Edwards not the first or last
When John Edwards recently 'fessed up to the affair that the National Enquirer has been writing about for months, the Democrats and Barack Obama had to think: It could have been worse. Much worse.
By the time Edwards went public that he'd, um, been with a woman not named Elizabeth Edwards, he had been out of the presidential race, and the limelight, since late January.
Obama had not seemed inclined to pick Edwards to reprise the roll as running mate he'd played for John Kerry in 2004. Had Obama already announced Edwards, it would have been a disaster. Of course, whatever chance Edwards might have had for that slot is gone now.
Edwards staged the disclosure on Friday afternoon, Aug. 8, just as the Olympics were opening in China. Most television viewers probably were far more interested in the saga of whether U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps could score eight gold medals than in the outside woman of a former North Carolina senator whose presidential campaign never took flight.
And luckily for Obama, he'd picked this week to vacation in Hawaii. He had a perfect excuse for mentioning the Edwards situation once, understanding the need for family "healing," and avoiding daily questions on Edwards' selfdescribed narcissistic behavior.
That's the good news for the Democrats and Obama.
The bad news is that the Democrats were regaining some morals traction. The furor over Democratic New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer having to resign over a call girl finally was replaced by the kickback indictment of longtime Republican Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. Not a sex scandal, but then, Stevens is 84. Now comes this.
Edwards' admission that Rielle Hunter had done more for him than campaign videography, and that he'd lied repeatedly about it, puts the morals of Democrats back in the spotlight -- though not as seriously as it would if he still was a larger political factor. Still, it was serious enough that Edwards told the Harris County Democrats they'd need to find an alternate speaker for its annual gala fundraiser Sept. 20.
As has been demonstrated repeatedly, no single political party has a monopoly on sexual hanky-panky.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart saw his presidential candidacy explode in 1987, after a reporter took Hart's challenge to see if Hart's off time was as boring as he claimed. Bill Clinton's dalliances in the 1990s got enormous attention.
And Republican Bob Livingston, the Speakerelect of the U.S. House when it was considering Clinton's impeachment, resigned that post and then the House after revelations of adultery. Republican Florida Congressman Mark Foley's career abruptly came to a halt a few weeks before the 2006 elections, when it came to light he'd been e-propositioning underage congressional pages. And so on.
In the days before women's liberation became a reality, there were very few women in the national press corps. Those "have you ever" questions weren't asked. The overwhelmingly male ranks of politicians and the press corps were far more likely to privately swap tales of outside wanderings than to put them in the newspaper.
But after the Vietnam War, and Republican President Richard Nixon's resignation in the wake of Watergate, questions of character began to be asked.
A politician asked if he was cheating on his wife would say "yes" only if he knew the jig was already up. A "yes" answer was considered a career-ender.
Problem is, say "no," and the real answer turns out to be "yes," the issue moves from morality to credibility. He lied about that, will he lie about everything? It's still likely a career-ender, but a double whammy: Cheating and lying.
Yet it seems extremely unlikely that we've seen the last of philandering inside politics, any more than outside.
About 20 centuries ago, as the King James Version of the Bible quotes Jesus in Matthew 26:41:
"Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."