Outside editorial: Edwards scandal shows gap between rhetoric, behavior

Posted: Tuesday, August 12, 2008

John Edwards' acknowledgement of an affair with a campaign aide demonstrates again that a high moral tone in public life doesn't always ring true in private life.

The two-time Democratic presidential candidate's earlier denials of a liaison with novice filmmaker Rielle Hunter further damaged his credibility. He's almost certainly disqualified himself from a prominent role in a coming administration.

Extramarital affairs cross the line from private to public when the people involved have put themselves in the spotlight, as Edwards did. The behavior by the former Democratic U.S. senator is especially galling because his wife, Elizabeth, was a central figure in both of his campaigns. Her enthusiasm on the campaign trail, despite her struggle with an incurable form of breast cancer, won the public's sympathy and admiration.

Edwards' contention that he embarked on an affair while his wife's cancer was in remission is hardly redemptive. His insistence that he is not the father of Hunter's 5-month-old daughter remains to be verified by a paternity test. And for many people, Edwards has only dug himself into a deeper hole with his statement to ABC News that he did not love Hunter.

Once again, the American public is surprised and disappointed that a prominent national figure risked everything for a casual fling. Edwards distinguished himself as a candidate willing to speak on behalf of the nation's poor. But he will be remembered, at least for a while, for his poverty of faithfulness.

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