In the end, America knows just as much now as it did three weeks ago about whom John Edwards betrayed. The former North Carolina senator and presidential candidate had an affair while campaigning, fathered a child with his mistress and tried to hide it all. The victims, as always, were his wife and family.
But for 17 days, a jury of eight men and four women sifted through campaign finance laws, testimony and more than 500 exhibits to determine if anyone else was aggrieved in the case of Johnny Reid Edwards. They never should have been asked to do so. The verdict of one count not guilty and five undecided may have been unsatisfying to a public ready for closure, but the result was unsurprising.
The prosecution brought forth a case that was built not only on a flawed star witness, but also uncertainty about the laws the defendant was charged with violating. From that, the jury was tasked with a difficult calculation: Did candidate Edwards deceive the government by taking close to $1 million from campaign supporters for personal use, or did husband John accept personal gifts in order to hide his infidelity? In simpler terms: Did he betray only his family, or all of us?
Legality aside, we should be long past the point where we can be betrayed by the personal flaws of our public officials. Edwards stands in a long line of cads who asked for our votes, then made us regret giving them. His story is yet another affirmation that the people we elect represent both the best and worst in us, even if wed prefer just the former.
Despite all this, we retain a curious expectation that our elected officials especially presidents come with 1950s packaging: married and with smiling children, churchgoing and all-around pleasant.Any deviations from that are trumpeted by opponents and media as cautionary a landscape that allows for infidelity to become part of the outsized theater of public outrage, rather than the detestable but personal tragedy it is.
Prosecutors were perhaps banking on that outrage in pursuing a case whose strength turned out to be guilt by association with cheating on your spouse. Take away that, and the government mostly had Andrew Young, a massively unlikeable star witness who also cheated on his wife and used gifts from rich benefactors. And those payments? Even the Federal Election Commission thought some, if not all of them, werent criminal. It was unlikely that 12 jurors would come to a different conclusion.
That left Edwards to walk free from the courthouse, and he did the right thing by apologizing before he departed. I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong, he said. There is no one else responsible for my sins. He also hinted at some sort of public service in the future, and while we cant imagine hes entertaining thoughts of elected office, its up to the public to determine those boundaries. In the end, we know what we did three weeks ago about John Edwards arrogance and betrayal. Prosecutors shouldnt waste our time again trying to pursue more.
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