A Tad Short Of 99%

By Ruth Marcus
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Every sex scandal, it seems, comes with its own catchphrase, a linguistic contortion destined to outlive our memory of the seamy details: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is." Or "wide stance." Now comes former -- and, I think it's safe to say, not future -- presidential candidate John Edwards with his own distinctive concept: 99 percent honesty.

In Edwards's exact words, explaining why he denied tabloid stories about his affair because, he says, they weren't completely true: "Being 99 percent honest is no longer enough."

He was once derided as the Breck girl. Now it turns out we're talking Ivory soap, 99 and 44/100ths percent pure.

But the thing about honesty: It's the last 1 percent -- even that last .56 percent -- that's the tough part.

And, to continue the soap metaphor, if there's anyone out there who believes Edwards is coming entirely clean now, I've got a job for you in the Edwards 2012 presidential campaign. Plenty of openings there.

You don't have to be an Edwards-caliber trial lawyer to know the right questions to ask on cross-examination here: If you lied then, why should anyone believe you now?

He'll be happy to take a paternity test but, conveniently, now she won't? She's getting $15,000 a month from his top moneyman but he doesn't know about it? A picture with the baby -- who can remember?

Elizabeth Edwards, mercifully, didn't stand -- or sit -- by her man during the "Nightline" interview. This was a good thing. Was there a wife in America who didn't want to slap him right across his smug face when he pointed out, "first of all," that his wife's cancer was in remission when he cheated?

In a posting on Daily Kos, Elizabeth Edwards pleaded for an end to "the present voyeurism." No one wants to add to Elizabeth Edwards's misery. She's been dealt a terrible hand.

Except, he was the one who told us that character counted. As in these remarks about Bill Clinton in 1999: "I think this president has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter. It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen."

Or, in a March 2007 interview with Katie Couric discussing the return of Elizabeth's cancer: "I think every single candidate for president, Republican and Democratic, have lives, personal lives, that indicate something about what kind of human being they are. And I think it is a fair evaluation for America to engage in to look at what kind of human beings each of us are, and what kind of president we'd make."

What was Elizabeth Edwards thinking, sitting there with her husband the philanderer and Couric?

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