John Edwards. Ouch. Just the name makes me flinch. Having just written about Mark McGwire’s shortcomings in apologizing, John Edwards reappeared in the headlines. If you’re a professor, there’s nothing like an immediate opportunity to apply a theory!
In my last piece, I indicated that an apology for integrity issues should (1) avoid progressive revelation, (2) acknowledge the reason for the timing of the confession, (3) show visible evidence of a changed heart, (4) not attack those who raised the issues, and (5) embrace the consequences in a way that will prevent you from making a similar mistake. Doing this, of course, assumes that the apologizer is interested in a changed character.
John Edwards’s painful statement about his two-year-old daughter is an object lesson in how allowing progressive revelation can swamp the positive effects of taking any of the other steps. Stage one for Edwards was denying his affair with Rielle Hunter, referring to it as “tabloid trash.” Stage two was denying paternity of her child, stating that it was “not possible . . . because of the timing of events.” At the same time Edwards was, according to former aide Andrew Young, convincing Young to assume public responsibility for fathering the child. The final stage was his recent admission that he has been secretly supporting the child because he is, indeed, the father. We can safely say that John Edwards has done about as bad a job as any public figure in the last decade of providing progressive revelation of his culpability.
Second, he has not acknowledged the reason for revealing the information now, though most observers expect that the imminent release of Mr. Young’s tell-all book is what motivated Mr. Edwards’s written statement. In fact, personal advisor Harrison Hickman denied to NBC News that the book’s release motivated Edwards’s statement.
Having failed to follow my first two suggestions, it appears that people are not paying much attention to the final three. Despite his admissions, it is hard to show visible evidence of a changed heart when you are invisible to the public. He is not attacking those who raised the issues, but he has in the past. Actually he is, in a sense, embracing the consequences of his actions; perhaps most people believe this behavior could happen again, even if he is assuming responsibility for his child.
I recognize that it is hard to expect an attorney like John Edwards to follow my advice, when doing so might cause him to sacrifice legal protections. But the cost of his reticence is a jaded public’s resignation that they will always receive hollow apologies from those who betray their trust.
There is almost nothing more damaging to a reputation (and character revealing) than to see someone lie in order to cover up a lie that’s been discovered. I’m sad to see this so much in our nation’s leaders who should have learned these lessons of integrity at an early age. It’s also very humbling to see Edwards act this way because I can relate to every decision he made to not tell the truth. As a homeschooler during elementary and middle school, my parents were in direct control of my education but I had a lot of autonomy. In all that time I had one serious situation where I consistently lied that I was doing my math homework, when in fact I was copying the answers from the answer key. My parents trusted me so this went on for several months until my test scores went down significantly and the gig was up (but not after many more lies to excuse myself). I cringe with each lie that Edwards makes because I remember doing the same thing, and the terrible feelings/consequences that came with them. While that was a dark time in my life, I am thankful that my parents were able to correct me in the protection of our home and without serious repercussions for the future. God willing my Edwards experience of having the lies collapse on me has come and gone. His life is a reminder for us all that integrity and a reputation is difficult to build but easy to lose. I wonder if Edwards had a similar experience that I had in childhood but just never learned?
I, as a general rule, despise the “apologies” of politicians who have behaved inappropriately in their personal lives to the public. Not only to they reek of insencerity and damage control, they don’t ever seem to accomplish what I believe apologies are about: Repentance and a willingness to make amends to those who are harmed. There is no question that Edward’s actions hurt the American people, but I believe the real victims in this situation are Edward’s wife and his young daughter.
During the time of John’s affair, his wife was undergoing treatment for cancer. Not only did this man break the trust of the one person who was truly in his corner, he did it during the time that she needed his support the most and then covered his tracks for as long as possible. He didn’t do this to protect her from harm or for any noble reasons, but to minimize the negative effects on his career. His wife is not mentioned in his “apology” here. I wonder if he ever had the guts to truly, completely apologize to her in private. Even if he did, I don’t know that this sort of betrayal is something you can “make amends” from. He will have to live with this for the rest of his life.
However, I don’t know that his consequences can ever be as severe as those faced by this innocent child. Someday she will grow up , figure out how to google, and find out that Daddy tried to lie about her for the first two years of her life. Daddy treated her like a burden and tried to “blame” her on on friends, for the sake of a career. That is one emotional burden to handle.
In this apology John Edwards has shown no real , genuine repentance for his actions and has offered no remedy, or even a desire to try to make things better for those he has greviously harmed. This apology is not actually an apology, its just an admission of guilt.
Our public figures are too caught up with there “images.” I know that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, but scandals in politics are becoming a daily routine. In class we discussed the stages of a civilization and I believe that one of those stages was complacency or something along those lines. I absolutely believe that we are in that stage as a nation. We keep seeing public figures do these kinds of thing and apart from a mild reaction, no one really seems to care that much. With less than 50% of the population voting in our “supposed” democracy, nothing is going to change. People are still going to be elected based on who they know, what businesses they support, or how well they can trash their opponent. Until we, as a nation, start electing our officials based on integrity, morality, and honor, nothings going to change.
It is important to remember that Edwards was campaigning for President of the United States. I remember thinking his character and merit were questionable and not in line with what I seek in an elected national leader. Regardless, he got to the position to campaign for Presidency and had significant support- I believe the voter support rivaled Clinton’s- from Democrats. President Obama was more popular than Edwards, but had the candidates been different, we could easily have a President Edwards. Most people would agree that his actions have been unethical and many would say that he, as a person, is unethical.
Yet he networked and worked himself into a position to campaign for the Presidency. Given the constant disappointments and lies we receive from elected officials, it is difficult to trust in our political system. Jane Addams said that “social relations rest upon the will of an individual and are in reality regulated by a code of individual ethics.” Do the flaws we recognize in our country’s political system reflect individual ethics?
A small level of apathy exists in voters decision-making that convinces us that there is only so much we can do about politicians. They act in self-interest and there is nothing we can do about it. However, as individual voters and active participants in politics, we have the opportunity to examine a candidate’s history, character, acquaintences, and personal income. With proper due diligence, we, or a Consumer Reports of the political arena, can create an environment that rewards ethical judgment and behavior and systematically reform our political system. By holding ourselves more accountable, maybe we can make progress to hold the political system more accountable to individual and social ethics.