Last Friday, John Edwards finally fessed up to having an affair with Rielle Hunter in 2006, after reports surfaced in the National Enquirer. Over the last two decades, political sex scandals have become as common as nipple slips in Hollywood. Initially, we were fascinated and titillated by the little glimpses the media gave us into the private lives of our public figures. But after the media began inundating us with more scandals than we could stand, we stopped caring, we stopped judging, and we became utterly numb to the bad behaviors of these political leaders. In light of Edwards’ confession, do we even care anymore? Do we care that while his wife was battling cancer, he was out schtupping his campaign’s videographer? Or do we expect politicians like Edwards to behave badly?
The average American knows spouses cheat, but we’ve always expected our politicians to behave better. And, for a while, the media allowed us to believe they did just that (take JFK, for example). But as adultery has become more and more commonplace in our own lives, it’s become unrealistic and impossible to expect politicians not to give into temptation — just like some of the rest of us. Meanwhile, the media has stopped covering for politicians. So should we care when politicians cheat? Kind of. On the one hand, how a politician behaves in his or her personal life is a reflection of who he or she is as a person and how he or she will conduct his or herself as a leader. On the other hand, our focusing on how a politician behaves in his or her personal life diverts our focus away from the real issues — the economy, the war, health-care — and those are the things we really should care about.