John Edwards is ripping me off, and what's most aggravating is that he's doing it all wrong. In May of this year, my novel, The Scandal Plan or: How to Win the Presidency by Cheating On Your Wife, was released by publisher William Morrow. It is the story of a Democratic presidential candidate, a senator from a red state, whose chances of winning in November are looking slim. His campaign, desperate to humanize their candidate and develop a winning comeback narrative, makes up a story about the senator having an affair with an over-sexed forty-something woman. The senator confesses to the fake affair, saying that he'd come clean to his wife long ago and that it was all now in the past. His wife corroborates this story and tells the press that the affair is a private matter.
Does this sound familiar yet?
As you might imagine, I'm quite steamed at Senator Edwards. It took me four years to write The Scandal Plan, and it was a lot of hard work. How dare he sneak in under the wire with this last-minute unoriginal extramarital affair and steal all the headlines. But I'm not just angry. Like many of you, more than anything else, I'm disappointed in the senator. I mean, it's bad enough to crib from someone else's scandal, but to do it so badly?
An extramarital affair is a terrible thing, no doubt, but it doesn't have to kill your career. In fact, under the right circumstances, it can actually help. If John Edwards had taken to heart some of the lessons of my book, instead of just the plot points, he might have avoided this horrible mess.
Here are five helpful hints on how to make the most of your sex scandal:
1. If you wish for your scandalous affair to help you win political office, you must make sure the scandal breaks while you are still a candidate. By waiting until after he dropped out of the race, John Edwards can expect only muted criticisms from his former opponents -- not nearly the sort of venomous attacks you need to inspire an appropriate backlash and the subsequent sympathy votes.
2. Always come clean right away. If a reporter suspects you cheated on your wife, and you actually did, do you really think you can keep that a secret for very long? Your best bet is to try and scoop the media (a la New York governor David Patterson), providing more information then they possibly require or even want. Remember, it's just like dating: if you play hard-to-get, everyone will want to get you. If you play easy-to-get, everyone will lose interest.
3. Make sure your scandal (sexual or otherwise) is consistent with your story. We always knew Bill Clinton wasn't a saint, and he never claimed to be one. That's why multiple sex scandals failed to destroy his career. Likewise, we always knew that George W. Bush had a rocky youth. That's why stories about drunk driving and National Guard delinquency didn't trouble us. They fit the narrative. But if you're like Larry Craig, Eliot Spitzer, or now John Edwards, if your sin is in conflict with your story, you will pay a severe penalty for your hypocrisy.
4. Don't cheat on your wife when she's recovering from cancer. This point is admittedly not in my book, but I thought it was worth mentioning all the same. As "character issues" go, cheating on a sick wife makes the wearing of lapel pin seem as inconsequential asŠ well, the wearing of a lapel pin.
5. Make sure you've had enough time to learn from your mistakes. A 2006 affair will probably kill you in a 2008 election because it happened too recently for you to have believably redeemed yourself. But a 1996 affair? Not that bad. A 1986 affair? Downright beneficial. You can call it a learning experience. Americans love stories of redemption. We identify with them because we like to believe we all can be redeemed from whatever stupid things we may have done in the past. But, of course, you can't be redeemed if you haven't done that stupid thing in the first place. And you can't have a comeback if you don't have anything to come back from. This was the very idea that inspired me to start working on my novel THE SCANDAL PLAN in late 2003. It is also, I believe, the plot of John Edwards's 2024 run for the presidency of the United States. The older wiser senator will win in a landslide. Just remember, you heard it from me first.