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Morality and liberalism, John Edwards style

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Certainly we've not heard the last about the John Edwards scandal. Despite the former presidential candidate's public statements of remorse, there remains far too much that doesn't add up.

For instance, we're being asked to swallow a bizarre story that a member of his campaign staff is the father of Edwards' mistress's child. Either John Edwards is not done lying to us or we don't fully appreciate the scope of the behind-the-scenes moral depravity of his self-righteous campaign.

Let's assume for the moment that no legal infractions occurred and that Edwards' lapses were exclusively moral. What is the relevance of this behavior to his qualifications as a political leader and possible president?

Scandals in the private lives of politicians are, sadly, hardly rare. There is a line of reasoning that suggests it's prudish to see them as relevant to the man's fitness for his job.

As put in a recent op-ed by a university journalism professor: "history is full of courageous leaders who in their private lives were terrible and abusive spouses and parents -- depressives, drunks, bullies. Individuals have a way of partitioning their lives, handling one set of duties commendably and another abysmally."

I would argue that for liberals, typified by John Edwards, such partitioning of private from the public is highly unlikely, if not impossible.

Why? Because to be this kind of liberal you've got to stand traditional morality on its head.

Traditional morality is a bottom-up process. It starts at the individual level. The Ten Commandments are addressed to "thou," not "We the People." It begins with individuals taking personal responsibility for the moral tone of their own lives and the social reality that results is the collective product of that individual behavior.

Traditional guidelines are to love our neighbor, our brother. Not mankind. The focus is specific and individual, not vague and abstract.

But liberal politics are top-down. Despite the pretense about being driven by caring about people, unique individuals are at the end of the liberal food chain. Liberal politicians make broad pronouncements about our "social" problems and propose social engineering programs that will allegedly fix them.

Candidate John Edwards called poverty "the great moral issue of our time." And his antidote for solving this moral crisis was massive government programs with the modest objective of eradicating poverty in 30 years.

How particular individuals who happen to be poor actually behave, which is where the real moral issues lie, is of marginal interest to this liberal mindset. Their interest is the grand solution from above that will supposedly change the condition of the poor individuals below, who are viewed as innocent bystanders in their own lives.

It never seemed to interest Edwards that Lyndon Johnson declared war on poverty in 1965, and more than 40 years and $10 trillion or so later, it accomplished nothing.

When I was on welfare, I'd deal with indifferent bureaucrats who had little interest in me personally. They were just doing a job, no different from any civil servant in the post office or the department of motor vehicles. But behind the faceless bureaucracy was a grand liberal vision. For me, it was all irrelevant. It was just a system to work to get a check.

Ironically, Edwards' marketing of his "moral" crusade was his Two Americas pitch. Get people on board by inspiring envy, chucking the 10th commandment out the window. And use political power to finance the massive programs with other people's money, which can be reasonably viewed as theft.

In an interview last year, Edwards was asked what he thought would most outrage Jesus about American life today. His response: "Our selfishness; ... our focus on our own short-term needs." Not only was this guy, in the midst of an adulterous affair, oblivious to his own hypocrisy. He saw himself as master of the universe, who had to lecture the rest of us about how we behave.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that during a campaign defined by pronouncements of morality and compassion, Edwards was being immoral and cruel to the real individuals around him and closest to him.

For liberals, individuals are footnotes to their own grand schemes and ambitions.

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