We’re a society that sees only black and white. Like, for example, when we want to kill mothers who kill their children, without any thought to how absolutely batshit crazy a woman has to be to kill her own kids. We treat them as if they’re hit men or criminals, when really, they’re horribly insane and need help. Punishment is our national passion.
That’s an extreme example, but listen to the public respond to just about anything and you hear it. Black. White. Right. Wrong. Oh, that it were that simple.
I believe Rielle Hunter, let me just get it out of the way now.
I’m not saying it isn’t complicated. I’m not saying it’s right to cheat. But I am recognizing that life isn’t as simple as we wish it would be, that it isn’t black and white, although it sure would be easier if it were. It’s a long spectrum and there are many shades of grey in between. We Americans have a lot of trouble with the grey.
Even though if we were honest, we’d admit that most of us live in the grey most of the time. So what really happened in the John Edward–Rielle Hunter situation? Here’s how I see it:
Andrew Young was a lackey. Andrew Young’s book came out in 2010 and I read it then. Whether he meant to portray himself that way or not, it was obvious that he had been a very minor campaign functionary, a lackey, a flunky, even, who fell into a way to ingratiate himself with John Edwards and the campaign. He was smart enough to recognize the Rielle Hunter affair as his potential meal ticket. Imagine having a presidential candidate and maybe even a president indebted to you. I believe the cover story that he fathered Edwards’ love child WAS Andrew’s idea. Because it really was stupid and not very strategic. Or credible, for that matter.
It didn’t turn out the way he thought, but he rode it as far as he could–even to a book and media appearances after it all went bad.
The home video I saw on 20/20 showed his wife laughing and joking with Rielle Hunter. His wife seemed happily into life on the run with him and the woman he supposedly got pregnant. So I’ll bet it was the first time Mrs. Young stayed at the Beverly Hilton or a hotel that plush. And I do believe Rielle when she says that they got the luxury suites and she got a single room. She’s guilty of naivete; the Youngs of extreme cupidity, as well as stupidity.
John Edwards is a weak man. Yes, he was smart enough to make tons of money as a plaintiff’s lawyer. He was an effective trial lawyer. I also liked his politics: programs to help eliminate poverty, against the Iraq war (his position evolved): the usual liberal agenda
But a good trial lawyer doesn’t necessarily make a good candidate. Pretty boy who got lucky, not a lot of political substance, that’s what I think.
The brains behind the candidacy, the driving force, the substance? I believe that was Elizabeth Edwards. I say that because things fell completely apart when she wasn’t driving them. When it became about hiding John Edwards’ affair instead of candidacy.
Elizabeth Edwards. Here’s where it gets complicated. I admire the strength with which she fought breast cancer and the way she managed through the death of her child. To many women facing difficult situations, she became a symbol of strength and rightly so. But after her death, she was almost canonized, especially as the truth of her husband’s affair eked out.
But the public image starkly contrasted with the private truth. Just about anyone who knew Elizabeth Edwards admitted she had a nasty tongue. She didn’t hesitate to publicly demean her husband and even treat staff “abusively,” by some accounts.
Thing is, we can’t talk the truth about dead people if the truth is about their all-too-human flaws. Death is sancrosanct, and so St. Elizabeth is the only acceptable depiction. Even though the truth was far, far from that. She was all too human.
I’m always suspicious of the way strong women are portrayed, because they’re often vilified for their strength. Still, I’ve read enough independent accounts to convince me that Elizabeth Edwards was no saint. She was hell on wheels. She was strong and powerful, sometimes in not so nice ways.
It’s clear she played the cancer card to get public sympathy. Gasp! How could I say that? It’s not a popular position, but it seems clear that she was spin doctoring, even in the last months of her life. She went on a time-consuming media tour to share her marital problems with the public and in the same breath spoke openly of preparing her children for her death. That seemed calculated to me. And unnecessary. Because it was clear that the time she spent on TV shows telling her story was time she was NOT spending with her children. Maybe they would’ve liked those weeks with their Mommy.
Like I said, it’s complicated. And I’m not judging, not really.
Adding it all up, I think Elizabeth Edwards was just too much for John and that he sought solace with other women. Not so much sex as validation. Appreciation. Elizabeth didn’t provide it and by all accounts, provided just the opposite. It’s not a unique story. It happens every day. It’s not right, but it’s reality. So I can see how this particular affair would happen.
Marriages are very private things. We aren’t ever privy to what happens behind closed doors. We can only speculate, and we do love to speculate. In this case, public sympathy fell on the wife’s side, because she got sick and died. And because the husband just isn’t a sympathetic character. At all.
People have affairs. They cheat. Does it have anything to do with their ability to lead? Usually not and Bill Clinton is proof. But John Edwards’ inability to lead went far beyond the Rielle Hunter situation. He was just too weak.
|Rielle & daughter, Quinn
And then, there’s Rielle Hunter. She comes off in the 20/20 interview as a bit ditzy and naive, a bit peculiar and maybe even a bit crazy. That’s not a crime. Her personal history had heavy doses of sex, drugs and rock and roll. But, so what? Her interview proved that she’s no rocket scientist, but she came across smarter than she is given credit for. And more credible.
Rielle Hunter was a woman in love and she gave John Edward what he was sorely missing: validation and appreciation. The campaign was bigger than she and she followed directions, even when she thought they were stupid. Like when Andrew Young claimed paternity of her child. She was a pawn in a big game that was badly played by all parties.
Human behavior has always interested me and I’ve followed this ins and outs of this story the whole way. So here’s what I’ve concluded:
I’m sorry Elizabeth Edwards’ life on earth was cut short, but she wasn’t a saint. “Should you be talking ill about your lover’s dead wife?” the interviewer asked Hunter, a little self-righteously. Hey, look. Just because someone’s dead doesn’t mean you can’t call a spade a spade.
I’m glad John Edwards’ weakness was exposed and that his political career ended. He wouldn’t have been a good leader.
As for Rielle, she’s a woman who fell in love with a married man. As she pointed out, she wasn’t the first and she won’t be the last.
The whole matter is a cautionary tale. I’ll leave it to you to determine its lessons.
What do you think?
UPDATE: News yesterday that the John Edwards and Rielle Hunter had “broken up.” Her statement indicated that she was tired of hiding the relationship, “not living it out.” He hasn’t said anything.