Over at Slate's XX Factor, where the Slate women have a fun debate going over the Edwards story, E.J. Graff writes:
I am incredibly annoyed that we have to waste any air, print, or pixel time on this. Why do I care about some dude's marriage and marital problems—unless he did something that in any way abuses public power? ... I just don't care what politicians do with their zippers, so long as their policies and votes are in order.
Couldn't disagree more here. I do care! But it isn't that I'm all exercised about "some dude's marriage and marital problems"--after all, Edwards said on Nightline that his and Elizabeth's marriage was stronger after this happened. It's that Edwards did abuse his power, as much power as anybody who's not in office has. Let's review Edwards's mistakes--I'm not even including the affair itself here:
He used campaign donations to pay his mistress $114,000 for web videos that were hardly ever used.
He lied repeatedly about the affair to the public.
He showed zero concern for the Democratic Party by trying to sell himself as its commander while he knew he was secretly holding a live grenade.
He made his closest political ally--Elizabeth--complicit in his lies and muddied her reputation.
He--to use a very generous interpretation of events--showed zero curiosity about some very curious things intimately related to his life, namely, why his campaign finance chief paid his mistress $15,000 a month and why a top campaign aide fathered his own ex-mistress's child.
He gave a bizarre, creepy, lawyerly response to the straightforward question of whether a National Enquirer photograph showed him holding his ex-mistress's baby.
And he went on TV and tried to make his own personal mess into a teachable moment for America, launching into a treacly morality tale about how fame turned the head of a Small Town Boy and insisting that people would forgive him because he's "imperfect"--a sanctimonious, unapologetic word that implies that those who hoped for anything different from him were asking for the impossible, perfection.
Given that this is the first and, I hope, last thing I write on this, I don't feel too bad about wasting precious pixels. The problem with only caring whether a politician's "policies and votes are in order," as E.J. puts it, is that the things a working politician confronts often have little to do with what he thought were his priorities. You couldn't have predicted the outcome of Bush's presidency by merely combing through his position on education in 2000. You'd have stood a better shot by considering his character traits, the ones that he would call on while handling Katrina or the aftermath of 9/11--not his sexual mores, but his stubbornness, his loyalty to his friends, his contempt for experts, his insularity, and so on.
If this story tells us anything about Edwards, it's that he is, along with many other, probably nice things, also a brazen liar and cover-up artist who doesn't consider (and then incompetently handles) the irreversible consequences birthed by his actions. That's enough for me to want his hands away from any reins, big or not so big.
To put one last way: I don't care whether a politician lets his zipper down, either, but character is what you do after the zipper comes back up.