Commentary: Where has Sen. John Edwards gone now?
Doris Kearns Goodwin could not have asked for more. The author of "Team Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln," published in 2006, is making headlines once again for her foresight, as well as her knowledge of history, in light of President-elect Barack Obama's decision to surround himself with his former rivals, including Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton, and now Secretary of Commerce-designate Bill Richardson.
The missing man in all of this is, of course, John Edwards, who was far more formidable a candidate than either Biden or Richardson, and whose endorsement of Obama last May was at least as significant for the president-elect as Richardson's. Edwards had long been mentioned as a logical choice for attorney general, a spot that has already been filled. His commitment to deal with poverty would make him a logical choice for Health and Human Services. But his problem isn't competence or experience.
Should Edwards' personal stupidity -- his involvement with a wacky videographer, who may (if you believe the tabloids) or may not (according to her, and him, but what do you think they'd say) be the mother of his illegitimate child -- cost him a seat at the table? If he has something to add -- and I think he does -- should he be disqualified from doing so because he is a lying lout?
Washington is full of lying louts. Many of them are called "distinguished gentlemen." Now that Congress has more women, my guess is there are more female versions of the lying lout. Although, I am sexist, or realistic, enough to believe that there are real gender differences in this regard. If all the lying louts were disqualified from holding high elective or appointive office, the Capitol would shut down.
Edwards' case is arguably different on two accounts: 1) because the affair may have produced a child that we know about -- as opposed to all the affairs that produce children we don't know about, and 2) because his wife is and was, at least when he went to visit the videographer in Beverly Hills last summer, suffering from incurable breast cancer. She also happens to be one great dame, who campaigned for her husband tirelessly even after her cancer recurred, and who had to bury her teenage son -- every parent's worst nightmare -- thus making her an all-around lousy person to be a lout to, as her husband surely was.
But isn't that between the two of them? Isn't all of it fundamentally none of our business?
Ask around at any newsroom or senate office, and I will tell you what the answer will be: There should be a line between public and private. Private affairs, even or especially that kind of affair, should be private. Certainly this is the rule that the media apply to themselves, as do the distinguished gentlemen and ladies on Capitol Hill -- until and unless they are caught in bathrooms or chat rooms. Poll the public, and we all claim to agree.
So where is John Edwards? Why no place for one of the most talented of Obama's rivals on the team of rivals? Is the answer that Edwards was a lout, or that the rest of us are hypocrites? I tend to think it may be the latter.
Susan Estrich's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org