Thursday, August 14, 2008

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.



At 8/14/2008 04:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John Edwards talked about Dad's mill,
While sleeping with a chick off the pill,
He lied and fibbed to the MS press,
And, awoke early to preen and dress.

His wife, Elizabeth, knew the lie in 2006,
But supported John in Iowa while sick,
They stole Hillary's honest votes daily,
And laughed on cue, and hiding Rielle.

Why did John lie like a cheatin' rat ?
No "New Deal" for the average Democrat,
While Obama and Hillary fought on the stump,
John Edwards watched Rielle grow a bump.

Now John's love child is common news,
And Fred Baron has money to lose,
Rielle, now nursing, has jetted away,
Even Geraldo has joined the fray!

John's affair has hurt his poor kids,
More than Clinton's cigars ever did,
A sordid tale that some call a crock,
The only winner, a loser named Barack!

Like dogs in heat, Edwards did pant,
Defined forever, just like Hugh Grant,
Tabloids paid to get the sleeze,
Is it John's baby, mister please?

See Barack in Hawaii like Bobby Vinton,
Unaware the DNC plans to elect a Clinton,
Edwards may face time from the tax man,
But not if a pardon is part of Obama's plan.

While Elizabeth cries over her brood,
Baby mama with John was not a prude,
Gone the innocent days of Tom Sawyer,
John gettin' love like a real trial lawyer.

At 8/17/2008 05:48:00 PM, Blogger Gifted Typist said...

This whole affair says mucho about contempoorary Western political/celeb culture.

It's nothing to do with politics, power, distribution of wealth, or human rights. It's all personal.

Politicians are reduced to celebrity.

Edwards isn't anything unusual We know that politicians do this sort of thing - father bastards whilst married to someone else.

So why does the media/country obsess ?

And what about the politics? The poor people, the foreign policy, the political process.

Shouldn't we be worrying about that. God knows with the mess left behind by W Rumsy and Co.

Rant over. hope you are having a good summer, Chance...

At 8/17/2008 07:12:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

one of the really odd things is that so many people are worried about Edwards effect on the Democrats this fall, but I do wonder if John McCain the unexpected victim of this story. There's something about the Vicki Iseman story that seems equally likely. I wouldn't be shocked if more on that story broke after the conventions.


I agree to a certain extent. It's ridiculous that we worry about these things so much and pay so little attention to the actual issues. At the same time, I think Americans do have a curious fascination with "character" and the notion that politics is somehow an exercise in morality rather than management.
Personally, I was just disappointed because the John and Elizabeth marriage did seem so ideal. It may well still be a very strong marriage. People who do stupid things can often still be in very good relationships.

At 8/18/2008 08:10:00 AM, Blogger benny06 said...

Anonymous has been spamming that same bad poetry on many sites. PUMAs are unhappy with John Edwards, but sorry, one cannot blame him for Hillary's campaign problems. She and Bill Clinton made many enemies along the way, and that's how Obama ended up being more teflon.

John's infidelity is very disappointing. What I find more disappointing is that Rielle Hunter wasn't mature enough to handle their affair more discretely. It's one thing to be Monica and 22 years old, but another to be a 42 year old who should have known better. Worse of all, John should have known better that Rielle had nothing to lose by spilling the beans to her friends lest she became a spurned woman. John also underestimated Elizabeth.

I don't regret my votes or support of them, and will continue to do so, especially for the causes they did and still stand for.

At 8/18/2008 09:53:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

I don't regret voting for John Edwards. I wish I could have and could vote for Elizabeth.

I wish the best for all of the Edwards family. They've been through enough.

At 8/19/2008 07:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John's a dumb rat. I care, however, zero about people's tormented private lives. Infatuation has or can make fools of any of us. Infatuation is a the world's most potent self-generated drug that causes hallucinations that makes lysergic look tepid. Under the influence of 'Love,' "truth" seems so clear and eternal and glorious.

Poor John. I've worked on many campaigns and in my experience 100% of the staff gets crushes on each other or on some one. (I used to say, Use the buzz and don't act on it.) The fact that I never acted on these preposterous crushes doesn't mean it isn't in the Dunkin' Donuts you're mainlined in campaigns. Exhaustion, commitment, shimmering belief in making a better world -- it's heady (&/or loiny) stuff.

I'm not trying to justify the ways of John to non-campaigners -- it's just not as pedestrian and villainous as it appears at first sight. No matter how you come down on the moral turpentine, I could give a fig. His version of the 2 Americas was essential, and tho I'm a Hillary nutcase, I still admire both John & Elizabeth for their large & kind and practical thinking on behalf of the helpless and hopeless. To me the affair is 100% their business. I'm willing to bet that at least half of the woe-is-we folk in the media have had their own moral turpitude interlude or twain.

Of course I read all the info like any other tuttutting scandal mongering gossip-ridden Amurican -- lacking only the tut-tutting part. We got along fine without knowing about Kennedy's "character" or Dwight's "character" or Franklin's "character" in this regard. They're rats. But what I want is competent visionary rats rather than George Not A Rat But A Depraved NarrowBand Zealot.

Frankly, I find religiousness much more disturbing re character than personal mishaps that are between the couple. Drinking the blood and eating the flesh of one's deity, for instance, seems beyond barbaric to me.

At 8/20/2008 02:10:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Mr. Pogblog,
I agree with you. At the same time, I've written posts about George W. an Condi, Larry Craig, Ted Haggard, etc.

It didn't feel right that the whole Edwards thing should just go uncommented on. There was some weird thing inside me saying I couldn't have it both ways.

Politics is a very high adrenalin realm. With those sorts of rushes, different things escalate emotionally and internally just as you say. I don't think ordinary people understand that very well.
I'm pretty sure that the media understands it very well, but they often act as if they don't.

The mainstream media did try it's best not to cover this one for quite a long time fwiw though.


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