And of course, no sooner does he drop the tu quoque on Maverick than he qualifies it by noting, with exquisite remorse, that he doesn’t want to drag other people into this. Here too, as in so much of his past nonsense, he proves my favorite liberal right: Silky Pony is indeed a silky phony. Ironically, though, the McCain comparison explains why his career really isn’t over. Infidelity doesn’t kill political ambitions anymore; it sends them into a coma. He’ll wake up from it as the scandal recedes with time, unless the left decides that a guy willing to gamble the party’s fate by cheating while he’s running for president isn’t quite in the same boat as the other 60 percent or so of men who stray.

You’ll find the McCain segment about a third of the way through this recap reel. And no, reading the official transcript’s not a fair substitute for once. Not only did ABC decide inexplicably not to publish a complete version, but the selections they chose don’t include the McCain bit or various other interesting details (like the fact that Edwards says the affair was “short”) — although Bob Woodruff’s insistence that Elizabeth Edwards is “probably the most admired and beloved person in this country” is thankfully included. As for Edwards’s performance, it’s vintage Silky. Turns out he didn’t just betray his wife, he betrayed the poor son of a country mill worker he really is at heart, his huge mansion and ego notwithstanding. He also heroically asked Elizabeth not to appear with him for the interview, because after a year of siphoning off Absolute Moral Authority from her illness to help his campaign, he suddenly decided it wouldn’t be right to use her as a “shield.” Tapping his heart and claiming she’s in there “all the time” even when she’s not physically present is an especially Silky touch considering that the whole reason so many of his supporters feel hurt by the news is because they’re no longer sure how true that is.

The most interesting bit has to do with the meeting at the Hilton and the payments made to Hunter by Fred Baron, a.k.a. the Best Friend Anyone’s Ever Had. Listening to Edwards describe how it was Bob McGovern who requested the meeting, how Hunter was concerned about her situation, and how — in a moment of surprising candor — he admits he went (reluctantly) to the hotel not because he was worried about the poor dear but because “I wanted her not to tell the public,” it sure sounds like they were shaking him down. One of the Enquirer’s editors told CNN yesterday, in fact, that Edwards had met with Hunter at the same hotel a month earlier; remember too that the paper had unusually specific details about the July meeting, right down to which rooms McGovern and Hunter were staying in. Either there’s a tipster at the Hilton’s front desk or, more likely given how long the paper’s been getting info about this story, Hunter herself or someone close to her is helping them build a case against Edwards to ratchet up the pressure. Maybe by July Hunter had finally become convinced that she wasn’t going to get whatever it is she wanted from him and decided to help the Enquirer set up a sting (note that the editors don’t deny in the CNN interview that they pay their sources)? Or maybe she wanted him to see his kid. Or, just maybe, I’m totally wrong and she’s completely innocent and wanted nothing more than a little hand-holding from her ex to cope with the pressure from the tabloids. But it sure is interesting how readily Edwards agrees to the possibility raised by Woodruff that Fred Baron’s paying her off in order to “help” him, huh?

Good work by ABC in pursuing the story, however belatedly. Between Stephanopoulos having the stones to ask Obama tough questions at that debate that weren’t, ahem, “substantive” enough for other networks and Charlie Gibson’s willingness to report on good news from Iraq when CBS and NBC can’t be bothered, they’re our best bet for network news anymore. More highlights from the interview on their video page.

Tags: Barack Obama