When John Edwards finally confirmed that he had stepped out on his wife, initially I was disappointed, but not surprised. Power + overblown ego = misguided sense of invincibility x lack of caring for others.

As for Elizabeth Edwards, I thought, Jesus, hasn’t she been through enough.

As for the other woman, well, she’s just another needy groupie on the tour bus. Had she slept with a rock star, she would be a sad footnote on VH1’s Behind the Music. Instead, she’s brought a former senator and presidential candidate to his knees. And there but for fortune, she could have brought down a country.

This morning over coffee my husband and I were discussing the Edwards’ meltdown. It’s not that we feel betrayed by Edwards’ hypocrisytrotting out his alleged perfect nuclear family on the campaign trail. That’s marketing. And we haven’t believed in the notion of a “perfect family” since we stopped believing in Santa Claus.

It’s not that we’re outraged by Edwards’ philandering. In the beginning, anyway, it was a private matter between him and his wife. Unethical, yes, and in the eyes of many, immoral, but unlike the Larry Craigs and Mark Foleys of the world, Edwards’ sexual dalliances were not illegal.

It was that Edwardses, both of them frankly, could have jeopardized a nation by their arrogant belief that, by sheer willpower and some big bucks funneled to Hunter from well-placed friends, the affair would disappear. Did Edwards believe he was so omnipotent that could run for president and the GOP’s opposition research would never uncover such damaging material?

Had Edwards been the Democratic nominee, as my husband pointed out, the National Enquirer or the Republicans may have held the story for an October surprise, the ramifications of which are much worse than the shock of the strip turning blue on a pregnancy test.

Here’s how that would play: Edwards seizes defeat from the jaws of victory. McCain wins the presidency. And what does America get? Another four yearsat least—of Republican leadership: Unending war, not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan, and potentially in Iran and Russia. Fiscal recklessness and self-serving economic policies that send us into a deeper recession. The continued erosion of civil liberties and the expansion of government secrecy. Who knows when a Democrat would win again, and in what morasse America would be in when he or she did.

The Edwardses were willing to risk it, apparently, for the sake of ambition. They gambled with the country’s future. Fortunately, they lost, and not America. Not yet, anyway.