“My Guy”, John Edwards.

It’s tough denying stuff you were imprudent enough to put in writing. But yeah, John Edwards was “my guy” heading toward the ’08 election. This would be the same John Edwards now widely despised as the most loutish, disreputable bastard this side of Silvio Berlusconi. And that would be without the public farce and fun of all those “bunga bunga” stories.

A recent poll puts Edwards’ favorability ratings in North Carolina at 3%. Dick Cheney could do better than that … in southwest Minneapolis. So the verdict — before the verdict — is in. John Edwards is one rat bastard, and he was “my guy”, for a while.

Why? Because I, way over here in Minnesota, responded to his message. The one about the “Two Americas”, the ultra rich and everyone else, and how this sort of thing is a recipe for disaster, kind of like we saw in the fall of 2008. And, based on his years as a cutthroat trial lawyer, I was convinced that Edwards was exactly the sort of guy to make relentless effective war on the power grid supporting not just the George Bush-Dick Cheney kleptocracy, but other retrograde movements as well, (like America’s health insurance monopolies.)  I didn’t see Barack Obama has having quite the same jones for “total victory”, if you know what I mean.

Watching Edwards’ trial from afar you can see why “West Wing” creator, Aaron Sorkin, optioned Edwards’ staffer, Andrew Young’s book, “The Politician”, for a possible movie. I mean, good lord, skip central casting and sign up the reality cast. The nearly hundred year old millionairess, the Texas lawyer/political operator, the woozifyingly ditsy “other woman”, the publicly admirable disrespected wife, the sycophantic aide … its American politics at its tumescent, ego-tripping, self-indulgent best.

Not being world-class legal scholar, I can’t offer summary judgment on the merits of the case against Edwards, other than to say that if the intent is to inject criminality — and the possibility of criminal justice — into this country’s obscene campaign finance industry, I hope Edwards goes down like a fireball from deep space. The most coherent legal thinking on the Edwards case suggests that the prosecution may very well have overreached by pressing this matter as a criminal, not civil offense. (Their strategic thinking, likely colored by their own deep political animus toward Edwards, being that the guy is so loathed in North Carolina no jury will acquit him, regardless of the byzantine explanations of what money is “personal” and what is “campaign-related”.)

If convicted, Edwards will certainly appeal, and — here’s where it starts to get entertaining (again) — his kiting of the aged heiress’s money can and should be compared to and placed in the context of how the current system works, post-Citizens United. (With a Super PAC, Edwards would be in far less trouble today.) Point being, I would be very much amused to watch an Edwards conviction, based on a precedent-setting notion of “criminality”, move toward our self-debasing Supreme Court, which is watching its favorability numbers slump into Edwards-Cheney territory as a consequence of its novel interpretation of “individual”.

That aside, my other takeaway from my infatuation with John Edwards is to remind myself of how little any of us, other than the deepest of insiders, really ever knows about the characters we get all excited over, like our favorite sports team, and in whom we project no end of impossible nobility.

I had a two-minute conversation with Edwards in the spin-room after a ’08 Iowa debate. My question was how exactly he intended to pull billions of dollars of profits away from the iron-grip of UnitedHealths of the world in his pursuit of a (fair and sane) single-payer system? As he explained that the key was focused, persistent White House leadership I, being a particularly deep kind of guy, was remarking to myself that the suit he was wearing looked like something off a Macy’s rack, and his shoes, thick-soled, great-for-standing, New Balance dress sneakers were heavily scuffed and worn. It occurred to me then he might be over-playing the common man shtick.

But what do any of us really know about any of these people? We can read their (ghost-written) biographies — although Obama actually wrote his. We can watch their public statements, their votes, gauge their reactions to criticism, shake their hand if they come to town, have our picture taken with them if we give them enough money, process the platitudes from their friends and the invective from their enemies. But really, politics is a highly developed tactical charade designed to produce a distorted picture. If the press were more aggressive we might see something closer to reality, and in fairness, the composite from multiple reporters gets us closer. But the press isn’t in the business of making conclusive judgments about a candidate’s private character. Too speculative, not to mention instantaneously source-burning. Always best to stick with campaign strategies; Effective or not?

Bottom line: The best public service “my guy” John Edwards could perform today is to take a criminal conviction in his North Carolina campaign fraud trial higher and higher up the ladder, with the intent of demonstrating that not only was his sin trivial in comparison to what the Supreme Court has legalized, but that full transparency (currently being avoided post Citizens United) should be imposed on money as well as sex.

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24 Responses

  1. Right on the mark. Remember, Lambo, I was right behind you in the Edwards conga line. (Nice ass, by the way.) I’ve shaken my head many times in disbelief that I could have fallen for such a swine, even though my choice of a bride should have caused me to know better.

    • I was there, with y’all. I met JE and, AND, he hugged me and wished me happy birthday (election day, 2004, aka black Tuesday). I was totally smitten, personally and politically. Now I just want a big vat of sheep dip to wash off the slime. Seriously.

  2. The first problem with politics is this: We hire (elect) politicians on the basis of how good they campaign. Then their real job is to govern our society. Two completely different things. It would be like hiring a baby sitter based on the swimsuit competition (M/F).

    Secondly, despite how smart we think we are, how much we study the issues, how much we research the candidates, we really need to admit that almost everyone votes based on emotional connections to a celebrity. American politics is essentially one huge popularity contest. I still credit Bill Clinton’s 1992 election on the fact he showed up on the Arsenio Hall show and played the saxophone. Critically important in nuclear disarmament talks, donchaknow.

    Finally, EVERY politician (both parties) who makes it to the national stage – representatives, senators, presidents and cabinet officers have the popularity contest shtick down so well that there are damn few experts who can see through it. So, it only goes to prove that someone, somewhere, will get taken in. And, it’s the politician’s fault, not the voter’s. How else can you explain that even guys who are caught with their hands in the cookie jar of ones who have made completely outlandish comments are usually re-elected the next time around – sometimes with larger margins than previous elections.

    • Yes. Arsenio Hall. That confirmed he was a Baby Boomer.

      The other stunning moment was during the debate with Bush I. Big Bush was caught looking down at his watch as the moderator was speaking..like…where the heck else do you have to be right now, Mr. President?! He also did not know the price of a loaf of bread.

      And, when Clinton was asked a question about the economy, he walked out from behind the lectern, moved in close to the audience and said, “I feel your pain…..blah, blah, blah.” Women swooned and men wished they were him.

      Ka-ching.

  3. I, too, was a fan of Edwards. I had been in Iowa in 2004, and although I was not an Edwards supporter at the time, I came away with a lot of respect for Edwards for running a really good, competent, upbeat campaign.

    And I also liked his formulation of the “2 America’s” theme–i saw it as a positive way to position a very divisive and difficult problem. I thought that he was a skilled and insightful politician.

    And then Rielle–campaigns and politicians like Edwards attract people like her. And he went for it, in a big way. I loved the fact that Edwards at one time characterised her as a psycho–maybe the most accurate thing he had to say about it all. But now he is stuck, and everyone is laughing at him.

    Maybe “just say No” isn’t such bad advice, after all.

  4. Edwards’ biggest crime is poor vision. Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, Sophia Vergas may be worth losing it all for.

    But Rielle Hunter?!

  5. I have his very first t-shirt, weighed down by so much text on the back it should have been a clue to his circuitous mental contortions. But be fair and admit that the reason we’re all so furious is Elizabeth. JFK was a skirt-chaser, MLK was a skirt-chaser, and we all know what WJC thought about marital fidelity. Edwards was a decent candidate, despite the haircuts and the sexual lapse. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up for responding to what was a truly brilliant insight into the deep faultline rending this country in two.

    That said, I’m hoping the t-shirt will one day be a collector’s item.

  6. Yeah, I supported Edwards, for all the reasons you folks have mentioned. I am deeply disappointed. What is it that happens to so many successful and powerful men that so corrupts them? What is wrong with their heads? Drives me crazy.

    • They start to believe everything that the sycophants around them say about them. Not just a problem of politicians, i have to point out–plenty of CEO’s suffer the same problems, and just take a look at what our celebrity culture does to people like Charlie Sheen!

      Bottom line–if you are surrounded (or worse yet, surround yourself) with suck-ups and enablers, a “posse” or a group of disciples, followers, fans, yes men, etc., –people who are attracted to fame, power, money, etc., — eventually you start to listen to all the BS they tell you. Look at the number of sports stars who go broke on poor financial advice, people who invest in restaurants or hotels (because they want to be greeted by name), groupies and rock stars, –it is all a variation on the same phenomena.

      Generally, politicians are no worse than the rest of us–it is a question of opportunity and self restraint. Thankfully we tend to hold politicians to a higher standard than we do entertainers.

    • Thinking about this a little bit more, what i find even more astonishing is not the behavior of Edwards, but of his aides–the people who had attached themselves to him, with the hope of gaining power and influence (the goal of every aide is to be on a winning campaign).

      Obviously, quite a few of them saw the “real” John Edwards–and knew that if the “real” John Edwards ever became public, their dream was over–at least this time.

      So why not leave as soon as you see what he was really like? Instead, they opted to try to cover it up–hoping to sweep it under the rug. And now where might their careers go? If they had left, they would still be considered viable politically–the person who left Edwards is a lot better off than the person who went down in flames trying to cover it all up.

  7. PM, I agree. But I think the absolute degradation of morals is getting worse. Or maybe it’s the greater magnification via all the media available now. What do you think?

    • I generally don’t agree with the proposition that things are worse now than they were before–morals were pretty bad back then. For example, some of the recent stories about President Kennedy suggest that Clinton was a paragon of virtue in comparison. And there were certainly plenty of people who knew about things and covered them up back then–including the press, who felt that personal shortcomings were not to be reported on. you had to be pretty outrageous to make it to the headlines (I’m thinking here of Fanne Fox, the “Argentine Firecracker” and Wilbur Mills). Maybe they were worse back then because most politicians could accurately assume that they would not be caught. Now, if you are running for political office, the general assumption is that your background had better be squeaky clean. Back in the 1950′s, most people felt that sort of thing (people’s sex lives) was private and out of bounds.

  8. Yes, I was part of the Edwards fan club — only guy talking about the poor since Paul Wellstone. But the size of the house he was building should have given us pause.

    We would learn more if journalists got off the campaign trail and talked to neighbors and friends of the candidates, dug into how they behaved on local boards and in the senate. Find out who the person is as a person — and not just for one big blow-out bio once in the campaign. Also, they should cover how the person acts on the trail, not just what the person says. How does the person treat staff, how does the person deal with regular humans who come to the rallies? Watching CSPAN gives us this.

    Just reading a biography of FDR — the portraits of him with his neighbors tell you a lot about who the human is behind the spin.

  9. I must say, good man, this is a “mea culpa” of extraordinary quality!

    Today, have a look at Drudge for what Obama knew about “your (ex) guy” and when.

    Don’t we have a birthday drink in the offing?

  10. I’ll see your John Edwards and raise you and Eldridge Cleaver; it’s true I was young then, but I never should have been that young. Of the odd candidates I’ve supported, I remain fondest of Fred Harris, who ran on the platform of standing up for the “little people,” and who observed when he lost some primaries that the little people couldn’t reach the levers. He also called the senate the most “chickenshit” place he ever worked.

    It’s an unedifying reflection, and I wish it weren’t so, but decent husbands and decent presidents seem to be unrelated categories.There are all sorts of permutations and combinations: Good husbands–Hoover, Carter–who were bad presidents; bad husband, Harding, who was a bad president; bad husbands, FDR, JFK, and Clinton, who were good presidents; Truman, a good husband and a pretty good president.

    • OK, I feel that I have to step in here–I think that jimmy carter will be one of those presidents whose stock will rise over time. He is a tremendously underappreciated president–but I think that history will recognize this–as was the case with Truman.

      • Mencken described Grover Cleveland as a “good man in a bad trade.” I feel somewhat the same way about Carter. If the country had paid any attention to him on the subject of energy or foreign policy, we would have been a lot better off, but we didn’t because he was ineffectual, not evil or venal like Harding or Nixon, but ineffectual.

        Truman caught a lot of the residual hatred of FDR and some disdain for being a midwestern petite bourgeoise, but he had the Marshall Plan to anchor his reputation. I remember when the Republican convention nominating Reagan for his second term invoked the great tradition of Harry Truman. Two thing occurred to me: to help solve our energy problem we should have hooked the spinning coffin of the notoriously partisan Truman to a generator; did the Republicans remember what they said about him in ’48?

  11. Not guilty on one count, with a mistrial on the others.

    So he gets off, at the public cost of his reputation. And he is sentenced to spend the rest of his life with Rielle. Maybe there is justice in the world….

    • When this jury was deliberating for days and days, I figured they were deadlocked somehow. However, you can’t always predict what juries will do. Remember the jury deliberation (or lack thereof) in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial?

  12. Oh, crap.

    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2012/06/rielle-hunter-testify-print/53077/

    You know, if Hollywood Squares was still around, the trajectory of John Edwards career would suggest that he had a future there…..

  13. That Atlantic link helped me find a much, much, much more important story – the United States using a cybernet worm we might greatly regret: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2012/06/heres-how-stuxnet-virus-could-be-used-against-us/53073/

  14. I apologize to all of you who are bored with this thread, but for some reason it really strikes a chord with me….

    As I reflect on this whole John Edwards thing, one of the concepts that I am left with is that successful politicians (and here i specifically mean elected politicians) need to have a significant capacity to reject self doubt. Most normal people (and I assume that is all of us here at the SRC, even though we may not always show this side of ourselves in our discussions) have a healthy capacity for self doubt, for uncertainty.

    But to be a successful politician, you absolutely have to project certainty–because you have to be able to convince others that you have THE solution/analysis/position/program, and having personal doubts about that solution would be the death knell for the possibility of others supporting/believing you.

    Well, John Edwards had that in spades. Problem is that what is a good thing for getting elected may not be such a good thing for getting thru life.

    Having known a number of successful politicians, I think that the ones who succeed at both (life and politics) are able to compartmentalize their life, and know what is real and what is politics. I think that the higher you go up the political ladder, the harder it is to keep a separate sphere of life–to keep politics from taking over everything- to keep personal integrity, and to (at least personally) acknowledge those self doubts.

    Ah, well.

  15. I hate to seem like I am beating a dead horse, but as I read this book review, i could not help but think about John Edwards.

    In any event, the book (by Dan Ariely) explores the relationship between honesty, intelligence and creativity. He finds that people are basically story tellers, and that we often spend a great deal of time and effort creating stories to justify our actions–because we look back on things, and want to see them as coherent–as part of a common trajectory. So we become good at justification (stories that explain what we have done) rather than becoming good at …well, being good.

    He does not find that those who are most dishonest (congenital liars) are more intelligent–but that they tend to be more creative. that is, they are much more capable of creating connections between experiences and ideas in their brains–creating/fabricating excuses/stories/justifications for their actions. And it all just reminded me of John Edwards.

    In any event, it was a really interesting read:

    http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/06/05/dan-ariely-the-honest-truth-about-dishonesty/

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