March 17, 2010
In response to George Washingtons Farewell Address to the nation of which he was Founding Father, James Madison affirmed the first Presidents claim that morality was essential to liberty: If individuals be not influenced by moral principles, it is in vain to look for public virtue.
Put another way, if virtue is not the companion of our private doings, it will be absent from our public lives, and the larger cultural life of our country. This is logical deduction, of course, and leads to inevitable consequences for our society at large.
Consider former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), who had an adulterous affair with filmmaker Reille Hunter. It occurred while he was a credible candidate for the presidency of the United States and married to a woman suffering from an incurable recurrence of cancer. Yet Ms. Hunter now effuses about their torrid relationship as if it were a thing of rare beauty:
I know he loves me. I have never had any doubt at all about that, Hunter told Gentlemans Quarterly. We love each other very much. And that hasn't changed, and I believe that will be till death do us part.
A mistress using the language of the marriage vow about a man still married to another woman: This is the rhetorical equivalent of pulling fingernails across a blackboard. But Ms. Hunters exposition of moral philosophy is even more striking: I think that he thinks that he (Sen. Edwards) is a much wiser and a much better and a more truthful and a more integrated human being because of their affair, Ms. Hunter tells us.
John Edwards betrayed his wife, his children, his supporters and, in a profound way, his country, in that he did his best to contribute to the moral erosion of our society and our politics. But, contra Ms. Hunter, he has not found truth, not unless its the truth about himself that he lacks an inner foundation of decency, honor or loyalty.
My purpose in this piece is not to fulminate against Sen. Edwards or Ms. Hunter. We all have fallen short of Gods perfect standard, but He offers redemption to us in His grace. It is my hope they will find it.
Rather, what animates my concern is Ms. Hunters remarks. She says what she does with a straight face, claiming that promises made before God lose force when emotional affection wanes and justifying corrupt conduct by asserting it can bring about self-integration (recipe: one part lust, one part selfishness and one part irresponsibility, all fitted together nicely, thank you).
This is wrong. It is wrong based on the teachings of Judeo-Christian revelation. Wrong based on the transcendent, cross-cultural, natural understanding of what it means to stay faithful and do right. And wrong because as a national figure, John Edwards had a duty to set an example, and failed to the point that he fathered a little girl with a woman not his (dying) wife.
Sen. Edwards has not found truth, he has abandoned it. Truth is found in living faithfully with your husband or wife in sickness and in health. Beauty and love are found there, too. Im grieved that John Edwards has lost these irreplaceable gifts, and instead has torn asunder yet one more section of the fabric of American life.