This week, a federal jury found John Edwards — the former senator from North Carolina and a two-time presidential candidate — not guilty on one count of campaign finance fraud. With the jury hung on five other counts, he managed to avoid as much as 30 years in prison, but his fall from grace could not have been bumpier. Edwards was accused of illegally using campaign money to cover up his extramarital affair with Rielle Hunter, who gave birth to their out-of-wedlock daughter. The trial featured testimony dramatizing the emotional damage he inflicted on his dying, cancer-stricken wife, and the betrayal that his once-fervent supporters felt. Still, Edwards implied after the verdict that he saw some hope for redemption. "I don't think God's through with me," he said. "I really believes he thinks there's still some good things I can do." Can John Edwards make a comeback?
It's unlikely. But not impossible: At some point, Edwards "will have to rebuild his shattered reputation," say MJ Lee and Mackenzie Weinger at Politico. To do that, he will have to show true contrition and humility, and put his political talents behind a public cause. He could resume his fight against poverty, the central plank of his 2008 presidential run. Or he could resurrect his spectacular career as a trial lawyer, working pro bono for needy clients. While it will be a daunting task, it's still possible that Edwards "can rehab his reputation and build a new life."
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The public won't forgive him anytime soon: Edwards is already "following in the footsteps of many a politician who's admitted wrongdoing" and made a comeback, says Jen Doll at The Atlantic. But while "stranger things have happened," his "molasses-y Southern speech evoking God" seemed "a bunch of hooey." And the trial emphatically reminded the public that he was "not a good husband to his dying wife," not "particularly good to his mistress," whom he called a "crazy slut," and not a good father, "considering what he put his family through, and how he denied that his daughter with Hunter, Quinn, was his own."
At best, Edwards can hope for personal redemption: Some saw Edwards' post-verdict statement "as that of an incurable politician making a shameless, delusional bid for a public comeback," says Melinda Henneberger at The Washington Post. But perhaps he simply wanted "people to know that there's more to him than the lies, betrayals, and letdowns" that have characterized the case. Before he can even consider a comeback in the public spotlight, he'll have to undergo the "kind of quiet, private atonement that might eventually allow him to have a meal in public without being scowled or hissed at."
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