Imagine if John Edwards had won the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. That was not unthinkable eight or nine months ago. Edwards was John Kerry's running mate in 2004. He hailed from the South, the only region that's produced a winning Democratic candidate in 48 years. He had a message; it was angrier and more populist than his old moderate message (the one that worked for Bill Clinton) but it might have been the right message for 2008. He seemed to have the right rivals -- the polarizing Hillary Clinton and the eloquent but inexperienced Barack Obama. And he had great hair.
But as voters once again realized, Edwards himself was eloquent but inexperienced, with no record of real accomplishment. At $400 a clip even his hair became a liability. Yet eight or nine months ago, Edwards was a plausible candidate.
With a problem. There was at least one woman who'd had an affair with the man who would be president. And this was not ancient history. If you believe Edwards' account, the affair began and ended in 2006, not long after he met Rielle Hunter at a bar and had his campaign pay her more than $114,000 to produce web videos.
Democrats during the last weekend of the 2000 campaign uncorked a decades old scandal involving George W. Bush - a DUI conviction. So Edwards must have known that recently cheating on his cancer-stricken wife could have blown up his candidacy. Yet he was eager to win the Democratic nomination, knowing that scandal might pave the way for Republicans to retain the White House.
And think of what that means. Democrats believe they stand for peace, social justice, education, health care and the environment. Republicans are destroying this country and indeed the world. Republicans would disagree, but that's what's at stake, if you're at all sincere about being a Democrat. Still, putting aside the shame to which he willing to expose himself, his wife and his children, John Edwards was also willing to see his party's chances of winning the White House go up in flames.
Or maybe he wasn't. Because Edwards was probably betting on a little help from his friends. And that turned out to be a good bet. Last December, only the lowly National Enquirer exposed the Edwards-Hunter affair. Its story ran just as the primaries and caucuses were about to get underway. The account was replete with leads that mainstream media heavyweights could have pursued. But each and every one of them stayed mum. Their first glimmer of interest came only last month, long after Edwards had dropped out of the race, when the Enquirer claimed to have caught him secretly visiting Hunter after midnight and photographed him holding her baby.
Contrast this with the treatment of John McCain. The New York Times ran a front page story strongly suggesting McCain had an affair with a lobbyist. Lacking any real proof, and with both parties firing off denials, the Times gracelessly backed off.
Many in the mainstream media are saying, "Hey, if we're so partisan, why did we report on Clinton-Lewinsky?" But as few now remember, that scandal went public only after Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno, authorized independent counsel Ken Starr to investigate evidence -- from taped conversations between Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky -- that the White House was suborning Lewinsky's perjury in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. Any Republican president would have been hounded out of office, especially after Lewinsky produced her semen-stained dress. Clinton survived.
Eight months ago John Edwards not only survived the National Enquirer report, he might have gone on to become president. You might wonder how much Edwards really cared about his party and his country. And you might also wonder how far the mainstream media will go to ensure someone like Edwards gets elected.