JOHN EDWARDS knows he'll be blasted for the affair he had with a highly paid, total-hack videographer during his run for the White House.

"Anybody . . . who wants to beat me up for this, they should have at it," he told Nightline Friday, arranging his pretty face in a mask of pain. "The truth is, you can't possibly beat me up more than I've already beaten myself up."

Oh, but let's try. Isn't that the least we can do on behalf of those whom Edwards betrayed?

That would include not just his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, and their humiliated children, but also the legions of jilted supporters who believed in Edwards' dream enough to buttress it with financial contributions and hours stumping for the Ken Doll senator.

I've spent the last few days talking with Philadelphians who fall into the latter category, and "bummed out" doesn't begin to describe how they're feeling about Edwards right now.

Take it away, Bernie Ingster.

"I was taken in by his magnificent rhetoric, and now I think he's treacherous," says Bernie, a Center City human-resources consultant who was so moved by Edwards' mission that he wrote three checks to the man. "It's an insult, greater than I could ever imagine, that he would do this to that magnificent family he has."

Bernie was especially repulsed by Edwards' need to clarify that he bedded campaign concubine Rielle Hunter during a time when Elizabeth Edwards' breast cancer was in remission.

"He was trying to relieve himself of the horror of what he had done, almost saying, 'Had I known that she was in the last stages of her life, I would never have done it,' " says Bernie, whose own wife, Daily News veteran reporter Rose DeWolf, succumbed to cancer four years ago. "What that demonstrates is that he had no love for his wife, because you don't do that to someone you love. He has soiled her!"

What an absolutely perfect choice of words.

Former Edwards fan Eric Cramer had something to say about John 'n' Rielle, but first wanted to make a point about personal comportment.

"I don't think that candidates' private lives are particularly relevant to how they'll perform in office," said Eric, an attorney with Berger & Montague, who donated a lot of cash to Edwards' campaign and hosted a big fundraiser on his behalf. "If we rated our presidents by the quality of their private lives, you'd have to say that Nixon and Bush are two of the best presidents we ever had."

Interesting point, Eric.

Nonetheless, he continued, "John Edwards knows what the rules are. He knew at the time he ran for president that he was having an affair, and he should have known that was going to come out. It was reckless for him to run for president under those terms. I feel very disappointed in him, his campaign, the judgment he showed.

"And I am very pleased he didn't win."

Speaking of pleased, Jacquie Akins was pleased not a whit with Edwards's Nightline interview.

"I thought his explanation explained nothing," says Jacquie, a faculty member at Community College of Philadelphia who was disgusted by Edwards' self-serving self-analysis. "It would have been better if he'd issued an apology and just gone away."

Perhaps that would have left intact the dignity of the core message of Edwards' presidential campaign, which is what had moved Jacquie to write him a check early in his run. He had focused on how this country is really two Americas - one rich, one poor - and hammered on our responsibility to unify them.

Instead, for former supporter Andrea Missias, an editor, Edwards' behavior "tarnishes the moral credibility he's built through his work on poverty, and it also raises questions about his overall judgment."

She wrote as much on her blog, Just Between Strangers, ending her disgusted entry with "Feh."

As for me, well, I was never a huge Edwards supporter. But like many others, I was impressed by the story of his long marriage.

How he and Elizabeth had come from nothing, made a family and then lost their teenage son in a car wreck.

How, in middle age, she underwent grueling fertility treatments in order to give their family two more children.

How they handled with such hope the news of her breast cancer, and with such courage the news of its return.

Even if you didn't like Edwards as a candidate, it was hard not to like how his marriage personified his dignified, workaday roots as the son of a mill worker.

Now, looking at his marriage, he seems more like a son of a something else. *

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