Edwards’ future

EDWARDS’ FUTURE…. I mentioned briefly yesterday John Edwards is slowly re-entering public life, prompting CNN to ask whether the former senator could make a “comeback.” I suggested that this is unlikely.

Later, an emailer posed a reasonable question: Why couldn’t Edwards come back?

As the reader noted, Bill Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, and Gary Hart all maintain respected positions, at least in their own party, despite very well publicized extra-marital affairs during their political careers. Indeed, Newt Gingrich’s personal life and well documented adultery hasn’t done much to undermine his status as a conservative hero, with Bob Novak even touting him as a presidential aspirant in 2012.

If those other guys can recover and see their reputations thrive, why is John Edwards banished from respected company permanently?

The truth is, I don’t have a great response to this. I was tempted to respond, “It just seems different with Edwards,” but I realize that’s not an especially coherent argument.

After thinking this over a bit, I’ve come up with two general arguments why I think Edwards’ “comeback,” if he’s even trying to have one, may not work out.

First, he doesn’t have as much to fall back on when it comes to credentials. Bill Clinton was a successful two-term president with political enemies who were easy to hate. Hart was a foreign policy expert and arguably a visionary thinker in the party. Giuliani got a 9/11 halo. Gingrich helped orchestrate the Republicans’ 1994 takeover and became Speaker. Edwards was an underwhelming V.P. nominee, but if he’s going to live down this affair, I don’t think that’s enough.

Second, everyone loves Elizabeth Edwards, and Elizabeth Edwards has cancer.

But maybe I’m misreading the landscape. For all I know, in a few years, John Edwards will be a leading progressive voice. I just don’t think it’s likely.