The New York Times’s Matt Bai, who followed Edwards along more than one campaign trail, mused on “What Would Justice for John Edwards Mean?” Wrote Bai:
In general, we in political journalism too readily seek to define “character” by how people behave in their personal lives. History doesn’t lack for examples of great public servants who did things we might find morally reprehensible in their private lives, and plenty of upright people make for miserable stewards of public policy. This is why I pretty much try to never write about personal transgressions, especially after they recede into the past.
(Does this mean no Bai-on-Weiner Times mag cover story? Or, an immediate Bai-on-Weiner cover story?) Back to Bai:
And yet the Edwards scandal — involving not just a mistress but an elaborate ruse to establish false paternity — seemed damning on a political level, too.
What was never pointed out, perhaps because most reporters had never really taken the antipoverty platform very seriously, is that Mr. Edwards had been running around the country proposing to get tough on poor fathers who didn’t take fatherhood seriously. (Indeed, this proposal stood out because it was virtually the only one of Mr. Edwards’s ideas to acknowledge that poverty wasn’t entirely a function of insufficient social spending.) That Mr. Edwards was at this very same time pressuring someone else to take responsibility for his own child is, even now, hard to fathom. The scandal cost Mr. Edwards his credibility, at least for the moment, and it should have.
Should it also cost him what’s left of his legal career, and should it cost the taxpayers however much this case has sucked away from other priorities? Should we just fine the man some of his millions and let it go? I could spin the answers here either way.
(More insight, this last sentence, into “we in political journalism?”)
The Times also had a fascinating profile of Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the 100-year-old Listerine heiress who gave to Edwards some of the money over which he was indicted and who may be asked to testify. The Times informs readers that, while “older people are often not perceived as reliable witnesses,” Mrs. Mellon is, according to a friend, “in fine fettle for someone who is 100,” being a Pilates enthusiast trained by “the master himself, Joseph Pilates, more than 50 years ago.”
The profile ends as follows:
Even if Mrs. Mellon is not called to testify or indicted, the episode may leave her as collateral damage. “For her now to be on the radar for something in the unseemly category is unfortunate,” [a friend] said. This is especially so for a woman who has insulated herself from the media glare for nearly a century.
“Nothing should be noticed,” she told The New York Times in 1969 in a rare interview at her home in Virginia. She underscored her point by repeating it as she stood outside her stone house, which was void of color. “Nothing should be noticed.”
An apt motto indeed for a big-ticket John Edwards benefactor.