What to do with Edwards?
What's the appropriate punishment for John Edwards?
I assume everyone here knows the Big Story and that there's a large overlap between people who read my blog and people who have read The Politician. But the facet of the moment is: the Justice Department is about ready to file charges, specifically that he illegally used campaign money for hush money for the Baby Mama. I don't think that's the exact wording of the charges.
Anyway, reports are that Team Edwards is trying to work out a plea deal.
None of this is meant as a dig at anyone who supported him. It was all so brilliantly and carefully hidden from us hicks here in earnest sincere Caucus Land. It took the cynicism of the National Enquirer to tear down the facade.
But I have a question. How can you punish John Edwards?
There will be some symbolic legal penalty, I'm sure, whether it's after a trial or instead of one. But we're stuck with a cliche here: there's nothing the legal system can do that actually "punishes" John Edwards worse than what he has already done to himself. That's an observation, not an excuse.
Look at the options:
Disbar him? Maybe, which is probably why Edwards seems eager to avoid a felony charge. But that is, as the lawyers say, a moot point. If your freedom or money was on the line would you hire John Edwards? Jury: "Well, his lawyer's guilty, so he must be guilty too." His political influence is worse than zero, it's an active negative, so he won't get a corporate lobbying type gig.
And grunt legal work isn't worth his time. Can you imagine the guy who, even as the news of the affair and the baby broke STILL imagined himself as Attorney General, sitting in an office drawing up contracts and wills? Edwards is so rich you can't fine him enough to hurt him, without said fine being disproportionate to the crime.
Community service for life? He might actually like that. But that does him more good than harm. It might be what he does on his own, which thus makes it Not Punishment.
Wasting a jail cell seems like overkill, though others have done time for campaign finance fraud. He's not exactly at risk to re-offend, since it's a reasonably safe bet he'll never again GET a campaign contribution, let alone have the opportunity to misuse one.
And even hard time doesn't damage his reputation further. Even any facts that may come out at a trial are less damning than the facts we already know. The legal issue seems to be whether the money in question was a campaign donation or a "personal gift." Which even makes it worse; with all his money, he had to use someone else's money to bribe his girlfriend so he could hide it from his dying wife. Rumor has it the next edition of Merriam-Webster will have a picture of Edwards next to the definition of cad.
Richard Nixon managed to at least partially rehabilitate himself, to a greater degree than which Edwards seems capable. In part that's because Nixon's achievents, like them or not, were proportionally greater.
And with Nixon as the only possible exception, no one has risen so high in American politics only to fall so hard for reasons of his own bad judgment than John Edwards. That's the punishment, really.