This weekend’s New York Magazine featured a lengthy excerpt from “Game Change,” John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s upcoming book about the 2008 presidential election.  (It’s also the book that produced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s “Negro” comment about President Obama.)

The excerpt that ran in the NY Mag was called “Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster,” and it goes into detail when describing the sordid goings-on of the John Edwards campaign – including Edwards’ involvement with Rielle Hunter.  As a liberal friend of mine remarked, it’s “crazy on top of crazy, with a heaping dollop of sadness.”

For instance, here’s a story about what happened when Elizabeth found out about her husband’s daliances:

The next morning, John and Elizabeth were scheduled to fly out of Raleigh to separate destinations—he to South Carolina, she to Iowa. But when the traveling staff arrived at their home, they found Elizabeth out of sorts, disconsolate, still in her bathrobe. She had drafted a blog post she wanted published, defending her husband from the accusations against him. This kind of tawdriness was something the Clintons would be involved in, she wrote, but not the Edwardses…

At the terminal, the couple fought in the passenger waiting area. They fought outside in the parking lot. Elizabeth was sobbing, out of control, incoherent. As their aides tried to avert their eyes, she tore off her blouse, exposing herself. “Look at me!” she wailed at John and then staggered, nearly falling to the ground.

Sensational stuff, to be sure.  And while the chapter goes to great lengths to portray Elizabeth as an unhinged crazyperson, the main focus has to be with Edwards himself.  WHAT THE HELL WAS HE DOING?

It’s  not like marital infidelity is something new in politics.  But why are men in power so willing to throw it all away for some side action?  (And in Edwards’ case, how could he possibly get another woman pregnant – and try to pin it on one of his advisors, to boot?)

On the one hand, infidelity probably isn’t any more prevalent in politics than it is in other walks of life.  It’s just that it becomes newsworthy when it does – especially if the politician happens to espouse “family values.”  (Athletes have long had the reputation of having the proverbial “girl in every city,” but this seems to bother no one.  Unless the athlete is Tiger Woods, of course.)

But it does seem that an inordinate number of politicians do have a wandering eye.  And they often act on it knowing that public humiliation is headed their way if they get caught – which makes it a lot riskier than if the guy working down at the bike shop does it.

Perhaps it’s because their position of power gives these guys the chance to meet more ladies.  Before their political careers, they were just ordinary schlubs with thinning hair, sitting at home praying for the next Victoria’s Secret catalog to show up.  When they become celebrities, suddenly their options open up.  And a lot of them seem to have no qualms about making up for lost time.

But it almost seems like the same characteristics that make these guys want to be politicians also leads them to cheat.  Maybe they initially run for office to overcome a sense of self-inadequacy.  Getting the approval of voters helps them to verify their self-worth.  Then, having a nubile young cocktail waitress accomplishes the same thing – gives them a false sense that they’re still youthful and handsome.

Or maybe they just enjoy the booty.  Who knows.