Should Edwards Aides Be Shamed And Blamed?

Late Friday night, having browsed through Andrew Young's book exposing bare the details of John Edwards's extensive cover-up of his reckless decisions, I tweeted that "The senior staff who covered for John Edwards should be identified and shamed out of the Dem consulting world."  I stand by that Tweet. Like a lawyer, political strategists often subordinate their own personal interests to advocate for the aims of their clients. Candidates, being human, often make human mistakes, and occasionally, strategists, consultants and staff devise a plan to smooth out the characterological pleats.

But the Edwards candidacy was based on a lie: that the humble son of a mill worker in North Carolina could make it to the national stage; received the blessings of an American life; and was composed of two remarkable human beings, who, having lived through tragedy (former and current), were moving forward, destined to end poverty in America within one generation. THE frontpiece for this sale was the Edwards family; adorable children, a strong and loving wife, a proud and doting father, a young charming, Camelot couple. 

Signs of trouble were evident in 2004, as sequences in "Game Change" make clear, but egoism is venial. That Elizabeth Edwards wasn't the nicest person in the world -- well, candidate spouses at this level are often as ambitious and hard-edged as their husbands. (cf. Bill Clinton in the heart of his wife's primary battle.)

Even those staff members who knew that John Edwards was having an affair -- or suspected as much -- shouldn't feel the weight of the burden today. Several of them went to Edwards and confronted him -- that's really their obligation -- and he dutifully denied it, and without supporting evidence, they let it go. It does seem true that dozens of mid-to-lower level staff ignored what in retrospect were obvious signs of pathology; willfully so, because they just didn't want to believe it, because they were young and had no job other to go to know, because they couldn't bear the thought that Jack and Emma Claire, the youngest and the most innocent, would suffer from the exposure that their parents' marriage was based on an increasingly devious pact.

But there were a handful of staff members who knew that Edwards had at least one affair, who knew that he continued to have extramarital sexual liaisons during the campaign, who knew that the portrait of the Edwardses marriage was fictitious, who aided and abetted the perpetuation of an image they knew to be false; who arranged for the cover-up; who lied, directly, to reporters and to other staff members; who were veterans of the campaign game; whose loyalty to the Edwards family, such was it was, trumped whatever residual responsibility they felt to the democratic process.  These men and women did the country a disservice.   Not that they should have gone public and accused their guy of being a demon: several folks who learned about the affair decided that they would leave the campaign and pursue other opportunities. 

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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