Commentary: Here's a clear note to Dear John
Last weekend, The New York Times reported on its front page that former Senator, vice presidential candidate and presidential candidate John Edwards was considering "publicly" acknowledging paternity of his mistress's baby, but had not yet brought his wife around to the idea. With his mistress, baby in arms, testifying before a grand jury about the payments she received from Edwards' associates, and the campaign aide he had pushed to claim paternity now shopping a book about the deceit, Edwards is reportedly considering a public affirmation of paternity as a way to spin the story in his direction -- make it look like he is standing up to take responsibility, doing the "right thing."
I have a very simple answer for him, one I think most women my age -- Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative -- would agree with:
Just. Shut. Up.
Message to John Edwards: We know it's your baby. Everyone knows that. You want to do the right thing? Do it privately. Do penance for the next 20 years. Wash your wife's feet and help the poor. But don't make public pronouncements or expect public forgiveness.
Nothing John Edwards can do will change the judgment we have reached about him. World-class scumbag doesn't begin to describe it. I can think of no one in recent political history whose betrayal matches his.
A lot of politicians have affairs. I know this. I will be reminded in a matter of seconds, if I don't say it right here, that I spent years defending one of them, whose taste wasn't much better than Edwards'.
How many times did I say that an extramarital affair is not an impeachable offense? It isn't. But when your wife has metastatic breast cancer, when you use everybody around you, when you lie to her and your aides and the voters, when you distort a presidential race you had no business being in and bring a child into the world because of your arrogance and cruelty, then it's an unforgivable one.
But what about Ted Kennedy? Didn't most of us forgive him? And he was responsible for a woman's death. Surely that is worse than cheating on your dying wife, fathering a child and promising (could you make this
up?) to marry your mistress after your wife dies with the Dave Matthews band in the background.
As far as I know, Kennedy never tried to "spin" Chappaquiddick the way Edwards seems to be trying to spin his tasteless affair. And Kennedy spent the next 40 years tirelessly working to make the world a better place. When Edwards has done that, perhaps he will have earned the respect, and the forgiveness, that Kennedy did.
In the meantime, he should forget about public pronouncements and public approval. We want none of the former, and he will get none of the latter.
I used to think John Edwards was special. He found in the most horrible tragedy a person can face -- the death of a child -- a calling to serve others. He seemed to believe in something, a cause, larger than himself.
But like so many who find fame and fortune, he was arrogant and careless. He stomped through the china shop, leaving the shards in his wake. He used and abused and induced pain and suffering. I feel for his children. But most of all, I feel for the woman who also lost her son, who supported him for so many years, who has yet to be brought along to a public affirmation of the extent of her personal humiliation. How much "resilience" -- the title of her latest book -- can be expected of one woman?
Dear John: Please shut up.
Susan Estrich's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.