Slings and Arrows

You can run, but you'll just die tired
MAY 2, 2010 12:14AM

The Sad Truth About Rielle Hunter

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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.


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Excellent essay. I pride myself on having never watched anything about this on television, and having read very little. Tawdry is the right word, and why on earth would I want to spend my time on the lives of these shabby, dishonest people who prove categorically that money does not buy class or intelligence?
I'm in the same boat with Emma (thankfully) that I know little about her by choice. There is no justification for the lies in this. What would have been preferable would have been for her to say something like "I messed up bigtime, it will always be with me, and I will go away and raise my child. Do the two of us a favor and leave us to our seclusion." And then there's John--prick comes to mind, and liar.

Nice to see you posting again Liz. xo
emma, I agree with you that there's little about this whole affair that seems worth more time and attention than it has already gotten. I do try to avoid thinking I'm somehow superior though...because the truth is, good people screw up. And it's when you think you "could never do anything like that" that you find yourself doing exactly the thing you said you wouldn't.

Barry, I agree....I'd have been far more impressed with Rielle if she'd been more sanguine about it, if she were willing to say something along the lines of "you know, I know this was the worst possible way to get into a relationship, and we took huge risks and injured people along the way, and I am sorry for that but I did it because I was in love and I wanted what I wanted and it was all I could see." That would at least have been honest.

And it's good to be back.
I didn't watch it, wouldn't have. However, because it was you writing this I knew I wanted to know what you think and i find that we agree.

Rielle Hunter must not realize what she is, but my Grama would have just called her common. No matter how many zeroes you put behind the numbers when you write checks, if you don't value honor or honesty you are dirt poor. She crossed that threshold when she slept with a married man and she cannot change what she did with the opportunity that her life represents. As bbd points out, there are options for her which would provide a good life for her child. I can't see that decision coming of the woman who poises with a shirt and no pants for a national magazine.
Good to see you posting again. I think this nails it:

"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."
Some claim to have not watched the Oprah show because it is beneathe them yet they comment here after seeing the blog title in the activity feed? Puh-leeeeeze. There's something inside all of us that's drawn to this subject matter and the commenters here are case in point that we do spend our time viewing the lives of the classless and dumb.
Some claim to have not watched the Oprah show because it is beneathe them yet they comment here after seeing the blog title in the activity feed? Puh-leeeeeze. There's something inside all of us that's drawn to this subject matter and the commenters here are case in point that we do spend our time viewing the lives of the classless and dumb.
Hi Suzanne! I don't judge Rielle Hunter all that harshly for having the affair -- most of us have done things we're not proudof, and being 100% truthful is harder than you might think. What I judge her harshly for is the self-delusion and justifications. If you screw up, own it, don't try to turn it into a virtue.

Silk, the media does have a special role in this -- the attention she gets from GQ, from Oprah, just feeds the delusion that her affair was something unique, something entitled to excuse.

Drew, thanks for dropping by. But there are some people who will end up commenting here because I've been gone for a while. I'm happy to hear your opinions of my post. I'll not look kindly on comments that amount to taking potshots at other commenters. Thanks.
Affairs are always fascinating events to those involved in them - whether the person being cheated on (like I was in my ill-fated first marriage) or the people doing the cheating. To the rest of us...not so much! It's too bad that Edwards chose to lose himself in a personal drama; he did have something to offer the debate in our country with his focus on poverty in the US...
Excellent. Rielle gets under my skin. I hope that one condition of the Edwards' divorce is that Rielle is never to be a "mother" to the two young kids she will leave behind when she dies. Does Rielle not realize that stress exacerbates cancer and she may in some way be responsible for it?
I'm sick of this whole tawdry affair, and the fact that MILLIONS of people would tune in to hear the tawdry details, even when delivered through the self-justification prism of one of the principals, is nearly as bad as the original sin. Schadenfreud mixed with self-righteous derision is not an attractive trait, but it is, alas, part of the human condition, and we Americans (like everyone else) possess that trait in spades.
I don't watch tv. I don't follow most of the news. But for some reason when the tapes of John E were released, I thought Hey this might just be love.

Even if it is, to kill Elizabeth prematurely which is what will happen, is so horrible that I now find the whole subject degoutant. disgusting

About Rielle, not so sure. Didn't see Oprah and never have. I read online. NO ONE likes Rielle so maybe for all we know she has some secret redeeming features. What they may be, I confess, do not have a clue. good article r
Back in a big way, Liz. Great piece, good to see you here. This is, too, I believe, a more important issue than watching TV (I am reminded of Samuel Hoffenberg's "Some Play Golf and Some Do Not"). This thing happened in a very public way and remains very public. One doesn't have to try very hard to know about it, and it raises questions and concerns you've addressed quite well. Just why do we invest so much in the notion that politics/celebrity conveys some sort of suprior character when, in fact, the opposite is more likely? And why are people so ready and willing to delude themselves (as Ms. Hunter continues to) even when standing naked before a nation of millions? There's something wrong with us. It would be helpful to have it looked at. Your post is a useful step in that direction. Way to come back!
very, very well done
Excellent Liz...I watched some of the interview this weekend, cringing the entire time. Not to want to judge someone else, but honestly this woman is in a new age fog...the worst kind of narcissism wrapped around vague language and at the end, an embarrassment to her.
Sorry, all, been away a few days....

Blue! Good to see you, thanks for dropping by!

Dorinda, I see your point. But I think that after that performance, the liklihood that Edwards would actually marry Rielle and put her in the position to parent his kids is probably nil. Part of me wonders whether her doing this interview was a way to "win back" Edwards, who if he is smart, has run away from her screaming.

Procopius, you have an excellent point. It is incredibly easy to get self-righteous about the "hussy" that "wrecked" the Edwards' happy home. And while Hunter's deluded justifications are indeed pathetic, she was right about one thing -- most of the interlopers to a marriage do not arrive of their own accord. They are invited in by one of the participants in the marriage.

ame i, thanks for stopping by. On the one hand, you're right of course, marital betrayal is pretty ugly. On the other hand, very often people who are quick to judge others' betrayals are not so far away from committing their own. It's that belief that we would never do something that leaves us vulnerable to actually doing it.

Wendy, thanks for stopping by! I think you raise some great points, but the one thing I think this interview demonstrated pretty conclusively to me is that Reille Hunter isn't any different from any other deluded woman who fell for an attractive married man who was all too willing to betray his wife. This affair is surprisingly ordinary.

AJ, Kathy, thanks!

Mary T, yeah, i was cringing a lot too. The more the crazy talk kept spewing out of her mouth, the more I had to ask herself, "does she really not hear herself?" I can only conclude that she's completely deluded, and she's bought her own hype so thoroughly that she honestly thinks we'd buy it too.