Edwards had been married for 31 years to the same woman, and no matter how attractive, intelligent, loyal or universally admired that woman is, there's one thing she can't possibly ever be: somebody else.
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Stop me if you've heard this one before: A popular and highly respected political leader is watching his career go up in flames after being caught in a scandalous affair that went on for months behind his wife's back.

It's just about the oldest story in politics. I don't need to tell you that you could substitute any one of about a dozen names in place of John Edwards -- Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, Jim McGreevey, even Gary Condit to some extent -- and the details and end result would basically be the same. In fact, it's the lack of any real sense of shock that's likely at least partially to blame for the mainstream media's reluctance to pursue the story of Edwards's philandering until he came right out and confessed on national television. Although there's little doubt that many "respectable" news organizations were uncomfortable sifting through a field plowed by the National Enquirer, at least a few journalists must have looked at even the hint of another political sex scandal and thought to themselves, "Dear God, not again." Especially not when there are so many consequential issues to be reported on this election season (which isn't meant to imply that these issues actually are being reported on).

But now, once again, the machinery winds up, the shame and humiliation are piled on, the suspiciously contrived contrition is dispensed and, most of all, the pundits and experts line up to debate the supposedly elusive and incomprehensible question of why.

Why would a person like John Edwards, who seemed to have it all, blow everything he'd worked so hard for in the pursuit of quick sex? What made him think he could get away with it?

The answer to the first question is in the question itself: Edwards wanted to get laid because he's a person, and that's what people do. Where we ever got the idea that anyone is above his or her most basic impulses -- particularly the desire to have sex -- is beyond me. What made Edwards think he could get away with it? Nothing. He wasn't thinking at all, and any attempt to rationalize his behavior -- from some bullshit about how the attention lavished on him made him egotistical and narcissistic, to the lamentation of weakness in the face of temptation -- is essentially folly. John Edwards had been married for 31 years to the same woman, and no matter how attractive, intelligent, loyal or universally admired that woman is, there's one thing she can't possibly ever be: somebody else. And somebody else, even for a short time, is what most men and women -- most human beings -- want after three decades of marriage. It's human nature, and only our absurdly puritanical views on sex, coupled with the social mores and stigmas that are the inevitable products of such beliefs, would render it so unspeakably immoral.

What's immoral, actually, is that the bizarre culturally ingrained sentiment which equates marital fidelity with unassailable integrity put John Edwards in a position where he couldn't admit to his urges and was forced to truly betray both his loved ones and constituents by lying to them all. It's the unrealistic expectation of absolute purity and righteousness that will eventually doom almost every person in authority -- man or woman -- to fail us entirely, and that makes the belief system itself wrong. If I'm not mistaken, the religious -- who bear so much of the blame for these antiquated philosophies -- would call this "hating the sin, not the sinner."

John Edwards cheated on his wife. In chasing down that most enticing of hedonistic thrills, he betrayed her -- and for that painful mistake he has to answer to her and no one else. Although hardly anyone would suggest that putting your marriage at risk in the name of a quick affair is the right thing to do, almost everyone should know by now that it's understandable. Even forgivable. This is true whether the person involved in the affair is a politician or a postal worker. Both are driven by the same desires and either can fall victim to them. The people we elect to office are, at their core, still just people.

There can and will be plenty of debate over whether Edwards used campaign money to further his affair -- a revelation that would in fact be unethical if not outright illegal. And there's plenty of cause for finger wagging at the sheer stupidity of his actions, given that, as a man under intense scrutiny 24/7, there was zero chance of his affair not being discovered at some point. But once again, John Edwards wasn't thinking about that. He wasn't thinking at all.

He was just doing what human beings sometimes do -- what none of us is above.

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