Proof that we should never take candidates at face value
There was a reason it took members of the John Edwards jury nine days to decide the case. They were making the most difficult judgment call there is in a courtroom: overlooking the repugnant moral character of the defendant and making their decision only on an honest assessment of the evidence.
And in the end, that evidence was found lacking. There were six felony counts alleging Edwards misused nearly $1 million in campaign finance funds to hide his pregnant mistress during his 2008 Democratic presidential run. The jury acquitted him on one charge and deadlocked on the other five. The judge declared a mistrial, and most observers speculated that the prosecution would not try again.
If there’s a lesson here, it can be found in the words of Edwards’ lead attorney Abbe Lowell: “This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime, between a sin and a felony.” Edwards put it much the same way in a surprisingly candid self-assessment that almost amounted to an apology: “While I do not believe I did anything illegal,” he said, “or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong, and there is no one else responsible for my sins.”
The evidence was so thin and the campaign finance laws so complex that it's a wonder prosecutors even brought a case. They would have had to show not only that Edwards knew about secret payments from two big donors but knew he was violating federal law by accepting them. There was no persuasive evidence of either.
One unfortunate result of the trial is sure to be more calls for further “refinement” of campaign finance laws. Every time that happens, the laws just get more complicated, which just encourages candidates to find ever more creative ways around them. Voters end up knowing less and less about the financial backers of candidates.
We should consider the trial not a waste of time but an instructive reminder never to take candidates at face value. Edwards certainly had a pretty face and a glib manner and polished phrases to go with him. His “two Americas” poverty speeches excited many people on the left.
But the pretty packing covered a heart more evil than most could believe: What kind of man would carry on with a mistress while his wife was dying of cancer and corrupt so many people in the process of trying to cover it up? What a dreadful thought that this man got as close to the White House as he did. And how lazy of the press not to vet him for voters.