Back in the 1840s in England, someone improvidently left his donkey tied by the side of the road. Another person, driving a team of horses at high speed, ran into the poor beast and killed it.
The English court, in the case of Davies v. Mann 10 M. & W. 545, 152 Eng. Rep. 588 (1842), ruled that the owner of the donkey could sue to recover damages. Typically back then, one could not sue for negligence if one's own conduct contributed to the accident. In Davies, however, the court noted that while the donkey owner shouldn't have left his creature where he did, the driver of the horse cart could have avoided the mishap by moving the horses along at a more reserved pace. This came to be known as the "last clear chance" doctrine; in short it holds that if you are in an accident that you had a reasonable chance to avoid, you don't get a pass just because somebody else was negligent. (There is a good discussion of this in White, Tort Law in America: An Intellectual History, 2003, pp. 45-50.)
I thought about this when the John Edwards scandal broke. (As a personal injury attorney, no doubt Senator Edwards knows all about the last clear chance doctrine.) In no way should what I write be seen as making excuses for the man.
But I've come to the conclusion that while a married man who has an affair is a jackass, he's sort of like the jackass in the Davies case. The accident doesn't happen without the horses galloping too fast.
The horses in this analogy, of course, are represented by Rielle Hunter.
A man can't just snap his fingers and cheat on his wife. He has to find a willing accomplice. So when you hear that this or that married man is having an affair, remember that there is a woman involved who had a chance to keep the extramarital relationship from happening, a woman who rationally should have known better.
Women all know this, by the way. You don't need to have a PhD in biology to know that men, heterosexual ones at least, are genetically programmed to be attracted to more than one woman. The act of marrying can be seen as, in essence, a man making the pledge that he's going to tell his genes that they can work up an appetite anywhere, but they can only nourish their DNA at home.
Of course, some married men ignore this pledge; shame on them. But they couldn't turn their desire to cheat into actual cheating without all the Rielle Hunters and Monica Lewinskys out there willing to complete the circuit.
Yet you probably have noticed that when a John Edwards or a Bill Clinton violates his solemn vows, generally the venom in coffeehouses and chat boards is directed towards the man doing the dirty deed. Less often does anybody point out there is also some pretty low conduct going on by the other woman.
In other words, while everybody talks about how John Edwards is slime for cheating on his wife while she is battling cancer, far less often is the point made that Rielle Hunter is slime for helping a man to cheat on his wife while she is battling cancer. Some people seem hell bent on portraying Hunter as a victim, instead of as someone who acted as callously as Senator Edwards did. And with all the discussion on whether Edwards will take a paternity test or not, it seems to me that people aren't making the connection that if the Senator isn't the father of Hunter's baby, she's an even bigger sleaze, because she's sleeping around with yet another man.
So remember, ladies, if a married man tries his utmost to arrange a sexual tryst with you, don't sink into the mud with him. Say no, you're the team of horses and you should drive responsibly. Don't hit the jackass.
You have the last clear chance to avoid hurting another woman.