Having ignored the story for months, the press descends with barely contained glee on the John Edwards confession. Far be it from me to moralise (let him without sin…) but the episode surely takes a prominent place in the annals of male insanity. It’s not the affair; it’s not even the fact that his wife was ill. These aspects are unremarkable. It’s the fact that he was running for president and his marriage was the larger part of his campaign. His rock-solid decades-long partnership with Elizabeth was the essential antidote to his boyish good looks and aw-shucks southern charm. And didn’t he know it. He kept his marriage in voters’ faces all through his fight for the nomination. Now this. Incredible.
I will be interested to see how the hypocrisy angle plays out. You remember the exultation over the downfall of Larry “Wide Stance” Craig. “It’s not what he did,” said column after column, “it’s the hypocrisy.” In early coverage of the Edwards case, the regretful “it’s an inexplicable tragedy” motif seems to be far outdistancing the “what an outrageous hypocrite” line—with a particular affectation of sympathy for Elizabeth. Maybe that’s right. Maybe it would have been right in the Larry Craig case too. (He has a wife.) Some kinds of hypocrisy, it seems, are easier to put up with than others.