I watch the TV in my studio while I do work. I absorb a phenomenal amount of bullshit TV in the name of having noise in the background while I work.
When Oprah did her hour-long interview of Rielle Hunter last week, the needle got buried on the bullshit meter. For all her talk of “truth” – her commitment to it, John Edwards’s “path” towards” it – the fact of the matter remains that her relationship with Edwards was built on lies. Lies he told to Elizabeth Edwards. Lies he told to his staff. Lies he told to the press. Lies he told to the American people.
The innate and pervasive hypocrisy of it was not lost on anyone, least of all Oprah, who dutifully asked the follow up questions that pointed out the irony of claiming to be committed to “truth” while participating in so many lies, and loving a man whose entire life seemed to be a lie. Rielle Hunter’s response was merely that it was “weird.”
No honey, there is nothing “weird” about it.
Most commentators to the John Edwards and Rielle Hunter debacle have focused on the near miss to the American public. They have pondered questions like, what if he had actually won the primary and become the Democratic nominee? What is it with politicians that they have to do such stupid, self-destructive things? What does the whole episode have to say about American politics and politicians? In other words, they have with their questions attempted to transform this tawdry little affair into a larger-than-life epic tale that is somehow “important” to our nation.
The sad truth is that most of these questions are rather inane. Let’s be honest here about the 2008 Presidential campaign. John Edwards was not in any danger of getting the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, and even if he had succeeded, he would never have won the Presidency. John Edwards wasn’t even capable of winning a statewide election in his home state, much less a national election. He was a candidate with more failure under his belt than success, who had spent the last four years working for a think tank. He’d have had no chance even if he’d never met Rielle Hunter. Let’s not forget, Edwards was already out of the race for all intents and purposes when word of the affair first surfaced.
And let’s not kid ourselves about the nature of affairs. Why do we persist in believing that somehow politicians are magical beings who are more moral, smarter, more accomplished than the rest of us? John Edwards is not the first man in the Universe who dallied with a pretty woman when he grew tired of doing the hard work of maintaining his marriage. The fact that he did so had very little, if anything to do with his political career. I daresay John Edwards would have had an affair even if he’d never embarked on a political career.
But lest we berate ourselves too much, let’s not forget who’s kidding themselves the worst – Rielle Hunter. What was most painful about watching her conversation with Oprah was the convoluted justifications Hunter had for nearly everything that had happened. Rielle Hunter twisted all the events of this affair as she related them, attempting to cast herself and John as misunderstood soulmates, caught up in John’s “path to truth.” The level of contortion was worthy of a Cirque du Soleil act.
The facts Hunter revealed about her affair with John Edwards, even in their contorted state, were tawdry to be sure. She told Oprah the she and Edwards did not have protected sex, meaning that the risk of pregnancy and disease were there from the beginning. Edwards told her he loved her. She bought Edwards a duplicate cell phone that looked just like his work phone, so that he could appear to be talking about work when he was really talking to Rielle. She claims Edwards was “gracious” about her pregnancy, and never once pressured her to give up the baby or terminate her pregnancy. And when John Edwards denied their relationship in a TV interview, he called her immediately afterwards to tell her that “it didn’t mean anything.” She admitted that the rather nice-looking North Carolina home she is living in is even now at least partially financed by John Edwards. When asked whether she was still seeing John Edwards, Hunter was evasive, refusing to answer.
What struck me about the whole interview was that all through her stilted narrative, it was clear why Rielle Hunter was talking to Oprah – she wanted validation. She was tired of being cast as the “skanky mistress.” She wanted to be viewed in a more sympathetic light – as the woman who loved John Edwards and was helping him with his “search for truth.” It was clear she had been telling herself this series of justifications since the beginning of her relationship with Edwards, and she believed them so thoroughly herself that she honestly thought that America would find them convincing.
Her comment over and over again that her story was “weird” on the surface sounded like an acknowledgement, an attempt to defeat her critics by showing she understood their view. But even in this, Rielle Hunter is kidding herself. The fact that she considers herself “committed to the truth” but still participated in an affair isn’t “weird.” There’s nothing unusual about it in fact. It happens every day.
People have affairs all the time, and most of the people who do don’t see themselves as bad people. They are constantly inventing rationalizations, narratives that explain why they are betraying people they have made promises to, why they are participating in a relationship of which society disapproves. These narratives always portray the situation as unusual in some way, so that the participants in the affair can claim that this is a special case. We all want to believe that we are good people, and we are perfectly happy to invent convoluted reasons why what we do is good, even when deep down, we know in our hearts it isn’t.
It’s an innately human trait to go into denial when we do things we aren’t proud of or disappoint others. Kids as young as four know how to make an excuse for themselves in the vain hope that mom will buy it and not punish them for their misdeeds. With her hand caught in the proverbial cookie jar, Rielle Hunter is no different from any other kid, really, except in the fact that her capacity for self-deception seems so limitless that she can in one breath acknowledge that John Edwards has lied to everyone in his life, and yet, claim that he has always told the truth to her.
The mark of maturity in situations like this is not the elaborateness or persuasiveness of the explanation, but the wrongdoer's willingness to own what they did, regardless of the explanation. They recognize that an explanation is not an excuse, and that no situation is ever so special that it justifies hurting another person. RIelle Hunter is a child, clinging to her self-conceptions and the belief that hers is a "weird" special case.
Rielle Hunter is no different from any other woman who’s talked herself into an ill-advised relationship with an attractive married man who is looking to step out on his wife. She is not special. And at this point, one has to wonder if all the media attention hasn’t contributed to Hunter’s pathetic belief that what happened between her and John Edwards was anything more than a cheap affair.
Oprah’s first question to Rielle Hunter was about the fact that apparently no one in Hunter’s life thought her doing an interview on Oprah was a good idea. (Given the ridiculous justifications she’s been laboring under, it’s not hard to see why…). But the more important question is why the people in Oprah’s camp thought this interview was a good idea.
Lets not kid ourselves anymore. The sad truth is that there is nothing special about her story, nothing to learn, nothing to gain. Aside from satisfaction of the puerile desire to hear the intimate details of the affair, Rielle Hunter has nothing to offer.
It's time to turn the channel.