Former presidential candidate John Edwards's admission that he committed adultery raises familiar and unsettling questions about the role of private character in public life and whether politicians have a right to privacy. On Friday, Edwards admitted to ABC News that he repeatedly lied during his presidential campaign about having an extramarital affair. ABC News reported that he said in an interview that he had an affair with 44-year-old Rielle Hunter, but he denied that he was the father of Hunter's child.
One question that is emerging is whether the coverage of Edwards's moral lapse will encourage the news media to investigate the private lives of other public figures, including presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. President Bill Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives for lying about his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The Senate refused to remove him from office, partly because Clinton managed to persuade much of the country that his private imperfections were not related to his public policies and ability to govern. It seems clear that this issue will now be debated again, with a focus on whether the media should re-examine personal character and privacy.
Edwards had denied having an affair until his admission Friday, which has raised still another question about whether the latest episode will increase voters' cynicism about whether they can trust political leaders to take the high moral road. Making the moral dilemma even worse for Edwards is that his wife is currently being treated for cancer. Some Democrats are very distressed that Edwards would run for president while knowing there was a possibility that the affair could be disclosed.