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August 10, 2008

Comments

I guess a good rule of thumb is, if you're going to cheat on your wife, don't do it with a crazy person.

I think you've got the beginnings of a new political bestiary or somesuch. Yuck.

There's a lot more about Edwards that can and will come out even though he's got an A-list of political fixers working with him. (Do a search on "Fred Baron"). It's not over.

I don't see anything wrong with Pawlenty's joke, although jokes like that are not the norm in politics.

von: I'm not sure I see anything wrong with it, although if I were his wife I would have cringed. I just thought it was a pretty strange thing to say.

Okay. It was one thing -- a trashy, tone-lowering thing -- to link and excerpt the Rielle piece in the Edwards thread. To front page it here? I'd have thought it was beneath you.

Nell: why?

von: I'm not sure I see anything wrong with it, although if I were his wife I would have cringed. I just thought it was a pretty strange thing to say.

I agree it was strange -- but I don't know about a cringing wife. Presumably she has a sense of humor that at least tolerates his.

The thing that bothers me the most about it is the fact that he felt he needed to preface it with "And I jokingly say ...." If you're going the Rodney Dangerfield route, you gotta do it deadpan.

I don't get Nell's comment at all.

Because you haven't seemed to revel in lurid trash before.

When dealing with contentious actual issues, your (deserved) reputation is for pretty scrupulous fairness, articulating the other side's best case, etc.

It's not an approach that I associate with "ooh, look at this cringe-inducing stuff" and schadenfreude -- but electoral politics clearly brings that out in you.

@von: I thought the Edwards thread would have been adequate to deal with anything related. More is prurient wallowing.

It's a beautiful day here, I should be outside.

Nell, she was talking about things that make her cringe. So she wasn't "revel"ing, she was wincing. Writhing. Face-in-hands. That kind of thing. Bemoaning the horror, because misery loves company. That's how I took it.

And even though I have a mild migraine headache and am quite nauseated enough, thank you, the fact that someone else finds this creepy is worth the exposure to the creepy. It reminds me of that SNL skit where someone at the dinner table says "Ugh! This milk is sour! Here, taste it.." and they all taste it, and all nearly puke. The unity is worth it.

I was going to disagree wih Nell, which is easy for me because I was never an Edwards supporter, but on reflection the details about Hunter's private nuttiness aren't really any of my business. The issue is Edwards's incredibly poor judgement and that he chose to risk the whole party knowing the press were on the right track, and as Nell points out we've covered those issues. Hunter being a bit wacko might make Edwards's judgement even worse, but not by so dramatic a degree that it's really worth digging into his failings for a second time in three days. It just distracts from the main point of the thread. And the Pawlenty line is just a ham-handed self-deprecating joke. Not great for a potential veep, but hardly worth psychoanalysing, I'd think.

Ugh! This milk is sour! Here, taste it..

No thanks.

Does anyone else think that Edward's revelations about his promiscuity was planned to come out at the exact time Obama was going on vacation? I think it is/was a good move, in that the blow up should have receded by the time Obama returns to the national stage.

Moe99, I'd think the Olympics would be a bigger factor in the timing.

I’ve been content to sit back and watch the wide range of opinions about the Edwards story play out in these comment threads, both out of an inability to know where to start and because a number of people were saying things that captured, or clarified, my reaction. (Not to sound like a broken record, but thanks especially to Russell.)

But Nell's comments make me want to jump in here.

I have led an unconventional, often idiotic and foolish relationship life myself, and a surprisingly adventurous (and risk-taking) one for the "good girl" I was raised to be. (Well, it’s not so surprising really, but never mind that for now.) The number of times I have asked myself, as an older adult, “What were you thinking?” is as the number of stars in the sky.

So I have some sympathy with human “failings” in this realm, though I also agree with Russell’s point that “once you suit up, it's not just about you anymore” and can see faulting Edwards on those grounds.

In some ways I agree that what goes on in other people’s bedrooms is none of my business (and conversely), but there’s another sense in which (as usual) it’s more complicated than that.

Here’s a passage from the Prologue to Phyllis’s Rose’s Parallel Lives:

In regard to marriage, we need more and more complex plots. I reveal my literary bias in saying I believe we need literature, which, by allowing us to experience more fully, to imagine more fully, enables us to live more freely. In a pragmatic way, we can profit from an immersion in the nineteenth-century novel which took the various stages of marriage as its central subject.

We tend to talk informally about other people’s marriages and to disparage our own talk as gossip. But gossip may be the beginning of moral inquiry, the low end of the platonic ladder which leads to self-understanding. We are desperate for information about how other people live because we want to know how to live ourselves, yet we are taught to see this desire as an illegitimate form of prying. If marriage is, as Mill suggested, a political experience, then discussion of it ought to be taken as seriously as talk about national elections. Cultural pressure to avoid such talk as “gossip” ought to be resisted, in a spirit of good citizenship.

In a funny way, the essay hilzoy linked to -- sleazy, superior, innuendo-laced as it was -- has complexified my sense of who Edwards is and what this story is about. I don’t think the Edwards family should have paid the price they’re paying (helicopters over the house etc.), but I am also not ready to say that we should know nothing about this story, or that there is any easy answer to the question of how, where, and when to compartmentalize (e.g. politics / private life) and when not.

As a footnote, I hadn’t remembered til I dug out the book and reread the passage that Rose mentions “national elections” in it, not just marriage / relationships. That’s just a little serendipity. In the Edwards story we get to talk about both. ;)

Why is "prurient wallowing" a bad thing? If it's an invasion of privacy, ok, and I would have preferred that this whole Edwards thing had not come to light - I don't think it's anything we have a right to know, as the public, even if he were the nominee or president, believe me.

But now that it is out there, why is it bad for me to examine this piece of flotsam, try and figure out how it fits in with my view of life, as I would any other scrap? And I don't even consider the bit about Hunter to even be really about Edwards any more, but a fascinatingly creepy view of new age narcissism and self-justification. Because it's ugly I can't look, or I'm a ghoul? Does this mean I can't read Nixonland?

I don't get it. Respecting privacy is one thing, and I've never read anybody's diary or mail, but once it's public I have to be not interested? Why?

Von's right, though the full Rodney Dangerfield goes beyond self-deprecation to places a politician can't go.

My wife decided she likes to talk to me during sex. So she calls me on the phone.

Another footnote.

CaseyL wrote in the "Not a fun post to write" thread: America is incredibly infantile about sex. Ours is also a deeply judgmental culture. Infantilism and judgmentalism don't go together very well.

Amen to that, and it's a caution to keep in mind in contemplating Phyllis Rose's suggestion that "gossip" can be "good citizenship." But I would hate to think that people couldn't have intelligent conversations about any particular topic just because other people have stupid or harmful conversations about that same topic. If we had to follow that rule, there wouldn't be much left to talk about.

"Moe99, I'd think the Olympics would be a bigger factor in the timing."

I think it's clear that John Edwards started the war in South Ossestia to cover his admissions.

I think it's clear that John Edwards started the war in South Ossestia to cover his admissions.

And the timing of Bernie Mac's death is pretty suspicious too, I have to say.

But now that it is out there, why is it bad for me to examine this piece of flotsam, try and figure out how it fits in with my view of life, as I would any other scrap?

I don't really have any problem with YOU doing any of that or with you and your friends and family doing that. But the issue here isn't "a few people are privately discussing this in their own homes"; the issue is that this is going to dominate our national discourse because the media are going to harp on it for all the wrong reasons. And that national "conversation" won't illuminate or elucidate a damn thing, except how broken our national discourse is.

That doesn't mean I think that the media should never have covered this story: they should have. But they're not just covering the story anymore: they're obsessing over it, fixating on it, speculating wildly, trying to draw all sorts of inferences from it that make no sense, etc. The story titillates them, and so it gets airtime far out of proportion to its actual importance. That obsessive focus really bothers me, all the more so because it accomplishes nothing and is undertaken for purely venal motives.

Now, in between "the media" (should not be talking about this extensively) and "a single individual" (OK to discuss extensively) lies something like Obsidian Wings or Hilzoy. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I'm inclined to think that if Hilzoy or OW wants to have a serious discussion about this topic, that's great. Hilzoy, unfortunately, does not set the parameters of our national discourse and moreover, she is capable of informed elucidating discussion. The fact that the media is going to go insane over this makes me more hesitant to support random blog conversations about it. What the media is doing is wrong but there's nothing I can do about that so some of my outrage gets misplaced on smaller discussion sources. At those times, I feel a bit like what Nell wrote.

To analogize the point I was making above:

People taking pictures is totally awesome. It is great to take pictures of your friends and family so that you can preserve those memories and revisit them in darker days. Wonderful. Everyone should do it.

But it is not great to use photography to systematically harass celebrities by following their every movement and hounding them relentlessly. That sort of thing might be acceptable if it benefited society in some brilliant way, say by curing cancer, but it doesn't. And so this otherwise very good thing, namely people taking pictures, actually strikes me as sick and twisted in this scenario because of the context in which it used and the ends to which it is applied.

Edwards' had sex with a woman who apparently believed he could be the next Gandhi, and told him so. Sex is complicated and physical attraction frequently trumps all manner of misgivings about the people to whom we find ourselves attracted.

That said, she evidently told him he could be the next Gandhi or Martin Luther King. That he was an "old soul" who could act as an avatar.

And he slept with her.

That's relevant. It's just relevant to any judgment of his character. No denying it.

Turbulence, I agree with you about The Media - the one that blares at everyone, the one you cannot escape. Unlike you, though, I am very sure that OW does not fall onto that side of the fence. You cannot not escape OW; you have to seek it out. This distinction is the same one, fwiw, that I saw as applying to That New Yorker Cover - if that cartoon had been on the inside vs. the front, no controversy, intended point delivered to intended audience, no problem.

Note that this is very far from the "if people are interested in it, then it's just fine to go on and on and on and on about it, because that's all that matters" defense.

Now about your metaphor: paparazzi stalking celebrities is an invasion of privacy, which I've already denounced as bad [not that you were replying solely to me], and which does not apply here because the toothpaste is out of the tube.

Also it doesn't illustrate the private-discussion- vs.-media-bullhorn issue in your first comment, that I can see. I mean, if I hounded Christian Bale, took pix, and then discussed them privately with only my nearest and dearest I think that would still be bad, just on a smaller scale.

But the issue here isn't ...

Turbulence, if you really mean that what you go on to write about is "the issue I care about most here," then fine. If you mean that there's nothing about the Edwards story that matters except what you define as mattering, then I beg to differ. The issue, for me, is whatever strikes me as most interesting or important, and until someone bans my comments, I'm going with that.

What I wrote above applies: that we shouldn't have to shut up about something just because other people -- even at the level of our "national discourse" -- approach it in a way that is both infantile and judgmental. In the face of the stupidity of our national discourse, remaining silent about any topic the media oversimplifies means censoring ourselves into silence. Bringing some respect for complexity, messiness, gray areas, and nuance to topics the topic of the day can be a valuable antidote to the usual oversimplification and sensationalism.

Come to think of it, that's one of the things Obsidian Wings does so well, that makes me keep coming around to see what people are saying here on any given day.

I totally agree with you about the harassment of celebrities, but as I said before, I don't think we have to -- or can -- draw a line that attempts to fight a losing battle against people's curiosity about other people. On the other hand, I do think it's important to fight a constant battle (I can't bring myself to admit it might be a losing one) against oversimplification, infantilism, and judgmentalism.

JanieM:
"Bringing some respect for complexity, messiness, gray areas, and nuance to topics the topic of the day can be a valuable antidote to the usual oversimplification and sensationalism."
ooh oooh ooh- that too! Not hurting - helping!

Really, it's like Obama's "More Perfect Union" speech [the race one] - the antidote to people being racial kneejerks is to look at the topic even closer, to fine tooth comb it to the best of your ability, if you are up to it. Not to not talk about it. That never makes it go away. And people are ALWAYS going to be bug-eyed about cheating politicians. So yeah - helicopters above their houses = bad, but trying to figure it all out with other people, publicly = fine and good.

JanieM:
"Bringing some respect for complexity, messiness, gray areas, and nuance to topics the topic of the day can be a valuable antidote to the usual oversimplification and sensationalism."
ooh oooh ooh- that too! Not hurting - helping!

Really, it's like Obama's "More Perfect Union" speech [the race one] - the antidote to people being racial kneejerks is to look at the topic even closer, to fine tooth comb it to the best of your ability, if you are up to it. Not to not talk about it. That never makes it go away. And people are ALWAYS going to be bug-eyed about cheating politicians. So yeah - helicopters above their houses = bad, but trying to figure it all out with other people, publicly = fine and good.

sorry! they told me my page had expired so I hit the back button..

Phoebe -- it seems like we've been at least partly on the same page about this, but honestly I can't tell if your 7:38 comment is sarcastic or serious. ooh oooh ooh- that too! Not hurting - helping! sounds sarcastic, the rest sounds serious.

Ah, well, one thing I definitely agree on: Not to not talk about it. That never makes it go away. I would even strengthen it: That makes it never go away. Stuff that can't be talked about festers, gets worse, seeps out and wreaks havoc. Which is partly what got us (collectively) into this mess about sex and relationships, perhaps.

Then again, there does come a point where a topic has been beaten to death, or (at least for me in my personal life) where I'm stuck and would do well to go for a walk or shovel some snow or do anything else that changes my focus and reminds me of the bigger picture. Maybe this is my overlap with Turbulence's point: that there comes such a point in the broader discourse as well. Harder to enforce the going for a walk remedy in that case, though.....

"Not hurting - helping! sounds sarcastic,"

It doesn't read that way to me at all.

Edwards' had sex with a woman who apparently believed he could be the next Gandhi, and told him so.

Then shouldn't they gave gone to bed and not had sex?

As long as they're doing their jobs, are not involved in any illegal activity and don't stretch the boundaries of hypocrisy beyond the usual (e.g. someone denouncing homosexuals while having homosexual affairs) the love-life of politicians should be off-limits. JFK and RFK had affairs, Schröder was divorced 3 times, Fischer 4 times, Mitterand had a semi-official mistrees - yet the press never made that an issue.

Turbulence, if you really mean that what you go on to write about is "the issue I care about most here," then fine.

I often write comments with an implicit "in my opinion" preface, and if that wasn't obvious to you, I apologize. I think there's plenty of context in the rest of the comment to demonstrate that I'm offering my own opinion (in the course of sorting out why I feel sympathetic to Nell's comment), but if it wasn't clear, then I'm sorry.

If you mean that there's nothing about the Edwards story that matters except what you define as mattering, then I beg to differ.

Um, I don't mean that. That meaning strikes me as patently ridiculous.

The issue, for me, is whatever strikes me as most interesting or important, and until someone bans my comments, I'm going with that.

Um, OK? I don't really care to be honest. Again, I never had any interest in censoring you or telling you what you should care about, so the mere fact of your speaking or having opinions doesn't really bother me.

What I wrote above applies: that we shouldn't have to shut up about something just because other people -- even at the level of our "national discourse" -- approach it in a way that is both infantile and judgmental.

Sure. I'm not asking you to shut up.

On the other hand, I think that I personally should shut up about topics that are really stupid and pointless and that don't advance anything. In my experience (yours may differ) such topics correlate very well with media fixation. I suspect that other people might live happier lives if they didn't leap to extensive discussions of truly ridiculous stories that the media obsess about, but I'm not going to tell anyone else how they should live their lives in that regard.

Again, the main point I was trying to make above is that it was wrong for the media to fixate endlessly on this story for days on end. If they had given it reasonable coverage (say, discussion for a day or two), then I suspect that many people who are disturbed by all the public discussion on blogs would not be as disturbed.

In the face of the stupidity of our national discourse, remaining silent about any topic the media oversimplifies means censoring ourselves into silence. Bringing some respect for complexity, messiness, gray areas, and nuance to topics the topic of the day can be a valuable antidote to the usual oversimplification and sensationalism.

Really? Aren't there some things that are just none of our damn business? I mean, if the national media reported the details of a messy divorce of some totally inconsequential person because it was unusually titillating, what would we gain by having a long conversation? Would we perhaps discover that people get divorces or are weird? Such insights would be tremendously valuable.

Nell: I’m not sure what you mean. I think that the coverage here has been just about right. Even if he hadn’t slept with her, the fact that such a flake was part of his campaign would have been news. It was poor judgment any way you look at it.

The bottom line is that he could be the nominee right now. I can’t think of anything more irresponsible, and that doesn’t even account for the fact that his wife is dying as we speak!

How is Hilzoy supposed to win? I assure you that I would have given her grief if she had avoided mentioning it at all. I credit her for addressing it. And publius. Unlike many on the right who chose to just ignore inconvenient facts - they addressed it head on. They have my utmost respect for that.

Gary, if what you quoted is all Phoebe had written, it would have been less likely to make me wonder if it had been sarcastic. But that's not all she wrote, nor is it all I quoted. The point of oooh ooh- that too! wasn't clear, at least to me, and on "paper."

The rest of Phoebe's comment makes me think you're right, but I'm not always good at reading between the lines, so to speak. The trials of being a literal-minded person....

Now about your metaphor: paparazzi stalking celebrities is an invasion of privacy, which I've already denounced as bad [not that you were replying solely to me], and which does not apply here because the toothpaste is out of the tube.

I actually had in mind less paparazzi and more the idea that if celebrities showed up at a popular tourist attraction, they'd be mobbed by hordes of vacationers taking pictures of them and posting them on the intertubes. Look! Paris Hilton swimming at the beach! Matt Damon buying a hot dog! Daniel Craig walking into a restroom! Oprah building a sand castle! I mean, none of that is really illegal, right? And if each tourist only snaps one picture, have they even done anything wrong? How bad could one picture be? But the sum total effect is that celebrities can't really have normal lives in public.

Now, I'm not sure how often this sort of thing happens, but it seems that celebrities can't really get any peace when near tourists even sans paparazzi.

Also it doesn't illustrate the private-discussion- vs.-media-bullhorn issue in your first comment, that I can see. I mean, if I hounded Christian Bale, took pix, and then discussed them privately with only my nearest and dearest I think that would still be bad, just on a smaller scale.

See above regarding the discussion about which pebble was responsible for the avalanche. I'm sure that you would definitely not be the pebble that started it; I mean, if we put you with all the other photographers that snapped pictures before you on that day, I'm sure we wouldn't have a pile of photographers. For a pile, you'd have to add several more. I'm sure. ;-)

@OCSteve: What I mean is what I said: the Edwards thread would have been adequate to deal with anything related. More is prurient wallowing.

...Mitterand had a semi-official mistrees - yet the press never made that an issue.

Vive la France!

Between Hillary's musings a few days ago about the benefits of Greek drama and catharsis, and the more recent news of the coming Atlantic story on their dramatic e-mails, I have to give credence to Al Giordano's speculation that Hillary's job this week is to draw press attention off McCain while Obama vacations. Whatever bold, headline-grabbing moves McCain might make, more Clinton drama will push him below the fold.
Edwards serendipitously adding in a sex scandal I don't think was deliberate.

"The trials of being a literal-minded person...."

I'm famously literal-minded, myself. I wasn't attempting to chastise you; I merely was venturing that my reading is that she wasn't being sarcastic. I certainly could be wrong, but she simply seemed to me to be expressing enthusiasm for her agreement.

"...and that doesn’t even account for the fact that his wife is dying as we speak!"

We're all dying as we speak, he observed cheerfully. Some of us just get to it sooner, but, also, any of us could have it happen in ten minutes. Some of us just have lower odds, and yet no timing is certain beyond that we'll all eventually get there.

(Maybe in future generations this will be less or not true, but not very soon.)

JanieM: Not sarcastic at all! Really I think I was literally clapping and squealing.

I just came back from seeing Pineapple Express, which was fantastic! Also not sarcastic.

Phoebe--- :)

I hope this scandal finishes Edwards, not because I want an adultery-free White House, but because the more that comes out the worse his judgement appears. The Hunter interview made it clear that this relationship was built on outrageous levels of flattery: her telling Edwards that he was an unrealized secular saint, a Gandhi in the making, etc. And given the risks he took, he must have bought into this big time. (Not to mention the astrology! I do not want a president who takes seriously the ideas of a person who says "what's your sign?")

It's clear that part of the catastrophe of the Bush presidency was that the president only listened to those who flattered his self-esteem, and shut out those who questioned him (Colin Powell). We do not want another president who is that susceptible to flattery.

And the timing of Bernie Mac's death is pretty suspicious too, I have to say.

[crackpot conspiracy theory]Bernie Mac was killed to prevent him from doing an upcoming show. His partner in that show, Isaac hayes, was killed to make doubly sure.[/cct]

Sad to hear about both Mac and Hayes.

"The trials of being a literal-minded person...."

They're going to put you on trial for that? I would have thought they'd have trouble getting a grand jury to indict you . . .

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