Modern Times

John and Elizabeth and the Rielle Thing

We’re deeply into the fascinating soap opera that is John Edwards’ monumental decline, and the saga shows no sign of waning. Edwards’ issues and motivations seem pretty clear to me: he really is a narcissist (was he as proud of applying the label as it seemed in his interview?), and he truly believes that integrity is something you claim, not something you do.

First off, let me confess: I’m a liberal. I’m voting for Obama, for a hundred very good reasons. My daughter supported Edwards, is a contemporary of John Edwards’ daughter, and that daughter personally facilitated a job search for my daughter. Who is now completely disgusted by what John Edwards has done to his family. “She quit her job for him!” my daughter wailed. And that’s not the half of it.

A lot of people either quit jobs for Edwards, or, as we now know, accepted new, slimy ones. Every day there’s a new revelation, a new betrayal. New expenditures; new hints that your campaign contributions may not have gone exactly where you probably thought they did.

But it’s the women here who fascinate me. And yes, I do think Elizabeth Edwards rightly takes a major integrity hit here herself. She’s an intelligent, articulate woman, trained as a lawyer, and fully cognizant of what life in the public eye demands. When she made the choice to allow her marriage to be a key feature of her husband’s campaign — when she allowed it to become a public cornerstone of her husband’s character — she lied, she misrepresented, and she cynically used her bond with her husband to further his ambitions.

Elizabeth Edwards will now die not only knowing that her husband has fully, and publicly, disgraced himself, but she will also die with her own integrity tarnished. That, she did herself.

Here’s a truth Elizabeth Edwards conveniently ignored: This affair isn’t the first time she’s been exposed to John Edwards’ lack of integrity. A guy doesn’t just wake up one morning and decide that he’s going to have an affair, and that this sole activity is going to be his one dishonest moment. Nooooo. That just doesn’t happen.

A guy who decides to have an affair like this one — that gets confessed, that allegedly stops, but then doesn’t really, an affair that requires cross-country relocations of the principal, that requires pay-offs by close “friends” and the involvement of way too many lawyers, an affair that involves a baby — a guy who thinks he can pull this off has had previous integrity issues. Plenty of them.

Maybe it’s the stories he told, like the one about his dead son that he told John Kerry. Maybe it’s the little promises he didn’t keep, the false reactions, the insincere responses, the little lies that got forgiven. Whatever they were, they were there. And Elizabeth excused them. She made her peace with them. She told herself that he was a busy man, and important man, that he didn’t really mean to do/say/be what he did or was.

And, in doing so, she added, incrementally, to this guy’s sense of invulnerability. She fed his narcissism; she confirmed his belief that anything he did would be forgiven. By his wife — because he’s “been in love with the same woman for 31 years” — by his adoring public, by the whole world.

John Edwards actually believes that conducting this affair while his wife was in remission is a point of integrity. He believes this, in part, because Elizabeth Edwards has confirmed his world view over the course of their marriage.

He’s wrong, of course. But what was she thinking?

Maybe she was thinking “he’s only human” the first few times he misrepresented things, or his words sounded hollow, or she caught him in a small lie. Maybe she was thinking “he wants to be a better person, but there are so many pressures on him”. Maybe she was thinking “I’m in it too deep; I can’t leave now”. Maybe, more recently, she was thinking “I’m dying; he won’t dare continue this affair now”.

But if she was thinking along these lines, she was dead wrong. As wrong as his moral compass is off. If they had had the type of marriage they claimed — the one they publicly touted, the one they publicized shamelessly — they would have functioned as partners. If Elizabeth Edwards had demanded a role as full partner, she would have demanded, early and often, the respect he failed to show her. Or she would have left, because it wasn’t forthcoming.

In choosing to stay, at every point along the way, Elizabeth Edwards validated her husband’s view of himself. And having made her pact with the devil, she fell deeper and deeper: agreeing to deceive herself, her children, and, BECAUSE THEY MADE THEIR MARRIAGE A PUBLIC ISSUE, her husband’s supporters and constituents.

It got worse, of course. Not only is there the whole, patently ridiculous issue of how the baby’s paternity has been explained, but allegations of misused campaign funds, lying lawyers (other than Edwards), and hordes of people who have spent, apparently, way too much time trying to cover up the whole sordid story.

Not to mention that if Elizabeth Edwards has a shred of decency herself, she must be horrified at the entanglement of the apparently weak-livered, easily-bought Andrew Young, his wife, three young children and extended family into this morass.

If you can believe media reports about her emotional state, Elizabeth Edwards is now devastated, not only by the continuing revelations, but by the failure of John Edwards’ “confession” to stem the overwhelming tide of condemnation. And this, most interesting of all, suggests to me that, in the end, she’d taught herself to accept exactly what John Edwards himself so clearly believed: that he can explain away any behavior he wishes to, and shape public reaction to his own benefit.

Narcissists like John Edwards don’t love anyone but themselves. They act to further their own agendas, not to establish mutual relationships, not to make the world a better place, not for the good of their children. They make the choices that gratify their own egos; everything else is irrelevant or incidental. Elizabeth couldn’t have lived with that man for three decades without seeing plenty of evidence of this; she just chose to ignore it. At her peril: In the last months of her life, she’ll pay dearly for the choices she made.

As for Rielle Hunter, well, let’s see. John Edwards has stated publicly that he doesn’t love her, he never loved her, he’s “been in love with the same woman for 31 years”.

Rielle knows, though, that “John from North Carolina” is lying when he says this. It’s not what he’s been telling her on his secret visits to her hotel room in Los Angeles. It’s not what he told her when she was spirited away (on a $50,000 flight in a private plane, according to one source) before his “confession”.

Acquaintances have quoted Rielle has having said, in recent years, that she was going to find a “rich and famous” man to hook up with. Well, she found “rich”, but now, I guess, he’s infamous. Whatever. In any case, one way or another, she’s probably managed to find a luxury-level meal ticket for the next 18 years. I’m not the only one, though, who thinks the baby daddy, not his campaign or his buddies, should be picking up the tab.

Oh, and Rielle, honey. John Edwards lies. Just want to make sure you know.

Photos: Top two from, photo of Hunter and Edwards from the National Enquirer.

Update 1/19/2010:  Oooooooookay, so maybe it’s more megalomania than narcissism.

Update 1/21/2010: Did I mention that John Edwards is a liar?

Update 1/21/2010: Elizabeth — it’s not about her.  Nice point about good old Rielle smelling just a little bit less than the rest of the participants in what almost derailed not just the election, but potentially,  the presidency, 2008.