The Real Tragedy of John Edwards

08/09/2008 05:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I didn't want to believe it.

The incident in late July at the Beverly Hilton. The sneaking into the hotel through a side door. The hiding in the bathroom at 2:30 in the morning while a team of reporters from The National Enquirer lurked outside. The Other Woman ensconced in a hotel room upstairs with the baby girl. The cancer-stricken wife, campaign icon and rising political star waiting back home with the children. The repeated denials when the story broke that it was a lie, "tabloid trash."

I didn't want to believe it because, frankly, the whole scenario struck me as too tawdry and unreal, like one of those bad Lifetime movies for television. But I also didn't want to believe it because it would require a radical shift in my thinking, in my perception of John Edwards and who I thought he was.

Funny how the worst clichés often turn out to be true.

But it turns out that John Edwards, former senator, onetime vice presidential candidate, who rose from being the son of a mill worker to become a populist champion and Democratic candidate for president, is just a man. And a pretty flawed one at that. A politician who thought he could cheat on his wife, run for president and then get away with it by lying about it.

Don't they ever learn? The cover-up is what gets you every time.

As much as the pundits and cable talk shows would like to make it out to be, John Edwards' affair in 2006 with Rielle Hunter, an amateur videographer who was paid $110,000 by his campaign to produce four short videos for his website, is not a national tragedy. Or even a political tragedy. That Edwards will not be speaking at the Democratic convention, or that he won't have a shot at a cabinet post, is the least of his problems right now.

No, what the Edwards' scandal is is a bitter disappointment to the voters who believed in him, to the working-class men and women who coughed up $10 and $15 out of their paychecks for his campaign, and to the friends and campaign staff who worked for him and trusted him. He broke their hearts and they are hurt. Furious.

"Thousands of friends and supporters of Sen. Edwards put their faith and confidence in him and he has let them down," said David Bonior, a former congressman from Michigan who ran Edwards' 2008 presidential bid, when asked for a comment. "Young supporters who put their time and energy into his campaign with a newfound energy and idealism for politics have been betrayed by his actions."

Those young people might be disenchanted for a bit, put off by mainstream politics, but probably not much longer than it takes to tap out an instant message. They'll survive. And the Democratic Party--talk about a flawed organism--will too.

The real tragedy in this awful affair is personal and the damage John Edwards' has done to Elizabeth Edwards and their three children, and in particular his 25-year-old daughter Cate, who now, like that other famous political daughter, Chelsea Clinton, has to wrestle with the idea of her charismatic famous father as a terribly imperfect, dishonest man.

I hope it's a story about the Edwards' family that I never have to read.