Like all good Americans, I’ve been watching coverage of John Edwards’ infidelity and the Beijing Olympics. The media barrage is beginning to sound the same. The following quote, spoken by Michael Phelps after his surprise gold medal win in the 400-metre individual medley relay, had me doing a double-take: I have to act like it never happened, because I have so many tough races ahead of me.” When did Edwards lose his dulcet drawl? And why is he wearing swim trunks?
I’m from North Carolina, which lends Edwards’ “mistake” and subsequent admission an uncomfortable air of boy next-door. We didn’t attend Law School together at Chapel Hill, or make craft projects out of his father’s textile scraps, but our regional commonality affords me a kind of kinship. He’s eaten at The Ratskeller, kissed under Davie Poplar. I’m no longer certain who he’s kissed, but still.
I love pop culture and I love tabloids. I have a sixth sense about the authenticity of tittle-tattle, and a few weeks ago, before the Edwards’ story broke, I called to alert Dan.
Me: “Hey, John Edwards had an affair with a former video producer for his campaign. She uses a lot of hairspray.”
Dan: “Where did you read this?”
Me: “Um, well, The Huffington Post is about to pick it up. You can tell.”
Me: “The National Enquirer.”
Dan, who loves me in spite of my gossipmongering, was dismissive of the report as right-wing conspiracy from an irreputable source. I responded in my most rhetorically convincing way: by making a joke about only one of us living in The Rielle World and hanging up on him.
And now it’s true. John Edwards slept with another woman, kept it hidden from the public, and then proceeded to campaign for the Democratic nomination on a platform based largely on family values. When confronted by reporters at The Beverly Hills Hotel, he hid in the bathroom. I used to time celebrities in the bathroom of The Actor’s Playhouse! Never did I consider this scenario — and Dustin Hoffman was in there for quite some time.
I believe trust is indispensable to the success of any romantic relationship — to any relationship. A “mistake” is forgetting to carry over the 1 in a long division problem, not meeting a poor man’s Jane Fonda in a bar and asking her if she wants to see your “big government.” Is monogamy a measure of how a man will perform politically? Probably not. But come on. We’ve all read Crime and Punishment. An untruth weighs heavily on a conscience, wrecks havoc on judgment. A skeleton in the closet undercuts clarity. Edwards allowed himself to become larger than his party. He jeopardized the Democratic ticket to protect his image. The pity isn’t just that his wife Elizabeth has cancer. The pity is that our country is sick, too, that he fooled us while we’re down. “Elizabeth was in remission,” Edwards qualified. Well, we’re in recession. His ability to lead is suspect not because he had an affair (McCain did, too — several, actually) but because he lied about it to the public when directly confronted.
Edwards appeared rehearsedly contrite, a slick kind of sorry, in his Bob Woodruff interview last Friday night. Even if he’s coming clean 100%, I’m annoyed that he chose to issue his statement on the eve of the Olympics to absorb fallout. And his unwillingness to answer personal questions out of respect to Elizabeth? Woodruff’s pointed “Were you in love with her?”, which Edwards did choose to answer, is about as personal as you can get. He came across glib and inconvenienced. By the end, I was rooting for The National Enquirer, the Sea Biscuit of reporting.
Perhaps Edwards would have been better off leaving out the ego admonishment and instead, issuing a concise, simple, and honest statement borrowed from golden boy Michael Phelps: “I’ll try to bank as much rest as I can tonight — recover and sleep and try to warm down and get out of here as fast as I can.”
How do you feel about Edwards? Do you think he should speak at the convention?