John Edwards not guilty: "I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong."

The Golden Boy no longer, John Edwards escapes prison, but he still has to live with himself and what he did. Photo: John Edwards speaks after the trial with daughter Cate and father AP

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2012 — It has ended for the Golden Boy: A North Carolina jury has found former Senator John Edwards not guilty on one count and deadlocked on the remaining five charges, leading the judge to declare a mistrial on those counts.

Right after the verdict, Edwards stood on the courthouse steps with his daughter Cate and his parents and made an emotional mea culpa about his moral failings and expressing his deep love for the four-year-old child he fathered with his mistress.

While not admitting to have done anything illegal, he did acknowledge that having the affair as his wife was dying of cancer was an “awful” and “wrong” thing:

“No one else is responsible for my sins. I am responsible. If I want to find the person responsible for my sins, I don’t have to go further than a mirror. It was me and me alone.”

Can Edwards Find Redemption?

Yet he seems to think there is a second chance for him, saying, “I don’t think God is through with me. He still thinks there are good things I can do.”

Edwards was originally charged with six felony counts of accepting about $1 million in illegal and therefore unreported donations from two extraordinarily wealthy donors during his 2008 presidential campaign at a time when individual donations were limited to $2,300. Prosecutors say the money was used to set up an elaborate plan to hide his pregnant mistress even as he ran for president.

If he had been convicted on all counts, Edwards would have faced 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

Now Edwards, 58, faces a future without bright prospects, a pariah among politicians, brought low by his own hubris, a candidate who believed his own press releases. He will be remembered as the husband who cheated on Elizabeth Edwards, a beloved figure in political life as she fought and then died from cancer, and as the father who emotionally devastated his young family with his selfish, amorous  antics.

The two John Edwards AP

Can Edwards find redemption? Others who have fallen have done so in the past. But what made his cheatin’ heart so despicable was that he bought into his charmed life, believing he was above the rules that guide ordinary mortals, that he could  have it all.

It appears Edwards will continue to live within the bosom of his family. His daughter Cate was by his side every day at the trial, a stalwart supporter, giving him strength through some very tough days in court. So he has found forgiveness there. Whether he will find the strength and grace to rebuild his life and his character is another matter.

Supporters Blinded by the Edwards Charm

For those of us who believed in John Edwards’ populist message when he ran as Senator John Kerry’s running mate and then in 2008 as a presidential candidate, it is harder for us to forgive. I for one was an ardent supporter of his (before I switched to Hillary Clinton and then to Barack Obama) and I was enthralled by his message of a fairer America for all Americans. He spoke up for the middle class and the poor, those people as seen as leeches on society by too many politicians.

Yes, Edwards was a millionaire, who made his money as lawyer who sued on behalf of his clients, often for people who had no money to pay a lawyer, and he was so good and so charming in the courtroom that he usually won and won big. Yes, his mansion was way too big for a man of the people, but we forgave him because we bought the message.

To me, he symbolized hope and change more than Obama and Clinton combined. He was the real deal. While the other candidates had struggled to make good and had a tough climb up, Edwards was born into a dirt-poor Southern family but with grit, intelligence, and, yes, no doubt his good looks helped, made it to the top of his profession and then to the Senate.

After the revelations of how shabbily he had treated Elizabeth (a role model for so many women both as a woman and a breast cancer fighter) with his tawdry, tabloid affair with Rielle Hunter and the baby he fathered with her, I was stunned as were so many of his supporters. This is the same John Edwards who during this same time renewed the vows of his 30-year marriage to Elizabeth. How could he act so callously? How dare he?

And then to learn that Edwards was charged with using campaign donors to finance both the support and cover up of this affair, the more sordid the story became and the greater the disappointment for the rest of us. For many of us, it was as bad as learning that another American hero, President John F. Kennedy, was a philanderer. JFK was untouchable, unassailable, another Golden Boy, till the real man was revealed after his death.

Lessons to Be Learned from the Saga of the Golden Boy

But John Edwards’ actions were perhaps even more egregious because of the country’s admiration for Elizabeth and we have been thus less forgiving.

Elizabeth Edwards campaigning for John

Most of all, as so many others were, I was appalled that he had the chutzpah to endanger the welfare of this country with his flagrant disregard for morality. As president, he would have been ripe for blackmail. The scenarios of how that could happen and the disastrous results that were possible boggle the mind. And we came so very close to having John Edwards as our president, a very scary thought.

And so that chapter is now closed with the verdict. However, there are lessons to be learned here both for candidates and for voters.

For candidates: Don’t get too big for your britches.

Sure you are at the top of your game, and we hang on your every word and gesture, we admire you, we name our kids after you, and we throng your rallies. You wield power and the powerful court you, but you are not above the rules of decency and morality. You can’t cheat on your wife or husband much less your income taxes. And don’t believe everything you hear about you or buy into the adoration of the crowds. Stay anchored to the ground and don’t be swept away by your own rhetoric.

For voters: Be passionate, love your candidates, and think they can save the country, but be realistic.

This candidate is a mere mortal, just like you, with all the flaws that go with being human. And remember, a lot of what candidates say, they do believe, and lots use lofty words to get elected, sometimes even stretching the truth. So vet your candidate and don’t be blinded in the fervor of the moment. There is no savior out there.

Candidates are just men and women, with huge egos, running for office from county council to president. You don’t run for office if you don’t have a strong ego. It’s a prerequisite. Keep that in mind and you will be more critical of your own candidate and demand more of him or her.

So maybe John Edwards was good for something after all, making us realize that most Golden Boys usually turn out to be iron pyrite: fool’s gold.

To contact Catherine Poe, see above. Her work appears in Ad Lib at the Communities @ She can also be heard on Democrats for America’s Future. She is also a contributor to broadcast, print and online media.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Catherine Poe

Catherine was named one of the top Progressives in Maryland along with Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congresswoman Donna Edwards. She has been a guest of President Obama in the Rose Garden.

As past president of Long Island NOW, she worked to reform women's prisons in New York, open the construction trades to women, change laws to safeguard battered women, and protect the rights of rape victims. 

Long active in Democratic politics, she served as the presidentof the Talbot Democrats in Maryland for six years and fought to getthe Health Care Reform bill passed.

Catherine has been published in a diverse range of newspapers and magazines, including Newsday, Star Democrat, Rocky Mountain News, Yellowstone News, and the Massachusetts Review.

If Catherine has learned anything over the years it is that progressive change does not come easily, but in baby steps. 

Contact Catherine Poe


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