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Davis, California

Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Defining Moments

Even in political asylum John Edwards cannot stop stealing the limelight. Earlier last week a federal investigation was launched against him for the potential abuse of public funds during his presidential election. His wife Elizabeth is currently promoting her book Resilience about the personal travails she underwent while her husband committed infidelity. For the man who seems almost politically irrelevant, the image of the smiling politician seems pretty alive in public consciousness.

But perhaps the most surprising reaction to his infidelity is their very ferocity.

John Edwards always framed his life story as a battle against difficult circumstances and debilitating adversity. Son of a mill worker, he rose to prominence as a leading senator and vice-presidential candidate. As a lawyer, he describes his goals as a crusade for the poor workers against large, exploitative corporations. For many, he appeared a model of strength, directed in resolve against the many injustices life offers. His success was an inspiring American Dream tale come truemany could have subconsciously wanted his ascension as president to make it complete.

But like all stories of overindulgence in the height of successes, he eventually dismissed his very values and succumbed to temptation.

The public office contains a special aura because its inhabitants are a reflection of the constitutional character of our values. For those seeking to assume leadership here, there is an established moral conduct and construct of behavior and engagement that must be fulfilled. The standards are exacting and rigorous.

The demands of the public office can seem exorbitant at times. Yet these demands are necessary as they can be overwhelming. The public office is an incubator of public trust. As much as officials are merely individuals prone to errors, they are volunteers of tremendous responsibility. Placed in their trust are enormous public resources, the authority for power and the privilege of public resourcethey yield the power to affect billions of lives.

And while individuals and society has many imperfections, the community expects their leaders to exhibit sound judgment and stable ethical purpose. This includes the ability to resist temptation, be filial, maintain faith in God, organize family values, connect with the community and pay attention to the greater good. Thus they are there to only serve the people, independent from personal interests.

For that reason, the public official’s life is a public record. When one decides to run for public office, their lives are no longer theirs, but subject to the close examination of the public. To commit into public office is to abandon any opportunity at privacy.

For Edwards, his mistakes were twofold. The first mistake was to engage in a consensual illicit relationship with Rielle Hunter, a lady who also produced his campaign videos.

Perhaps more importantly, and what truly infuriates, is his compounding his error by continuing the affair. Despite, as Elizabeth testifies in Resilience his admission that he committed personal foresight, even as shecried and screamed,he subsequently continued the relationship. And he did this all while continuing to contest the Democratic primary nomination, refusing to abandon his affair. Absent was any thought of public admission, apology and recrimination. Instead, Edwards quietly hid knowledge of the relationship from the public.

In this respect, Edwards was irresponsible as he was unqualified.

In many ways, John Edwards submitted in a moment of personal weakness.

He lost control of his moral judgment despite his responsibilities as a public official. That doesn’t diminish his accomplishments as a crusader for justice or as an individual, loving family person. But the environment for public office just dictates that such a behavior and attitude isn’t tolerated.As much as Resilience is the other side of the story, ZACH HAN still thinks its somewhat a last-attempt at publicityconcur at zklhan@ucdavis.edu. 


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