Sanctimony and John Edwards

A wise man used to tell me to be careful of those who are outwardly sanctimonious. What is inside may be entirely different. The moral claims of politicians and those who wear their religion on their sleeves were always suspect in his mind.

So now we find out that another prominent presidential wannabe — former senator, 2004 Democratic vice presidential candidate, and losing 2008 candidate for the nomination, John Edwards — was exactly what my father was talking about, just another political cliche, holding up his family values and exploiting his family to further his ambition while carrying on sexually outside his marriage.

Perhaps it wasn’t worth all the media attention, but the blow-dried lawyer who made millions out of personal injury lawsuits waved his wholesomeness around like a banner. His wife put aside her serious health concerns to promote his political interests, soldiering on even after she found out about his infidelity. That seems to be a pattern in these cases. Stand by your man and share the humiliation.

Of course he initially did what every politician does when caught in a bed that wasn’t his. He lied about it until he couldn’t any more. Then he beat himself up on national television, apologized to everyone and prepared to slink away, to do penance for the immediate future. That’s much in the manner of such recent philanderers as Bill Clinton and disgraced former New York Gov. Eliott Spitzer. Probably John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson would have faced the same embarrassment and come up with the same tearful apologies had the press at the time not had an unwritten rule not to reveal these affairs as long as they had no bearing on job performance — a lame excuse since they always did.

But all that changed as the media became less tolerant and now we are subjected to periodic exposure to this shabby behavior, which in the current case involves such questions as whose baby is it and who actually paid for two houses in California. A Texas benefactor of Edwards relocated the mother, Rielle Hunter, and a former close aide to Edwards, Andrew Young, who says he’s the baby’s father, to posh Santa Barbara where they are now living in multi million dollar houses not terribly far apart. That includes Young’s loving legal family. The Texan says the relocation money was his and not the Edwards campaign’s.

Edwards admits seeing Hunter, who was hired by his media advisers as a videographer in 2006 and paid six figures over two years, as late as this July. He said he was just trying to convince her not to go public. He still harbored hopes apparently of keeping the affair out of the mainstream media. But the question arises as to whether the meeting, apparently arranged by a "spiritual" adviser to Hunter, was a set up. Somehow the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer was there to snap a hallway picture of someone it identifies as Edwards holding the baby.

Edwards said emphatically that the child isn’t his because the timing of the pregnancy is wrong, adding that he will be glad to submit to a DNA test to prove it. His former lover, however, conveniently declined, citing privacy rights and certifying that in this instance alone Edward’s luck may not be all bad. The baby’s birth certificate, by the way, leaves the father blank.

The public loves it when this happens to the holiest of politicians because they fall the hardest. Spitzer was paying big bucks to a prostitution ring at the same time he was launching a campaign against that kind of enterprise. Clinton, with a long reputation of womanizing, went on national television to deny an assignation with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, more proof that hypocrites are not abnormal in politics.

Edwards’ indiscretions, while particularly juicy because of his image, in the long run are just another ho hum that won’t occupy media attention long. He is after all a two -time presidential loser with very little political future. He had hoped apparently for a Cabinet post in an Obama administration should that occur and had dropped out of the race and endorsed Obama at a time designed to further that possibility.

That hope clearly faded with the revelation that he wasn’t quite the straight arrow he pretended to be. He will have no part in the Democratic National Convention in Denver nor will he be called on in the campaign.

But that’s what happens when one is caught with his sanctimony hanging out.



(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)