Who among us
Is free of fungus?
— Ogden Nash
When attraction is physical,
& the attitude is whimsical
& the background is musical,
The rationales become flimsical.
— Shel Silverstein
Who was the genius who thought it a good idea to prosecute former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards in open court? If he is elected, tell his next opponent he can count on my vote. If he is appointed, tell him to… tell him I will… er, be disappointed.
Senator Edwards, we recall, was a contender in the Democrat primaries in 2004, itching to face off with incumbent George W. Bush. He had made millions as a particularly smarmy personal injury lawyer, who somehow convinced juries that the delivering obstetricians were responsible for children being born with cerebral palsy. His sleaziest escapade was a closing argument in which he claimed that the spirit of a dead child had appeared to him and implored him to seek justice on her behalf.
His handsome hucksterism hoisted him to the United States Senate from North Carolina. The next inevitable step was the Presidency.
Or maybe not. The public wasn’t buying it in enough volume and John Kerry became the nominee. Still, Edwards parlayed that adventure into a real piece of history, the kind of thing you can tell your grandchildren proudly about if they are still talking to you. He was chosen by Kerry as a running-mate and he managed to carry the mission off with some aplomb, even doing credibly in debate against one of the most knowledgeable men in political life, Dick Cheney.
Fast forward to 2008. Edwards figured that vying for Veep last time gave him the inside track this time in the Presidential primary. His wife, Elizabeth, began a second bout with cancer and that recurrence did not bode well. Still, the two appeared together to announce they would soldier bravely on. The poor of America deserved no less. While Edwards was fleecing feckless medicos, he had noticed that there were Two Americas, and while he parked his ailing wife comfortably in the plush mansions of the first he headed quixotically over to polish the rails on the wrong side of the tracks.
Later it came out that he was conducting an extramarital affair during the campaign, a dalliance which produced a daughter. As part of an elaborate scheme to cover his tracks (still on the wrong side of the inside track) he wound up collecting hush money from backers, which were reported as campaign donations and campaign expenditures. Now the government is trying him for this supposed malfeasance, with each day bringing more lurid and sordid sensationalism.
Well, they are trying my patience too. I do not want to hear about the yucky details of messy liaisons. First of all, we are all human and let’s not pretend otherwise. Even in the best marriages, well-intentioned people can falter when away from home and under high pressure. If every book about promoting happy marriages advises people to minimize separate travel, that is because it is healthier not to subject oneself to temptation. When we create a campaign system that sentences participants to nonstop wandering from state to state and city to city, we should at least be aware that it is a tough test of character.
Secondly, this situation is a very solemn sacrament on the altar of human matrimony. Many of us may be in this position at some point. A spouse is dying in a physically disintegrative way and the moral code asks us to honor their travail by practicing celibacy. God and society may be justified in calling us to this standard, but it takes a callous heart indeed to judge harshly one who falls from the pinnacle.
In fact, there is no indication that Edwards was flippantly trolling for companionship in the Kennedyesque or Clintonian fashion — or Hardingesque, to be bipartisan. This was something that just happened and it was handled fairly discreetly. They had the courage to keep the child, too. I know all this is more wrong than right but this was far from a carnival of pure evil that needs to be shamed in the public square.
Folks of my political persuasion like to define the preference for more freedom and less government as “conservative” although these views are liberating by definition, “conserving” a Constitution which is a radical departure from world history. Still, the instinct to conserve and to protect should apply to keeping private failings like these out of the spotlight.
It may well be that he used donors’ money instead of his not because he was a cheapskate or a crook but because he could not spend large sums without accounting to his wife. A reasonable strategy for the government in this case would have been to make Edwards pay restitution and leave it at that. Instead we are all clucking like hens and gossiping like geese. Shame on us!
As for me, yes I lied. It was I who wrote the doggerel above, not Ogden Nash or Shel Silverstein. But Nash did write this:
One would be in less danger
From the wiles of a stranger
If one’s own kin and kith
Were more fun to be with.
And Silverstein did write this:
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
His underwear is hanging on the lamp.
His raincoat is there on the overstuffed chair…
And his smelly old sock has been stuck to the wall.
Whosever room this is should be ashamed!
Donald or Robert or Willie or —
Huh? You say it’s mine? Oh, dear,
I knew it looked familiar!