I can’t tell you what feelings you should have about so-called “adultery.” There are a few points one can make, such as the fact that a fellow who is not married and breaks any rules of monogamy stated or implied is simply a disappointment to a limited few. However, once the state enters your life by conferring the status of “marriage,” it’s no longer just a gnarly Sunday morning argument. Now it’s lawyers and property division and custody issues and money and property and… did we cite property and money?
To fairly argue the practical dimensions of marriage in the 21st century, especially as many still yearn for the simple dignity of the right to be married, would require more than one column here; we’d need something more like a series of articles sponsored by eHamony.com. But maybe we can all agree on this: You probably aren’t “heartbroken” that John Edwards had sex with someone other than his wife. I don’t personally know anybody who is truly “heartbroken” about it. Even John Edwards’ wife says that the one thing she wanted most was to keep it all private. Thank you, corporate media, for honoring that.
So if it’s not us, who is it exactly that’s deeply preoccupied with the travels and adventures of John Edwards’ penis? I’ve probably tipped the answer, but maybe we should first measure the actual damage.
In any disaster, there can be degrees of destruction. Following heavy weather, it’s one thing to need a team to vacuum the mud out of your basement and quite another to need a new home from the basement up. Well-grounded people not prone to viewing all news events through what we might call a Biblescope will likely say that Edwards’ choice – to have sex with an intelligent and talented woman outside of his marriage – shows a lack of discipline and common sense way before it represents any kind of hypocrisy. They’ll add that in denying the event for as long as he did, similar to Clinton/Lewinsky, Edwards offended those who supported him or might have supported him later. Had he come clean sooner, he would not have belittled his fans with a false image of the tensile strength of his character. He would instead have appeared to us as a standard-sized human from planet Earth who experiences sexual desire.
Interpretations of some “test” Edwards failed may divide somewhat along gender lines. Edwards had a moment; he could stop or go. He wasn’t drunk or drugged, so his decision was his own. He can’t pretend to have not understood the hole he was potentially shooting in the foot of his personal cosmos, if you will. But back to our question: With all that said, who needed to make a bonfire out of a struck match?
Who benefits most and quickest from Edwards’ personal physiological processes being exposed? (I ask the question this way because with the event of Larry Craig we’re now going into bathrooms, people.) Certainly Edwards’ enemies can use it; political rivals and those special interests Edwards focused on. Still, if the dalliance has no real traction with a rational public more focused on 4,100 dead Americans in Iraq and the abuses of global oil interests, then who most immediately benefits from a show made of John Edwards’ sex life?
By process of elimination, it appears to be the various portals and screens of for-profit media. Media that “runs with it” regardless of what “it” is, until we signal “Stop” with our yawning. Is it a coincidence that the story was first turned over, as you would a rock, by tabloid papers? So called “mainstream” media, who exuberantly soaked their pants the minute John McCain wed Paris Hilton to the presidential campaign, chose to wait on the Edwards story because they know that most Americans are no longer interested. They know that the war has pushed us past and beyond the “Oh, Sinner Man!” phase of distraction journalism.
Perhaps ironically, our reaction may best be expressed as a prayer: “Dear Merciful Force in the Universe: Please don’t let Oprah think she has to bring John Edwards out to cry and beg our forgiveness, we beseech you. We’re so far ahead of Oprah: Unlike her, we understand that we dwell on a tiny rock where athletes must first compete against smog and pollution. Lo, we have trembled at the politics of fear and falsely worshipped oil cartel stooges who repaid us with eight years of misery. But we have new, hard-earned wisdom. Please give us the strength John Edwards didn’t have to behave in ways that reflect our better self; the part of us that acknowledges that when the light on this planet is finally choked out, it won’t be because some politician’s roscoe got between us and the sun.”