Over the last two days I've been asked by just about everyone I know (and those I don't) how I feel about the recent news surrounding John Edwards. Since I worked for over a year on his presidential campaign it's a valid question and one that I take quite seriously. I wanted to write down my response for those of you that may be interested in how this news has affected someone who sacrificed a good deal in an effort to win Senator Edwards the Democratic nomination for President.
First, I am disappointed. Whenever a person in our lives who we look up to makes a poor decision, it's disheartening. What I am not, is invalidated or angry. I still deeply believe in the issues that John raised over the course of the campaign, shining light on the economic woes and disparity this country was already feeling before economists started whispering recession, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac became household names. I also believe that everyone makes mistakes, and millions of people have made the same mistake John made back in 2006. I don't believe that these mistakes validate some sort of public punishment for an issue that is incredibly private. For a family that has laid out all their personal challenges in such a public manner over the last five years, I'm willing to let them take this "off the tabloid table" and sort it out on their own. And yet, Elizabeth, in her unique way that makes her such an attractive and powerful soul, has already responded.
Second, I think this family is in a lot of pain. No amount of success in the court room or elsewhere, can dull the pain of losing a 16-year-old child to a car accident, surviving breast cancer, being diagnosed with bone cancer and all of the frustrations, loss of privacy, and sacrifices one's family makes when attempting (twice) to win the White House. The presidential campaign is a process that strips you down to your core and wrecks your nerves and emotions before you have a moment to take a breath. The Edwards family has been through a lot over the course of the last 5 years and it's important to recognize how strong they have remained through it all. Not only have they weathered the storms (some personal, mostly public) together, but they've done it with smiles on their faces, often hiding the real emotional pain they were challenged with.
Third, I think we as voters need to decide whether the sexual relationships of our societal leaders (be they political, business, athletic, etc) is a part of how we judge their ability to do their job . Some of you have said that this sort of breach of trust welcomes the question, "What else is he/she hiding?" That is a natural response and one I understand. Are they hiding issues of national security? What about invading other countries without telling us? If this is the logic we're working with, than President Bush is most likely ten times the philanderer that President Clinton ever was. After all, he has lied about reasons for invading a sovereign nation, secret CIA prisons aboard, and a host of other issues that affect me MUCH more than who he's sleeping with outside of wedlock. And yet people will still say, "But he hasn't cheated on his wife," as if that is somehow tantamount to hiding the truth from the American people on issues from the Iraq War to global warming.
When was the last time you saw CEOs of major corporations lose their jobs, stand before snickering media and lay out the details of their affairs on Larry King Live? Politicians are no more susceptible to sexual escapades than the rest of us; they simply have the curse of tabloid-style attention without the empty public judgement that celebrities like Paris Hilton and athletes like Kobe Bryant enjoy. No, their public judgement is swift and harsh. And perhaps, rightfully so? I don't know.
I still have the utmost respect for the Edwards family, especially in the way they all have handled this. I am disappointed in John's actions, but I refuse to allow it to dictate the path to forgiveness. If his own wife is able to forgive him, it would be selfish of me to say that I cannot.
My only fear in the public indictment of John that has already begun (and will most likely become more widespread) is that the issues he stood for, and stood for alone on the Presidential stage, will be invalidated along with him. That, I think, is the greatest threat in stories like these. When powerful people, who make real mistakes, fight for the right issues, we must not throw the baby out with the bath water. Poverty remains the elephant in the room for this country. The problem has been growing for decades and the loss of the Middle Class is a real threat that should not be ignored because one of it's whistle-blowers decided to have an affair.
Marlene Dietrich once said, "Sex. In America an obsession. In other parts of the world a fact." It might be time for us to drop our obsession and move on.