Feature

John Edwards's self-destruction

Mired in scandal, the former presidential candidate seems to have no political future. How did it come to this?

Incredulity surrounding John Edwards's political self-destruction is set to explode all over again with next week's publication of "The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down" by the ex-senator's former aide Andrew Young. The once-respected Edwards—who cheated on his wife (then battling cancer), then fostered a child with his mistress and reportedly paid Young to pretend he was the father—has been fending off reporters in the wake of his paternity confession and new sex tape allegations. How did this seemingly savvy politician bring himself so low? (Watch a Fox report about John Edwards's fall from grace.)

Edwards's actions may have stemmed from grief: This saga involves "hubris of classical Greek proportions," says Katherine van Wormer in Psychology Today. But there may be a "rational explanation" for Edwards' "unlikely sexual relationship." Links between "unresolved or anticipatory" grief and the kind of "high-risk sexual behavior" that brought down Edwards are not unknown: Was he driven to "escape from painful realities" such as his wife's cancer and the death of his son in 1996?"The Fall of John Edwards: Did Unresolved Grief Play a Role?"

Edwards is a victim of his own superficiality: Edwards had "formidable ambition," and dazzled Washington as a "political matinee idol," says Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. But he was "mostly smile." By all accounts, Edwards was an "oddly incurious" candidate, "often unprepared" and "averse to homework." This sad episode is what happens when you substitute "fame" for "achievement." Edwards isn't a scandal. "He's a lesson.""From John Edwards, lessons on celebrity and politics"

We shouldn't judge so harshly: Okay, so the details of the Edwards affair are "distasteful," says Eric Alterman on The Daily Beast. But how is this so different from "John, Rudy, Bill, etc.?" From the evidence of Edwards' 2008 campaign team, it's clear that his wife was, in the words of one staffer, a "fruitcake." It was a "deeply unhappy" marriage, and he'd "lost a child"—can't we allow ourselves "an ounce of compassion" for John Edwards?"I Just Can't Hate John Edwards"

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SEE THE WEEK'S LATEST COVERAGE OF JOHN EDWARDS:"The Politican": The tell-all book's 10 most excruciating allegationsIs John Edwards 'exploiting' Haiti?A John Edwards sex tape?John Edwards' confession: Why now?

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