Even as John Edwards finally admits he fathered his mistress’ child, analysts have already settled on who’s to blame – Edwards for trying so long to hide his involvement with Rielle Hunter (see here); Hunter for being “a slut” who spoke ill of Edwards’ wife (see here and here); and the “hypocritical” liberal media for seeming to ignore Edwards’ indiscretions while focusing so luridly on Sarah Palin’s (see here). But any recounting of Edwards’ behavior should link it to that of other politicians who helped set the standard for sexual misbehavior – a standard of arrogance and thoughtlessness that allowed them to breeze ahead, even as they lied and obfuscated and hoped their denials would buy them time until the public forgot or no longer cared.
Bill Clinton, of course, would be in this camp, as would the serving California governor – the man who, according to many accounts (see here and here) has a long history of forcing himself on women who aren’t his wife. “The Gropenator” is one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nicknames for good reason: Starting in the 1970s, he’s alleged to have helped himself to the flesh of young strangers. In 1975, it was a woman named E. Laine Stockton, who was sitting on an exercise bench at an L.A. gym when Schwarzenegger reportedly came from behind and reached into her shirt. In 2000, it was a woman named Anna Richardson, who was interviewing Schwarzenegger in London when he is said to have pressed his hand and fingers on her chest.
The Los Angeles Times detailed these allegations in a front-page story that appeared just days before California’s 2003 election for governor. Schwarzenegger, who won handily, suffered no major political fallout from his accusers’ charges (Richardson sued him for libel but settled the case out-of-court in 2006) and when his second term ends next year, Schwarzenegger may go back to making movies or run a foundation or write books – all of which will pay him lucrative sums of money.
Edwards undoubtedly hoped his “mistress problem” would go away when the National Enquirer first reported on it in October of 2007. Then, Edwards was running for the presidency of the United States. Then, his spokesman said the allegations that Edwards cheated on his cancer-stricken wife were “false, absolute nonsense.” Turns out they weren’t. When he had the chance, should Edwards had confessed a la Clinton? Perhaps. Clinton suffered relatively little political damage over his exposed extramarital liaison. (Granted, he was already ensconced in the White House.) Instead, Edwards took the Schwarzenegger route: Deny and wait – a kind of political rope-a-dope that (if successful) wears down your opponent into nothingness. It worked for Schwarzenegger but not for Edwards, who joins the list of political has-beens (i.e., Mark Sanford, Mark Foley, et. al) who thought they had promising futures – and did, before it all came crashing down around them.