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Posted at 4:12 PM ET, 01/ 7/2011

Of course John Edwards isn't engaged to Rielle Hunter. I hope.

By Alexandra Petri

Of course John Edwards isn't engaged to Rielle Hunter!

The thing that I miss most about the halcyon years before John Edwards burst onto the national scene was the ability to ignore headlines from the National Enquirer. It's a sad statement about Edwards that he has become the Enquirer's unofficial beat. It says that he has slipped entirely beyond the pale of what is credible, sensible, or even remotely good behavior. This isn't news. His reputation was lost years ago when the Hunter scandal first reared its head. He's a pariah.

But he seems to be the only one.

John Edwards (in spite of polls that suggest Levi Johnston is slightly less popular than he is, in some constituencies) seems to be the one perpetually unredeemed and irredeemable figure of our political times. Ted Haggard is getting a reality show. Eliot Spitzer? He's on CNN. But John Edwards is consigned to the realm of the eternal punchline. He's the sort of individual you only bring up to ruin the mood at weddings or destroy people's perfectly good days.

Of course, he has gone out of his way to deserve it.

But the fact that he's alone in this is sort of shocking. To get there, John Edwards had to be the ultimate limit. His life implies that the American people will forgive you anything -- unless, while running for president, you cheat on your cancer-stricken wife and lie about it. That's an incredibly low bar.

And I worry it might move lower. Now, when Elizabeth's memory is fresh, everyone is indignant at the Enquirer's report, lacing their Twitter rants and regular rants with vitriol. But give it a year. Give it two years.

I would love to say that Edwards is respecting his wife's memory because he has seen the error of his ways and is not going to trouble us longer. But given what he's been capable of before, I highly doubt it. His real affair was not with Ms. Hunter but with the spotlight itself and the irresistible allure of its fickle beam. Given his tenacious attention-seizing tendencies, only a man who sensed that some form of comeback was not beyond the realm of possibility would have conducted himself so well so far.

So what's happening to the Enquirer now is what would have happened to the boy who cried wolf, had he survived. He never set out to be the person who informs the community accurately about the presence of wolves. He was just amusing himself by provoking a response. But after he once pointed out an actual wolf, people have started believing him -- just in case.

The Enquirer was wise to assume we'd mistake this sort of thing for fact. Sure, the story might be false now. But give it time.

By Alexandra Petri  | January 7, 2011; 4:12 PM ET
Categories:  Epic Failures, Petri, Worst Things Ever  | Tags:  America, John Edwards, oops  
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Is that possible that Hunter was the one who kept feeding the news to National Enquirer? She was the one who let the NE know about their meeting at the Hilton Hotel etc, possible? How could they find out otherwise? NE was right about everything until Edwards accepted that he was the father of the child. After that NE has been wrong about the news. They reported about the engagement last year but wasn't true. I think Hunter was up to something. More money maybe? or more attention to herself? Or she was blackmailing him to marry her, otherwise she would testify agaist him in court? He seems to put himself in the corner. She has upper hand. What a sad story for the children.

Posted by: victor514 | January 9, 2011 4:23 AM | Report abuse

A National Enquirer headline's sole purpose is to sell more papers. If it happens to be true, well so much the better.

But why do we all hate John Edwards so much? I think it's because both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama supporters saw him as a spoiler. Plus, Republicans hate him because he's a Democrat. And nobody likes John Edwards enough to pretend he didn't do it.

None of this has anything to do with John Edwards having an affair. Politicians have affairs for the same reason that dogs lick their... ahem. Because they can.

But Enquiring minds want to know why the story about Sarah Palin's alleged affair with her husband's business partner didn't sell more papers?

I think it's because the people who care about her refuse to believe it. And the people who believe it don't care.

Posted by: divtune | January 10, 2011 2:08 AM | Report abuse

It has to be said, Edwards has so inverted all rules of fair play and morality that he'd actually become more popular if he dumped Camilla Parker-Bowles's sister and recruited an age-appropriate girlfriend (that is, 30 or so). He's a widower and a single father now, he should play that "Sleepless in Seattle" card full-on.

I bet Michael Vick would poll more favorably than Edwards. The best thing Vick did was plead guilty and take his medicine. He did his two years in federal prison and went out and got his life back in order. Even his sentencing Judge, Henry Hudson, is now a fan, "He's an example of how the system can work...He's having a terrific season," Hudson said in an interview. "I'm very happy for him. I wish him the best of success."

So this NC federal grand jury may actually benefit Edwards if (assuming he's indicted), he pleads guilty to a crime, does his time and comes out a humbled man. That's the only way John Edwards can reboot his image (hmmm, maybe that's the time he should dump Bea Arthur for someone much younger). In other words: take his medicine, he can be the white Michael Vick. Skate on all charges, he can be the white OJ Simpson.

Posted by: beowulf_ | January 13, 2011 1:41 AM | Report abuse

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