I am as disappointed and angry about the revelation of John Edwards’ infidelity as the next democrat. I will make no excuses for him. I do, however, want to suggest that we stop and think about how and what we tend to judge so harshly.
We can reasonably assume that judgment of Senator Edwards in this circumstance is based on one of two considerations (or both). First the judgment can be based on moral grounds. In this case, not only is infidelity a violation of yours or my moral standards, but it is a direct contradiction of the Christian values that Senator Edwards, himself, professes to believe. Second, we can reasonably judge the senator’s choices to be unfaithful in his marriage, and his repeatedly choosing to lie to the public about it, from a perspective of logic. Quite simply, logic holds that if he is capable and willing to lie about this, we can expect that he will lie about other things. Bottom line: viewed through the lenses of reason and ethics, we can conclude that Senator Edwards cannot be trusted.
Beyond the academics of logic, I don’t know if he can be trusted or not. But I do know that to argue, at this point, that he is trustworthy is a battle not worth waging.
What I do believe is worth our time and consideration is a closer look at a glaring contradiction in our political world — a contradiction that shows up in both moral and logical perspectives. Now, if you are a supporter of the current administration, at this point, I am going to make the genuine request that you respond to what follows with reasonable consideration of the facts, not dogma or emotional loyalty. I honestly believe that this is a clear, and as verifiable, as any simple mathematical formula.
The contradiction is this: as a society, we are offended and even outraged at a man running for public office who is unfaithful to his wife, and who is willing to lie to us about it, but we have taken in stride men in public office (at the highest level of public office) who have blatantly lied to us about matters directly deciding the life or death fate of thousands and thousands of human beings. I will leave it for another time to argue that while infidelity, deception about infidelity and moral hypocrisy are wrong, these matters are neither illegal, nor life threatening. For the purposes of this article, I am offering up a far lesser request: that since judging is inevitable — in many cases it is necessary and appropriate for our self-protection — can we please come together in earnest effort to practice equal opportunity judgment?
The responsibility in this is ultimately not on the politicians who run for office; it is on us. We the people decide who represents us in government. What I am suggesting here is that we do the right thing and stand in appropriate judgment of our media, and of ourselves, that we be big enough to acknowledge the danger of the double standard, currently in play, and that if we are going to point and stare at the spec — or branch or tree trunk – in John Edwards’ eye, we step up to our responsibility to hold the Bush administration accountable for their sins of both morality and reason.
THOM RUTLEDGE is a psychotherapist in Nashville, Tennessee, and the author of Embracing Fear: How to Turn What Scares Us into Our Greatest Gift. For more information: www.thomrutledge.com