THE BLOG
10/18/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Not about Governor Sarah Palin, Just The Edwards Scandal

What a political scandal feels like to a staffer--current, former or "it's complicated"--is an awful lot like grief.

There are stages. There is the initial chaos where the stories appear fast and furious like punches only Palin, Craig, Vitter, Foley, Spitzer, and Clinton, etc staffers can understand. Each story about John Edwards's affair and cover-up is a bruising and makes you hope that the truth is on the way so they stop and you can get back to work.

There is the stage of denial. John said it was all lies before he and the lawyers even released statements. Maybe he's being quiet because he's building a libel case like Carol Burnett won against the National Enquirer? If he's still calling to discuss the convention speech, that must mean something.

There is anger. Did he really pay her that much while so many worked longer hours for much less? Did they really put out those statements? Did I just watch "When Animals Attack 2 and 3" in order to avoid picking up the phone?

There is also a stage of dark humor. How can there not be with this cast of characters: a friend named Pigeon, the Sisters Druck, a father linked to insurance fraud by having a horse electrocuted, a spiritual advisor described as an "intuitive" (clearly, still working on his craft.), the website Being is Free (thank you Deceiver.com), a rumored vasectomy, a family moved across the country so they can all live in a house right out of a script from "Big Love," a presidential campaign based on a lie, and of course, the movie, "Overboard."

There is sorrow too--far more than I ever share with people. It comes during those quiet times when I'm walking the dog; shutting the office door, or printing a speech that will never be delivered. And my heart breaks for those kids, as politics helped destroy my own family, too.

There is doubt, especially about people. How could the same man who pulled me to the front of the plane near tears as he told me his wife had cancer string together all these lies? How could I have been so stupid to defend his character after Bob Shrum's book was published? And every career decision made since I left Senator Hillary Clinton's office in 2003 is in question. Those years and work now seem so wasted.

And so yeah, a little cynicism settles in. Politics isn't the art of what's possible; it's the art of the charade. Speeches sound like Karaoke Michael Bolton and it's unclear I'll want to write another political speech again. And then slowly, acceptance creeps in. My boss is deeply flawed like the rest of them. Whether it's Watergate or a woman, my grandfather's words sung by Billie Holiday say it best; it's "the same old story, but it's new to me."

Many have said their piece, including me. I forgive John because he's my friend. I suggested some things he could do to do a better job at making amends--yes, including the obvious. I still get mad, sad, and everything in between, but I choose to forgive. Some may view that as naïve. That's just how I live because I know I'll mess up soon enough, and hope someone's there to take my hand, too.

Many will never get beyond the anger and that's understandable. Every condemnation is deserved. God knows, I swore like Dick Cheney. Unfortunately, this scandal won't go away. It will continue to hang at the edges until the paternity of the child is established. I took John at his word then and I do my best now.

But here's the really tough part of a scandal. Not how it ends or when it ends. But getting to a place where you can ask, "Can any good come of this?" Because the work thousands of people got involved with in the Senate, 2004 and 2008 shouldn't be viewed as a waste. It matters--closing the economic divides in this country matters.

It's not easy when things are still such a mess. In our own lives, it's rarely in the middle of a success and clarity that we think, "Wow. How can things be better?" It's when we are surrounded by our mistakes, in that lonely place between uncertainty and insight, where we try to find that good and build back something better. Can't this be true for a political scandal? Isn't our country covered in the scars from where our leaders fell? Can't something good come from this even if doubts linger?

Yes. It starts with something basic: how we speak about the baby. Think about how she's begun her life. Her mother is in hiding. Her name calls up too many hits on Google. Journalists demean her when they call her "Love child," "illegitimate," or "you'll be able to tell the Daddy by the way she primps her hair."

Think about what her life is going to be like. The National Enquirer has said that they will be on this story "forever." That means every time her birthday rolls around, they will take her picture and run it alongside John's. It will be on record for her to check as she grows older, for the Edwards's children to check as they grow older.

Why can't this scandal bring out that other part of humanity, the empathy part where we know that you don't say those things about a baby? Condemn the adults--all of them--but leave the child alone.

With this empathy, we should be able to listen a little better and hear what isn't being talked about in between the detailed discussions about lipstick, animals, who's lying more, and who can send an email: a meaningful discussion about ending poverty.

Whether the pundits on TV or political writers or joke-tellers want to admit it, one of the leading voices for working people and economic justice has been silenced. For the first time in forty years, we had a national leader--agree or disagree with him--who was at least willing to spend every day fighting to strengthen our middle class by 36 million people. John can no longer do that and it's his fault. But it's still a loss.

So who will fill this void? While people can rejoice in the fallen messenger, the message still stands.

There are still 36 million Americans who wake up every day in poverty and millions and millions more who live on the edge and most work. There are veterans sleeping under bridges and getting food from dumpsters while we are at war and there's no outrage. Tent cities pop up because too many are losing their homes. We now own a piece of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and AIG and the economy has stopped working for most Americans. The scandal didn't end any of these struggles or diminish the work at HalfinTen.org. It didn't alter a single truth about the inequities in this country. And yet, this void exists.

While the personal grief in all of this is real, the political loss may be the greatest of all if we have to wait another forty years to finish the work President Johnson and the great Sargent Shriver started all those years ago.

If another national leader could pick up the megaphone John had to put down, then that would be something good to come of this scandal, as well.

In the last speech John delivered to the AARP before the "Nightline" interview, he used a refrain, "Remember us." He had just finished giving a radio interview and we were talking in the green room and I was worried the phrase could be used in an unflattering way. He was quiet and said, "It's okay."

It's what a man in Uganda said to him. It's what a woman said to him under a bridge in New Orleans. It's what too many say in our country. What upsets me most is that this scandal can be used as an excuse to forget that woman, that man, and the work.

Everything has changed and nothing has changed since this scandal broke. There are still Two Americas and a country that longs for one. We can still cut the poverty rate in half in ten years and end it in thirty years if we as a nation choose to do so. This, too, is something good that can come of this,especially in the middle of this economic crisis. And since everyone's talking about Sarah Palin and moose these days, here's why, "Because grief unites us/like the locked antlers of moose/who die on their knees in pairs."

"Remember us." Who will now?