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.