In the wake of former North Carolina senator John Edwards’ acquittal on a single charge of violating campaign finance law Thursday, the two-time presidential candidate held a press conference outside the court that raised the eyebrows of some seasoned political observers.
Here’s the full Edwards press conference in case you missed it:
“I don’t think God’s through with me,” Edwards said at one point. “I really believe he thinks there’s still some good things I can do.”
In the after-action analysis, many observers seized on those lines as Edwards signaling that his life as a public figure — whether in or out of office — was not over.
If he thinks that, he’s wrong. And here’s why.
Yes, we have seen in recent years that politicians who have been shrouded in scandal can emerge unscathed or close to it.
Former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer (D) resigned his office after his frequenting of hookers became public knowledge but bounced back with his own TV show on CNN and is widely assumed to be plotting a return to office in the Empire State at some point in the future.
Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) acknowledged his involvement in a DC-based prostitution ring in 2007 but coasted to reelection three years later.
And so on and so forth.
It’s facile to look to Spitzer and Vitter and see a path to redemption for Edwards. But the comparison misses the mark.
Unlike Spitzer and Vitter, whose spouses stood by them and pledged to make it work, Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, passed away in December 2010. There was no forgiveness. And there will be no chance for it.
Unlike Vitter or Spitzer, who can hope for future stories about how they weathered a very rocky time in their relationship, Edwards will forever be burdened by the fact that he cheated on his terminally ill wife.
In the eyes of the American public, that makes any chance to forgive and forget about what Edwards has done next-to-impossible. For Edwards to have any reasonable hope about re-emerging as a public (or political) figure, there would need to be a parallel storyline about how his wife was prospering and enjoying her life. And that’s not possible.
Of course, it’s also possible that Edwards didn’t mean to signal anything about his future plans but rather that he was simply pledging to remain active in public service out of the spotlight.
If so, more power to him. But if he does have any designs on following the path trod by Vitter, Spitzer and many others, Edwards should give up that dream. It simply won’t happen.