Now that John Edwards has admitted to his affair with 42-year-old Rielle Hunter, the big test looms again before the American public: Do we care? Do we think it matters? Do we believe that there should be any code of conduct or moral standard for those in public office, even if it is the highest one in the land?
Justifications for political improprieties abound. There are historical ones: "Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, etc. had moral failures, so what's the big deal?" There are also personal ones: "We shouldn't judge. No one is perfect. Who are we to point fingers?"
Don't misunderstand me. I believe in personal redemption. I myself have experienced it, as I wrote about in the chapter "A sin that became a blessing" in my autobiography, "Against All Odds," in which I discuss an adulterous one-night stand in the early '60s that resulted in my wonderful daughter Dina. That is why I hope, as he says, John Edwards truly has asked God and his wife for forgiveness, and I pray for their restoration and the long road that results from it.
But then again, John Edwards continues to minimize his culpability by playing linguistic and moral dodge ball. He lied to his closest colleagues and the public for nearly two years about the affair. And even in his confession last week, he doesn't call it a "lie," a "sin," an "affair" or "adultery." Rather, he repeatedly calls it merely a "mistake" or a "serious error in judgment." Is that all it is?
I believe leadership should be above reproach. I believe those who govern should lead also in civility and decency and that their character should be congruent with their call to office. Like parents to children, a nation's politicians' integrity and character should supersede its citizens. But as long as we the people tolerate leadership immorality and elect corrupt politicians, we cannot expect the heart and character of our nation to improve.
It fascinates me that American naturalization law incorporates "good moral character" as a prerequisite for citizenship but no such legal standard is expected of those who govern our citizens. In a post-Clinton era, government trysts seem to be the rule more than the exception. Immorality is not only tolerated but also expected among public servants now. Have we at last severed or totally compartmentalized their personal and political lives so that never the twine should meet?