It wasn't supposed to be quite this way. Yeah, John Edwards was idealized by many Democrats as, "the next Bill Clinton." By that, they meant that he was the good-looking, smooth-talking Southern moderate that would follow Clinton's path to the White House.
He shared Clinton's modest background: The son of a mill-worker, as he would always remind voters, became a ridiculously successful trial lawyer, by managing to click with jurors. Eventually, his success led him to winning a U.S. Senate seat in 1998.
Instead of going for re-election, Edwards decided to make a presidential run in 2004. He finished a distant second to John Kerry, but still managed to get the number two slot on the presidential ticket. In an ideal world, he would have been well-positioned to be a leading candidate for 2008. That didn't happen -- partly because of the historic efforts of Hillary Rodham Clinton and a guy named Barack Obama.
Yet, even with that, things couldn't have gone more disastrously wrong. Instead of the White House, Edwards' career has ended up in a Bizarro World version of the Clinton Story. Unlike Bill, this good-looking, smooth-talking Southerner got caught having an affair BEFORE he became president. Worse, there's an illegitimate child (which he denies -- though no one believes him). Worse, he has a wife sick with cancer (though he claims the affair happened when the illness was in remission) -- making him look like a sleazeball and a cad.
Oh, and wife Elizabeth just released a tell-all, what-it's-like-being-the-aggrieved-wife-of-a-cheating-jerk biography. Could it possibly get any worse for John Edwards?
Well, yeah, it could and it has: Like Clinton, the affair of the heart (or other parts of the anatomy) is now headed for the criminal courts: The U.S. Attorney in his native North Carolina has announced an investigation into whether campaign funds were used to keep his affair with Rielle Hunter secret.
Which makes this entire affair a tragic farce. From Edwards' side, it is farce that couldn't happen to a non-nicer guy. There's a certain sense of schadenfreude that envelops this. He was such the insufferable pretty boy that -- were this a Greek play -- it would be said that the gods needed to punish him for his vanity. But, in the real world in which we all live, one wonders how this saga can end in any good way.
Elizabeth Edwards' cancer is incurable and she has what could be a few years to live. But, after everything her husband has put her through over the last few years, does she spend her remaining time with him and her younger children? Or does she take the children and leave? She knows the emotional drama the kids will have to deal with, in terms of her inevitably declining health. As a mother, she wouldn't want to expose those kids to even more anguish of a family break-up. How does a good mother make such a choice?
And an even better question: How does a sleazy lawyer, ex-senator and wannabe president of the United States even begin to live with himself after all he's put his family through?
Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.