The John Edwards criminal case, which focuses on whether or not the former presidential hopeful used illegal campaign contributions to cover up his affair with Rielle Hunter, kicked off with dramatic testimony from Edwards’ aide Andrew Young. You might remember Young as the faux baby daddy, the one who took the fall for Edwards as part of the affair cover-up.
The most dramatic details of the testimony focus on the cover-up, including Young’s motivation for claiming paternity: “I wanted my friend to become president because a lot of benefits go along with that.”
That unusually candid motive is at the heart of this case: How far will one go to access and protect power? How much money is one willing to spend? How many loopholes is one willing to exploit? How many rules is one willing to break? The answer according to Young, Edwards and everyone else who was complicit in this ordeal? For some, there are no emotional, personal or monetary limits to that quest.
Intellectually, it’s natural to want this case to be a lesson in the need for campaign finance reform. But that’s simply too cerebral.
It ignores the basic truth of this tale: even with reforms, there are people who will always — always — find ways around the system. There will always be people brazen enough to violate the rules. If your wife does not scare you, why then should the FEC?
Perhaps what we can take away (and we have to take something away, because this has been too painful to watch and too expensive to execute to not glean anything) is that for some who care about electoral power and its fringe benefits, the only true fear rests in public scrutiny.
For someone like John Edwards, the court of public opinion is the only verdict that matters. How can we bring the public into these discussions about money in politics so that the consequences are presented in a language that politicians and their donors understand? How can we elevate the fear of judgement and rebuke around a lack of financial transparency to that of spousal infidelity?
We say we want politicians to be authentic and honest. We want to know who they really are. A good place to start would be demanding to know who stands with them and behind them – and how far they’re willing to go, how much they’re willing to spend in their quest for power.