I wouldn’t normally feel much empathy for John Edwards.
He made a fortune as king of the trial lawyers, a group which makes lobbyists seem like saints. Then, as a liberal, he parlayed his millions into snatching the North Carolina Senate seat once held by conservative heroes like Lauch Faircloth and John East. Next, he clawed his way closer to the top of the political heap by securing the vice-presidential nomination of the Democratic Party in 2004. Along the way, he enthusiastically supported every harebrained socialist scheme his fellow travelers concocted. While his party hacks were at pains to present him as a moderate southern senator, his 13 percent rating from the American Conservative Union exposed him to be as liberal as his erstwhile running mate, Sen. John Kerry from Massachusetts, hardly a moderate by any measure.
After losing the 2004 election, Edwards did what most other vice-presidential nominees do: He ran for president in the next election. Unfortunately for Edwards, the 2008 campaign proved to be devastating. First, he ran into the dyad of Hillary and Obama, two uber candidates who not only yanked away his presumptive front-runner mantle, but quickly consigned him to the political ash bin. Worse, this supremely arrogant and haughty poseur embarked on an adulterous love affair with reckless abandon. In the course of this perfidy, his friends provided the lucre needed to hide his peccant behavior. Adultery is bad enough, but the optics of a United States senator running for president, carrying on a torrid affair with his videographer, and ultimately fathering a child with her – all while his wife was dying with cancer – belonged more in a Sophoclean tragedy, than on the front pages of our newspapers.
Karma caught up with John Edwards soon enough, and in what seemed to be an instant, his reputation was destroyed. He went from being admired by liberals coast to coast to being the butt of jokes and the object of opprobrium. In the good old days, that was enough. The destruction of a previously powerful and popular celebrity found the target fleeing the public arena and spending the rest of his days in seclusion. Gone would be the swagger and confidence. Humility and pain would fill every waking moment for the rest of his life. But public humiliation and ruination no longer suffice in modern America. We fashion ourselves as enlightened, but we really crave the excitement of the Colosseum and the blood of the Aceldama. So, in our era, downfall almost always includes an indictment.
For John Edwards, the indictment concerned the issue of whether his friends spent their cash to hide his mistress from his wife, or to protect his political career. If the jury sides with the prosecutors that the funds generously provided to cover his adultery were for political purposes, and therefore were campaign contributions, Edwards’ pain will be increased dramatically. If he is convicted, he will likely move from his spacious North Carolina mansion into a federal prison. There, he will get a personal preview of national health care, now known as Obamacare. He will come to experience the ultimate expression of the state control he and his Democratic friends have been inching this nation toward for decades. Many on the right will express a most unbecoming Schadenfreude at this final turn of the screw. I won’t be among them.
While I cannot empathize with much in the Edwards narrative, some parts are all too familiar. The horror of becoming a cartoon villain is a horror I came to know myself when scandal splayed my life across the front pages. I didn’t go to trial, since I broke the law and decided to admit it, but had I gone to trial, undoubtedly I would have had to defend myself against what I would have thought were false accusations – along with those which I knew were true. When you are seen as Satan-incarnate, it’s pretty hard to convince anyone that anything you did was not illegal, immoral and fattening.
Unlike Edwards, I apologized for the wrong I did, and I continue to apologize to this day. I realize that my arrogance and stupidity led me down a path I should have avoided. Perhaps, being a defendant before the court, Edwards has not yet had the luxury to admit his failings and apologize for them. I hope that day will come for him, since his supporters and even his detractors will honor a sincere confession and desire to repent.
In the meantime, his fate rests with a jury in North Carolina. It’s hard to know whether this jury will weigh the evidence without rancor or a desire to avenge the honor of Edwards’ now-deceased wife, Elizabeth. If they are able to rise above a need to send a message, the case for Edwards seems fairly solid that the payments were to hide his scelestious behavior from his wife, and not campaign expenditures. Plus, even if they were intended to be campaign contributions, the prosecution would need to show that Edwards knew they were illegal – a high hurdle to navigate since even campaign finance experts differ on this topic. Even if the jury were to decide against him, Edwards will likely appeal the decision from the comfort of his home, not a jail cell. But, wherever he resides, the swagger and grandeur will be gone.
Regardless of the verdict, John Edwards’ future is one of ridicule and resentment, soon to be followed by anonymity and insignificance. For the former senator and vice-presidential candidate, these are punishments far beyond death in the Colosseum. For those of us who have opposed his every political machination, these are not reasons for celebration; they are instead the times where we are bidden to emulate the God we love and feel compassion and, indeed, empathy for those who have fallen into the abyss.