Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Big Bad John

To the regret of many the John Edwards saga has not yet gone away. Too many unanswered questions remain; too many untruths have yet to be explored fully. Enquiring minds want to know...

Of course, people have been drawn to the lurid details. Many people have been seriously creeped out by Edwards insisting that when he began his affair his wife's cancer was in remission.

This is supposed to make us feel more sympathetic toward Edwards, as though he had been showing respect to his suffering wife by taking up with a low-rent Heather Mills subsequent to her mastectomy.

The press has surely wanted to protect Elizabeth Edwards. Covering up for Elizabeth seemed to many to be the right thing to do.

But keep in mind that after the couple's oldest son died in an automobile accident, Elizabeth bore John two other children: the first, a girl, when she was 48; the second, a boy, when she was 50.

Many people have respectfully refrained from wondering whether these children were also hers, and how important it was for either of them to have a son to replace the one they had lost.

All of this to say that John Edwards had incurred a substantial debt to his wife. We do not what treatments she underwent and what the after-effects of those treatments might have been.

Surely, she deserved much, much better from her husband.

So, there was something especially revolting about the Edwards affair. It was not just another cheating spouse who had shown pathetically poor judgment in choosing a paramour. After all, Bill Clinton had already mapped out that territory.

And Edwards was not in the same league as Eliot Spitzer who had engaged in acts that he himself had prosecuted as crimes. Other political figures have been punished for much less, largely because we do not want to hear about such things, and we are not very forgiving when poor judgment throws it in our face.

A writer on Slate.com wrote yesterday that we never hear about the politicians who exercise good judgment in choosing their lovers. That sounds a bit glib, but it is surely correct.

How many of us have marveled that this man could have been so weak as to fall for such a pathetic line.

We are often surprised by the lines that lure vulnerable women into compromising themselves. But what about the supposedly great and accomplished man who cannot resist a party girl who picks him up at the bar at the Regency-- not exactly a private venue-- by telling him that she sees him as the reincarnation of Ghandi and Martin Luther King.

Here we are dealing with bad character, not with an untreated psychiatric condition. And we are shocked to see such weak character in someone who was something of a hero in certain political precincts.

It is a story of the seducer who was seduced, the seducer who was so confident of his charms that he did not even notice when he was being played by someone who was better at the game.

John Edwards used seduction, not achievement, to rise in the political world. He was not a distinguished and respected member of the legal profession. He was not an appellate judge or a U.S. Attorney or the king of torts or a litigator or an expert in contracts.

No, John Edwards made his fortune being a personal injury attorney, a sub-specialty that has aptly been labeled: ambulance chasing.

Within the field of ambulance chasing Edwards specialized in infants that had been born with birth defects or congenital diseases. he was famous for channeling the spirit of sick and injured babies, larding it all in junk science, and convincing juries to vote him and his clients massive malpractice awards.

Edwards rode his success at duping juries into the United States Senate, where he served an undistinguished term. His lack of accomplishments did not prevent John Kerry from choosing him as his running mate in 2004. Kerry had imagined that the silver-tongued trial lawyer would be great attack dog, nipping at the heels of the Bush administration.

It was not to be. Edwards was a disappointing candidate. He was revealed to be more gloss than substance.

In the absence of substance Edwards ran for the presidency this year on the basis of his family narrative. Many people bought the story and bought the Edwards line. They were sorely disabused when the Rielle Hunter revealed the man behind the machinations.

No one likes to be tricked into voting for someone who is not what he seems to be. Everyone likes to see such a man get tricked by someone who is more adept than he at the art of seduction.

Why did Edwards think he could get away with it? Didn't he realize that the American public is so Puritanical that it will never love an adulterer?

If so, you have a peculiar reading of American politics. If marital fidelity were an important character trait, something that the American people valued in their leaders, then surely George W. Bush would be far more popular than his poll numbers suggest.

And keep in mind, at exactly the same stage of his presidency, Bill Clinton was enormously popular. After Gennifer, Paula, Kathleen, Juanita, and Monica... after stories that were infinitely more sordid than anything John Edwards ever imagined, Bill Clinton rode a wave of public adulation out of the White House and into a very lucrative post-presidential career.

When you ask yourself why these men think they can get away with it, answer that Bill Clinton did. Gennifer Flowers did not prevent him from being elected president twice, and Monica Lewinsky did not make less loved by the American people.

True enough, the Lewinsky affair made it nearly impossible for him to govern, but, for better or worse, the American people did not, in the end, hold it against him.

What John Edwards did, they will hold that against him.

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