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John Edwards Sort of Acquitted

June 9, 2012 by Somebody Else

After a long, dramatic and expensive trial, former Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidate John Edwards was acquitted on one count, and there was a hung jury on the other five counts, which in this particular case basically means that he was let off on technicalities.

During the trial, the main issue at hand essentially boiled down to the following. After John Edwards had impregnated his campaign photographer and videographer Rielle Hunter, and was trying to keep the whole situation under wraps, was he using his campaign funds to do so? If so, should he be convicted of criminal misconduct?

The whole situation appeared rather murky, to say the least, and involved questions of who gave money for what specific purpose, where it went to, who handled it, how it was used, whether the parties involved acted on their own behalf or on the orders of someone else, etc. Also, hanging over the entire legal drama and media circus was a dark cloud of suspected political machinations, that is, the lingering suspicion that powerful political figures were pulling strings behind the scenes in an effort to have Edwards convicted for the purpose of advancing their own interests.

Well, from my point of view, the whole process of running a campaign in the United States is a shady and ethically compromised affair even in the very best of circumstances, and has been made even more potentially corrupt by the recent Supreme Court decision according to which corporations are now people, thus brusquely brushing aside any remaining pretense that, generally speaking, elected offices in this country don't go to the highest bidder.

Also, take a look at Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachman. After months of yammering on about how this country must live within its means and embrace austerity measures for its own good, both of them ran up ridiculous debts before their presidential campaigns imploded. Not exactly setting the best example, are they? What happened to all of that money? Shouldn't somebody answer to criminal charges for that?

I heard that Gingrich ran up a $20 million dollar debt. What would happen to some poor slob like me if I ran up a $20 million dollar debt? They'd probably have me shot by a firing squad. But when Newt does it, he's a shining example of sterling conservative attributes. Go figure.

Look, we all know that politicians do a lot of lousy stuff with the campaign money they are given. Consider all of the rotten attack ads that they put up on the television. Also, think of all the nasty political robo-calls your money can be used to pay for. Honestly, I almost think that some politicians ought to go to jail for some of that stuff. Talk about wasting our money, indeed.

But let's return to John Edwards. His wife, the noble and admirable Elizabeth Edwards, who probably should have been running in his place in both 2004 and 2008, had terminal cancer, and in her hour of greatest need, her beloved husband of the last several decades was out on the campaign trail getting his tail beat by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama while working on his night moves with Rielle Hunter.

When it looked like the whole thing could become public and create a world of problems for him, John Edwards tried to hush up the rumors with a series of lies. And then, when Elizabeth Edwards found out about this, she not unexpectedly had a nervous breakdown, and then passed away not long after.

John Edwards

So, in exchange for a few fleeting moments of hotel room recreation, John Edwards pretty much torpedoed his marriage, his family life, his carefully crafted public image, and his political career, and made the final moments of his long-suffering wife a living hell. Not a very good tradeoff, evidently.

But the prosecution at his trial argued that Edwards hadn't suffered enough already. Put the man behind bars, they proclaimed, and do it as a matter of principle. People gave him a truckload of money so that he could run for president, but instead of using it for putting on brutal and dishonest attack ads, and for sending out millions of vicious and misleading robo-calls, he -- gasp! -- spent it on covering up a sleazy affair and the existence of his love child. How dare he do that!

I don't know, why don't we just stop pretending that campaign money has to be spent in any supposedly ethical way? For example, let's say that you could earmark your campaign contributions. Maybe you want your $20,000 check to go to your candidate's wet t-shirt and wild keg party fund. Or why not earmark your $10,000 check for your candidate's Asian spa fund? Now that's what I'm talking about. Transparency in politics, it's the wave of the future.

Look, I'll be honest. I never particularly cared for John Edwards, even well before the scandal broke. He always came across as a bit too smug and glib for my tastes. He struck me as yet another political candidate with lots of polish and poise but with relatively little substance underneath the elaborate window dressing.

But make no mistake, I take no particular pleasure in his downfall, nor do I derive in the least any satisfaction from seeing the confirmation of my hunches about his true character. John Edwards was a prominent political spokesman for a number of important progressive causes. It's a shame that his personal foibles had to finally and completely overwhelm the nobler objectives that he strove to pursue.

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