Politics & Government

Will public buy a contrite Edwards?

Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.
Former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina. Jason Fritz / St. Louis Post-Dispatch / MCT

We've seen this movie before: Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, Elliot Spitzer and the list goes on and on.Politicians and husbands behaving badly.

It was a different John Edwards who sat down in his Orange County home Friday with Bob Woodruff on ABC's Nightline. Gone was the powerful self-confidence -- some would say hubris -- that enabled Edwards to become one of the nation's most successful trial lawyers and a rising political star.

It was replaced with a more contrite Edwards, his voice thin and emotion-laden. His face drawn and glistening. Edwards has never liked the news media, and now he was facing the journalistic firing squad.

Elizabeth Edwards had been more that just a political spouse. She was a full partner. But Edwards faced the camera alone.

He said Elizabeth and God had forgiven him. We must conclude that at least the former is true, because she went through the entire 2008 campaign carrying the knowledge that her husband strayed. And she traveled through the Mississippi Delta and spoke at those New Hampshire house parties for her husband, even though she was fighting cancer.

John Edwards declined to offer any explanation of why he was unfaithful, except to say he had become too self-absorbed, that he had lost touch with the small-town Southern boy he once was -- as if small-town Southern boys don't cheat on their wives.

There was a suggestion: They all do it. Edwards was at his worse when he brought up the early infidelities of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, whose first marriage broke up.

He said he didn't know that his chief fund raiser, Dallas trial lawyer Fred Baron, was helping support Rielle Hunter, the former campaign film maker, with whom he had been having the affair. If so, Edwards has become an incurious man. And it was unlike the hot shot trial lawyer, who never let a small detail or an angle unnoticed.

This did not seem to be an effort to rehabilitate a political career. Edwards had wanted to be president, and he knew by last January that he would never get to the White House.

But he did seem to want to explain himself to his supporters. He seemed to be saying, "I'm no phony. I'm just a guy who made a mistake."

We'll see whether the public buys that.

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