I don’t know why people make sex tapes — it seems narcissistic, sleazy, and extremely weird, all at the same time. Given that, I probably shouldn’t be surprised that John Edwards was involved in making one. He seems to have all of the embarrassing qualities that you would normally find in a sex tape participant and producer.
Do the people who make sex tapes actually watch them? That seems even more bizarre to me — but in any case I’m glad not one moment of national dialogue will be devoted to people talking about watching the John Edwards sex tape. We don’t need it.
In fact, we would all be better off if John Edwards’ name were never mentioned again — except as part of a cautionary tale about how the mighty have fallen and are brought low by their wretched excesses.
We hear about the Anthony Weiners and Dominique Strauss-Kahns, the John Edwardes and Arnold Schwarzeneggers, the Bernie Madoffs and stud athletes and CEOs who break the rules or break the laws, and we shake our heads and wonder: How could they be so reckless and brazen?
I suspect that part of the reason is that such people simply have not lived in the real world for a very long time. Even if they began somewhere close to normal, for years their lives have been spent in a kind of protective cocoon, surrounded by aides and boosters and supporters and staffers and contributors. People arrange their meals and social functions for them. They really don’t need to carry cash anymore. They get chauffered to events in limousines. When they arrive at a restaurant, a guy whispers in their ear to let him know if there is any problem — any problem whatsoever! — and it will be taken care of immediately. They fly first class, get to board when they want, and sip their complimentary champagne and try to ignore the stream of disheveled coach passengers who walk by. Why shouldn’t these folks feel that they are different from normal people? They live lives that are different from normal people. And when they make little missteps, those missteps always — always! — get taken care of by members of their retinue. The missed tests get retaken. The tickets are torn up. The meetings get delayed to accommodate their late arrival. Their peccadilloes are forgiven through cash payments or side deals or secret agreements.
But then, at some point, a line gets crossed. The police get called. A send button is inadvertently hit and reckless private communications become public. A person who is facing jail time and knows about the misdeeds decides to roll over and cooperate with the crusading prosecutor in hopes of getting a reduced sentence. And then the mystified member of the elite finds that the cadre of fixers and sycophants aren’t there anymore, that their confident assurances, angry threats, wheedling, bullying, and lies, don’t work anymore. Suddenly, they are being treated like the common people who, for years, they have seen only in passing or at carefully arranged events — and they realize, to their amazement, that those common people seem to be enjoying their travails.
I imagine that the one common emotion felt by every member of the mighty who has been brought low is . . . astonishment.
I think John Edwards is a despicable character. Vain and insubstantial, a weak political reed in the wind, he cheated on his wife who was battling cancer, had an affair and impregnated a woman, and then tried to cover it up while he pursued his presidential campaign. When the cover-up failed, as cover-ups always do, it produced an ugly scandal that torpedoed Edwards’ political ambitions.
The government’s theory pushes the envelope of how campaign finance laws are construed. The issue is whether politicians can get around the laws by accepting donations for claimed non-political purposes that nevertheless could have political implications — and a related issue is where you draw the line if you accept that interpretation. With campaigns extending for years and becoming all-consuming endeavors, couldn’t just about any claimed non-political contribution be argued to have a political dimension? If a high-roller friend hosts a candidate at a vacation home, are they making a political contribution because the period of relaxation will allow the candidate to recharge their batteries and be more effective down the home stretch? Edwards’ lawyers no doubt will focus on whether the government’s charges should be thrown out as beyond the scope of federal election laws.
If the charges survive the legal challenge and the case goes to trial, Edwards’ defense will not be attractive. His statement yesterday indicates that he will argue that yes, he was a cheater, and yes, he accepted money in an unsavory cover-up — but the cover-up was designed to deceive only his stricken wife, and not to deceive federal election regulators. How will a jury react to that theme?
Republicans and Democrats don’t seem to agree on much these days, but I think there is one thing every American can agree on: that the country can be grateful that John Edwards lost early in the 2008 presidential primaries and is out of elective politics.
I always thought Edwards reeked of phoniness, with his shifting positions, his callowness, and his obvious narcissism. These latest confessions make you wonder, however, whether he even has a conscience.