“Ugh,” says my mother, staring at the computer screen. “I guess you can’t be surprised. He’s just like the rest of them.”
Edwards, not unpredictably, finished third in New Hampshire, behind Obama by a comfortable margin, who in turn is behind Clinton by a not-insignificant spread. Edwards dropped out of the race after Super Tuesday. The campaign packed up, the office was shuttered. Life went regrettably back to normal.
But now John is back in the news, and not for anything good. The details of the story are fuzzy at first, but eventually it all comes out, as the truth is wont to do. At first, I have a knee-jerk, journalism student reaction. The National Enquirer? All lies, don’t worry about it, no one will take it seriously. Then The New York Times picks it up, then my beloved Boston Globe. Anderson Cooper is grave, Katie Couric frowns sadly, and Bill O’Reilly is getting near-sexual satisfaction out of the whole thing. It’s legit.
John Edwards did in fact have an affair with Rielle Hunter, a former campaign employee. He did in fact spend time in her hotel room in Beverly Hills, the night the National Enquirer decided to stake out and corner him in a public restroom. The whole sordid debacle took place while his wife was battling breast cancer. In his interview with Bob Woodruff Edwards is quick to point out he was only running around on his wife while her cancer was in remission-- and he wasn’t in love with Hunter. Edwards does his repentant face. Women all over America throw things at the TV. These are the same women who wept over the story of Elizabeth Edwards’ battle with cancer, whose hearts broke over the Edwards’ eldest son, killed in a car accident before his twenty-first birthday. These are the same women who were behind Edwards’ healthcare plan and proactive approach to eradicating poverty. And the same women who voted for somebody who’s starting to look an eensie bit like a total and utter scumbag.
Nobody can believe it.
“I can’t believe it!” cry the pundits. “Who have thought?”
“I really thought he was different, you know?” says my grandmother. Never much for politics, she voted for Edwards almost solely because I asked her to. Which makes me feel as though I belong somewhere between earthworms and leeches.
“I can’t fucking believe this,” Ian says in an email to everyone from the office. “I spent a year-- that’s four percent of my life so far, I figured it out--working for him and now he’s done.” He caught it all right.
And although I sort of want to commiserate with my friends from the campaign, sort of want to get upset and infuriated and indignant, I just...don’t.
“This must be hard for you,” somebody says to me. I shrug it off, smile a regretful smile. But I want to say, no--death is hard, breakups are hard, the AP Spanish test is hard. This is not hard. This is politics as usual.
I hadn’t realized until now that I didn’t really believe in John Edwards, or at least not the way Ian did, or Emily. I had wanted to believe—and I believed in what he said and what he stood for, but I hadn’t quite drunk the Kool-Aid. My parents taught me, via Bill Clinton, these three things: 1. Politicians are humans, and often pretty reprehensible ones. 2. This doesn’t mean that they can’t accomplish a lot of great things and 3. This all means that we have to be more involved with politics, not less.
Why do we insist on tying politics with politicians? When someone tells me they don’t vote because they just can’t stand politics—it’s such a dirty business, it’s so corrupt—I cringe a little. I believed in John Edwards; and although I was as put off by the scandal as everyone else, I’m not ashamed that I worked for him.. Maybe it’s time we accepted that we have to stop falling in love with politicians, stop wanting to go have a beer with politicians, stop thinking that politicians are any less human than the rest of us.
Once a scumbag, always a scumbag. It was his baby. There was the sex tape with Edwards doing something other than talking with that silver tongue of his. There was Rielle's creepy pantsless photo shoot. There were tearful Oprah episodes and flamethrowing in the blogosphere. There was, in short, a lot of shit. I’ve run into a few other young people who worked for Edwards since Obama’s election. This unhappy, sheepish confederacy of idealists taken in by all that William Jennings Bryan cross of gold talk (and the hair, too, let’s not shit ourselves) is getting on with life. We made a mistake. We almost handed the presidency to John “I Crashed Three Planes” McCain. I stand by my previous argument—politicians are as human as the rest us—but let me speak for the hairocracy of dunces that was the Edwards grassroots movement when I say: We’re sorry, America.