So now we know. John Edwards did have sex with that woman, Rielle Hunter, just as the National Enquirer said. So much for all those jokes about Bat Boy and Hillary’s alien baby. I always thought the Edwards rumors were true, because rumors like that usually are (says she cynically) , and I defended this view in many an e mail. But every time I started to write something about it here I would get into a debate about monogamy, privacy, Puritanism, the reliability of tabloids etc with one of our more polyamorous editors, and the air would leak out of my balloon. I would think, Well, really, what do I know? and Oh why add to poor Elizabeth’s troubles? I still sort of think that.

So good-bye to Edwards, aka the electable white man. I suppose you could say he’s done the nation a favor by further tarnishing that overrated and outdated brand. (If you don’t want to hear about women who give themselves names like Rielle and their love children, elect more female candidates!) If he had had more substance to begin with — a thicker resume, more raw political talent,a bigger, more enthusiastic following, a more, how to put this, compelling and endearing personality — an affair might not be fatal to his future. After all, Clinton got elected despite Gennifer Flowers. But , as Gail Collins points out, there just wasn’t that much to Edwards, besides his policy proposals. Apparently the electorate intuited that. Fortunately, or we’d have just handed the election to McCain.

I supported Edwards because he was the only candidate who talked seriously about inequality, but the truth is I never liked him — the 28,000 square foot house, the canned son-of-a-millworker routine, the endless parading of his family and its perfections, the (as it seemed to me) politically manipulative use of his son’s tragic death and his wife’s cancer. “I care about the policy, not the person,” one of his academic advisers told me when I confessed my visceral dislike, and I felt properly rebuked for my superficiality. What, after all, did I really know about Edwards the person? What difference did his little vanity vibes make when compared with poverty, which only Edwards was willing to declare scandalous — and curable?

Time — and if not Time, the Enquirer — will tell if he’s telling the truth that Rielle Hunter’s daughter isn’t his, and that he knows nothing about the large sums of money being paid to Hunter and self-proclaimed Other Man and baby father Andrew Young. Color me skeptical. And next time, I’m going to trust my instincts more. For good reasons and bad, the person does matter.