, put the blinders on. One can only assume she was thinking that he wouldn’t be found out. What if he had somehow gotten into more serious contention? What if he had actually won the nomination? What if had come out now, on the practical eve, of the convention? Would the media and the public just swallow hard and say, oh well, old news. None of our business.

Not this year. It would have been a mess, a bigger one than there is now.

That’s what is both troubling and sad. You can make the argument that this is private stuff, private pain. Many people clearly believe that would be a more desirable state of affairs — where personal lives and personal indiscretions are not constantly fair game. But that is not the world we live in right now, nor the country.

Ruth Marcus more directly addresses the question of Edwards’ dishonesty, and his claim of being only 99% honest:

Every sex scandal, it seems, comes with its own catchphrase, a linguistic contortion destined to outlive our memory of the seamy details: “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Or “wide stance.” Now comes former — and, I think it’s safe to say, not future — presidential candidate John Edwards with his own distinctive concept: 99 percent honesty.

After mocking this phrase such as comparing the Breck girl to “Ivory soap, 99 and 44/100ths percent pure” Marcus gets to reasons to distrust Edwards:

You don’t have to be an Edwards-caliber trial lawyer to know the right questions to ask on cross-examination here: If you lied then, why should anyone believe you now?

He’ll be happy to take a paternity test but, conveniently, now she won’t? She’s getting $15,000 a month from his top moneyman but he doesn’t know about it? A picture with the baby — who can remember?

Marcus also questions Elizabeth’s judgment and her claims of this being a private matter:

In fact, if she wanted to avoid “the present voyeurism,” what was she thinking when she supported his running? She knew about his affair, she knew that everything about a presidential candidate’s life is at risk of exposure, and she encouraged him? If she cared about shielding her family from this terrible intrusion, what did she think was going to happen if he won the nomination — or the presidency?

There are two especially creepy aspects to this story. The first is the reverential, almost messianic way Elizabeth Edwards spoke about “this fine man” during the interview with Couric. This was disconcerting at the time; excruciating, in retrospect.

“It’s important that the American people have the opportunity to have a president like him,” Elizabeth Edwards explained. “I didn’t want it [her cancer] to take this away, not just from me but from those people who depend on our having the kind of president he would be.”

Or this, just a few months later, asserting that her husband would be a better champion for women than Hillary Clinton. “She’s just not as vocal a women’s advocate as I want to see,” Edwards told Salon’s Joan Walsh. “John is.”

The second, even creepier part is John Edwards’s resort to the exculpatory language of pop psychology to explain his behavior. “I went from being a senator, a young senator to being considered for vice president, running for president, being a vice presidential candidate and becoming a national public figure. All of which fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want.”

Right. The adulation made him do it. I don’t think this man is anywhere in the neighborhood of 99 percent honesty.

While some liberals continue to prefer to ignore this whole scandal, others at least concede that Edwards was not honest in his handling of this affair. The next step is to look at the rest of his career. To paraphrase Marcus, if Edwards lied about this affair, why should we believe him about other things. There has already been good reason not to. There’s reason to question entire Edwards’ career, including the manner in which he made his fortune by convincing southern juries that birth defects represented medical malpractice as a trial lawyer, his use of his anti-poverty organization to campaign while ignoring FEC regulations, and his work for the mortgage industry before attacking the same lenders for their foreclosures.

If we are to reform government we must look critically at politicians of both parties rather than wear partisan blinders and ignore dishonesty when it comes from members of one’s own party. It is not sufficient to throw out Bush and Cheney if we ignore dishonest politicians among the Democrats such as Edwards and Clinton.

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