The Two John Edwardses
I was at a Target Store in High Point, North Carolina yesterday and decided to wait by the front counter while my wife and daughter finished shopping for various college items. My job was to hook up the flat screen tv. Dorm life has changed a bit since my time there thirty years ago. Her room includes a complete kitchen and she shares a bathroom with one other student. Four of them have their own living room. I spent most of the evening hooking up her flat screen television and aligning it with the 125 channel cable system there. While I waited, I noticed a copy of the National Enquirer by the counter with several horrific photos of celebrity plastic surgery. On the left side of the cover was a small box that promised exclusive photos of John Edwards and his alleged love child. I doubt that it's any presidential candidate's dream to have his/her name appear next to photos of Joan Van Ark and Phyllis Diller's post-surgery shots. It's probably worse when you just did damage control on Nightline the Friday before.
I voted for John Edwards twice. The first time is sort of iffy, since he just happened to be the second guy on the ticket in 2004. The second time though was a clear statement. I voted for JRE in the 2008 California primary after he basically had dropped out of the race. I voted for the man because it was important that he was standing up for working class Americans. Would I vote for him again? I would vote for the One John Edwards, the one who used to give the Two Americas speech.
The first John Edwards was one of the few progressive politicians on the national scene who could talk about economic issues without number-laden references to the GNP or the size of the housing market. JRE may have been the last presidential candidate who regularly discussed the economy in terms of how it impacted ordinary working families on a day to day level. He recognized the connection between real family values and issues like the right to health care, the right to a living wage, and the need for strong labor unions that advocate on behalf of their members. In the words of that John Edwards, there were two Americas.
“One America that does the work, another that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks. One America - middle-class America - whose needs Washington has long forgotten, another America - narrow-interest America - whose every wish is Washington's command. One America that is struggling to get by, another America that can buy anything it wants, even a Congress and a president. “
A big part of that one John Edwards was his marriage to Elizabeth Edwards. While John stayed boyish looking and apparently had a Kennedyesque physical presence with all that entailed, Elizabeth is four years older than John and she had gained weight since the death of their son Wade. Topping all of that, Elizabeth has a terminal cancer. I think a lot of voters who had come to believe in John Edwards came to that belief at least partly because of the Edwards marriage. While his cheating on his wife doesn't mean that he doesn't love her or that she doesn't love him, there seemed to be something beyond politics about their devotion to one another. The many parallels between the Clintons and the Edwardses (both couples met in law school, both wives are arguably brighter and more talented than their husbands) always seemed to end when it came to JRE's commitment to and fidelity to his wife in all senses. The Edwardses embodied a fantasy about what a marriage of two bright, ambitious, deeply political partners might be. Instead, we're left with some plot fragment from Batman (see Elliot Spitzer).
I do have to say a bit about Rielle Hunter. When I first saw the pictures of John Edwards's mistress, my first thought was that Elizabeth (whatever her weight) is way more attractive. Drop onto that the whole bit about Reille Hunter having dated Jay Mcinerney (Bright Lights Big City) and having been the model for Alison Poole, the coke addicted sexual adventurer in his later The Story of My Life (coincidentally, that's the title of Helen Keller's autobiography as well) along with the same character being featured in Brett Easton Ellis's American Psycho, and I'm totally perplexed. If you're married to Elizabeth Edwards, I might semi-understand messing around with some younger version of her. I don't get the party girl thing, nor do I get the physical attraction. I mean if you're going to risk this much...
I can only conclude that like the Two Americas, there are two John Edwardses. There's the guy I admired and voted for twice. There's also this other guy who really was narcissistic enough to get involved with Rielle Hunter while his wife had cancer, confess the affair to his family, then run for President as if no one would find out.
The Enquirer story strongly suggested that Edwards thing with Rielle Hunter was not a passing or past thing at all. In fact, it included some rather interesting information about the Edwards aide who is now claiming to be the father of Hunter's child. Allegedly, Hunter, Young, Young's wife, and his kids by marriage are all living in the same compound in Southern California. I don't necessarily believe it, but the Enquirer currently has more credibility on this particular story than Edwards himself.
No doubt, it's more important that there's a war in Georgia right now. Whatever the US says or warns about, it's clear to me that Russia wouldn't have dared to do this if it didn't happen to know that the US military is otherwise engaged. For a Soviet expert, Condi didn't seem to anticipate this one all that well or have any kind of contingency play. Yet, the war in Georgia doesn't gnaw on me the same way emotionally that the Edwards story does. One of my colleagues told me when the news broke that it simply shook him up too much to even talk about it. He's even a Hillary supporter. I find myself hurting too. Even though I knew better in some way, I wanted to think that the whole package was an is possible. It's like all I was looking at when I voted was just some overpriced haircut.
One of the oddest things about the Edwards scandal is that the single most viewed article on my own blog since the scandal broke has been a satirical post about an alleged affair between George W. Bush and Condaleeza Rice. I've written in the past about Larry Craig, David Vitter, and Ted Haggard among others. I did not write about Elliot Spitzer or James McGreevey. I suspect sexual secrets in a country/culture where "family values" are just part of politics don't necessarily have a party affiliation. I suspect there is some connection between being politically ambitious and having an elevated sex drive. At some point, I imagine we'll be seeing some similar story about female politicians (not that many of those yet).
I don't think we're asking our politicians to pretend to something that's impossible, but it's a level of temptation that's very different from what the rest of us experience.
Labels: John Edwards Rielle Hunter