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Emma McLaughlin Headshot

Philandering Public Men of America (and Michael Vick) Meet Me at Camera Three

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We have a friend who, heeding endless pleading from her toddlers, took them to Disney World. Her husband -- Kenny -- spent the trip going on about riding Space Mountain. He was still grumbling as they piled their suitcases back onto the monorail at which point she turned to him and said, "This trip is not about you, Kenny."

The line has become shorthand between my writing partner and I when a novel's narratives starts serving our own fascinations over that of our readers. When one of us is grappling with a personal issue and the other has a logistical concern. When someone on the team generally needs a memo that she's up her own ass.

So there we were, watching the freshly-acquitted John Edwards' speech on the steps of the courthouse. For those who missed it, John would really like us to know how proud he is of the jurors who let him off, of the daughter who has stood by his side despite how much she loves him, of his parents who drove to court every day despite how well they raised him. And the fact that he knows he's responsible. He knows it. He knows he needs "look no further than the mirror" to find out who is responsible for his sins. He believes God still has plans for him.

The thing is... we just don't care. As we just didn't care how Michael Vick felt about being away from work while in jail. Or how Chris Brown preferred to talk to the viewers of Good Morning America about his new album. It's surprising that publicists who fund country estates orchestrating these "comebacks" miss this, but when you are a man who has done the things you men have done we don't care if you ride space mountain now or really ever again.

It's baffling to watch you all, during your scripted-within-an-inch-of-your-lives apologies, get it so endlessly wrong. Of course there are "sex with that woman" legal traps to these appearances. You're in the territory of sound bites that could snatch "sins" into confessions. But you obviously thrive on risk, otherwise you wouldn't have done these shitty things in the first place.

So nut up and grab a pen.

We want to hear one thing from you, without distancing phrases or tired clichés -- and that is that you get it. You get that you've ripped the rugs out, turned the lives upside down, and in some cases, literally beaten, the creatures who have either pledged their lives to you or were innocently born into your narcissistic care. We want to hear you articulate the trauma your selfishness has inflicted. We want to feel that you couldn't conceive of it before and you've taken yourself through whatever you have to so that now you can. That it shocks and horrifies you as much as it does us. We need to feel all this so we don't have to hate ourselves for believing that you can't imagine, under any circumstances, doing anything like this again.

We women -- we Americans -- want to move on. We don't want for you to have turned out to be the disappointing fuck up that you are. It just forces us to be painfully aware that we fell for your act in the first place. So please give us something that feels less disgusting to work with. Humility, maturity, shame.

It must have been confusing for Kenny. He paid for that trip, he booked the travel, he was a bona fide member of the family on that family vacation. But these are the sacrifices of being a grown up, a spouse, a parent, to say nothing of a public leader. Senator, here's what we know, while God may not be through with you -- we are.