Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thoughts on the Edwards Brouhaha

In the wake of the news about John Edwards having an extramarital liaison in which he may or may not have sired a child, the reaction has been entirely typical and predictable. People on both sides of the political spectrum have responded with moralistic indignation about his fall from the monogamy bandwagon.. "Shocked", "stunned", "disappointed", "appalled" have been some of the words people have used to express their feelings about this incident. I use the word feelings rather than opinions quite purposely, as most of the sentiments I've read are based largely on emotion and not objective reason.

Republicans reacting to the news have taken a "see, I told you so" attitude and former Democratic supporters have denounced their former support of Edwards, with both saying that he's unfit to be President, based solely on the fact that he engaged in extramarital sex.

Oh, please. Spare me the self-righteous indignation.

For one thing, his marriage is a private relationship. He's not accountable to any of us for his conduct within his marriage. I've read comments from people who say they can't "forgive" him for this. Excuse me? John Edwards doesn't need any forgiveness from strangers who are not, after all, married to him. The only person he owes any sort of explanation to is Elizabeth Edwards. The rest of us need to butt out and tend to our own relationships according to our own consciences.

Secondly, we don't elect our presidents to uphold the sacred cow of monogamy. For one thing, the idea that monogamous marriage is a moral issue, rather than simply a practical arrangement, comes largely from religion. And the last time I checked, we have no religious tests for office and the separation of church and state is still in effect.

Thirdly, his adherence or lack thereof to the expectation of sexual fidelity in marriage does not affect his fitness to lead the country. Before Obama became the Democratic nominee, I was pulling for Edwards -- and I'd still vote for him in a heartbeat. He had the right ideas about labor, on fighting poverty, on healthcare and on middle class concerns, among other things. The fact that he had a friend with benefits outside his marriage doesn't suddenly turn his good ideas into bad ones.

Americans have a schizophrenic relationship with sex. On the one hand, our media bombards us constantly with images of sex 24/7. In practice, we are a fairly hedonistic nation. Statistics show that a sizable percentage of both men and women have engaged in extramarital sex at least once. Yet, our reactions to politicians and other celebrities who are caught being human take a decidedly moralistic and hypocritical streak that betrays that our Puritan origins are still alive and well in 21st century America.

I think the Europeans have the right idea when it comes to issues of this nature. For the most part, Europeans are realistic and practical about the private lives of their politicians, recognizing human nature for what it is and do not unrealistically expect their leaders to be saints. As long as a leader is otherwise competent, his private life is his own business.

Throughout history, many leaders, great and not-so-great according to one's opinion, have not been strictly monogamous: Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, to name just a few off the top of my head. Would our country have been better off if their service had been refused simply for the fact of marital infidelity? I think not.

Edwards' only mistake in regards to responding to the public was to lie about it, though it is quite understandable considering how American society tends to respond to such incidents. He should have learned something from Bill Clinton's experience and realized that he was only digging himself in deeper. Personally, I think he should have responded by telling reporters that it was none of their business and it was a private matter between him and Mrs Edwards.

The fact of the matter is that Jesus Christ isn't running for president, nor will he ever in the future. People need to give up on the bizarre notion that a politician needs to be a saint in order to effectively lead a country. We need to accept that anyone ever running for president will be human -- and that humans, with all their imperfections are nonetheless capable of being competent leaders.

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