I never really liked John Edwards. Long before the world came to know Senator Edwards for the craven, corrupt, philandering narcissist that he is, there was something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. There was always a little too much Billy Flynn in Edwards. With his much too easy smile, and his borrowed Clintonian “I feel your pain” brow furrowing, his voice alternating between a nearly choked up empathic southern drawl and the sort of fiery oratorical cadence normally reserved for labor organizers in movies, something about John Edwards struck me as smarmy. He was too good looking, too prepared, too polished.
If John Edwards were a fictional character in a movie about the rise and fall of a charismatic politician from South Carolina, the actor they would hire to play the role would look and talk exactly like John Edwards. This is probably why I was in no way surprised to learn about the secret girlfriend, or the secret girlfriend’s secret love child, or the secret slush fund that was set up to pay for the secret girlfriend and the secret love child. Part of me was just happy to know that it was mere adultery and corruption at the heart of the scandal, and not some Ted Bundy-esque string of depraved of serial murders. Nothing would have surprised me. Of any politician I like to ask myself, “If this person hit a jogger with his car out on a lonely country road in the middle of the night, would they run off, or call the authorities?” John Edwards seemed like a runner.
The younger or blissfully uninformed may be unaware of exactly who I am talking about, and where this smiling hairdo in an expensive suit came from. As you will no doubt learn in the first 30 or 40 seconds of any speech he has ever given in his entire life, Johnny Reid Edwards was born the son of a mIll worker father and postal carrier mother. Also, he as a nickname as a legal first name, and that is a pet peeve of mine. I’m already not amused by the John Edwards story.
After the obligatory hardscrabble upbringing and plucky first-person-in-the-family-that-went-to-college trip through law school, John Edwards became a trial lawyer. In 1998 he won a Senate seat, and was a pretty standard Senator for a while. He started showing up on everyone’s VP shortlists as early as 2000, eventually joining the Democratic national ticket in 2004 with John Kerry, the world’s first entirely cybernetic presidential candidate. (Spoiler: They lost.)
John Kerry hadn’t even conceded to Yosemite Sam before John Edwards was planning his 2008 run. The man practically lived in Iowa before the 2008 caucus, and had things gone differently for Obama there, he probably would have won. There are several scenarios that exist that could have put John Edwards on the 2008 ticket. I find that prospect, even today, truly, truly terrifying.
The Edwards undoing came about as a result of an affair with a woman named Rielle Hunter, a free spirited (nutty), actress, videographer and equestrian, who previous to meeting John Edwards was primarily known as the coke fueled party girl inspiration for Alison Poole, the main character in Jay McInerney’s. novel “Bright Lights, Big City,” and as the daughter of famed horse murderer James Druck. Quickly, on the horse thing:
Her father, the late James Druck, once paid a hit man to kill her prize horse, Henry the Hawk, by rigging wires to electrocute the animal by attaching electrical wires to its ear and rectum, according to an account told to Sports Illustrated in 1992 by horse killer Tommy Burns.
What could possibly go wrong.
Hunter met Edwards during the 2008 campaign and was hired to shoot campaign videos, by which I mean she immediately started having an affair with John Edwards. She would later take this love of photojournalism to a new level by reportedly videotaping herself having sex with Senator Edwards. The tape was to be destroyed by court order, which is a shame. I really wanted to see if he keeps that idiotic smile on his face while he is having sex. Does his hair move? Only the tape would have told us that. Plus, sex tapes can sometimes lead to career resurgences. Look at that Kardashian girl.
Imagine that moment. John Edwards, alone, pushing against a public bathroom door with the weight of his body, trying desperately to forestall what was at that point inevitable. Running into a public toilet while being chased by reporters is not a strategy. That is raw panic. I picture him standing there, freaking out, knowing on some level that this is it.
Political figures cheating on their trophy wives is nothing new. In normal circumstances, if two consenting adults wish to fornicate like ecstasy addled ravers at every 5 star hotel in the continental United States, they shouldn’t count me among those pointing fingers and passing judgment. I was a Clinton supporter after all. Even the fact that he was carrying on this affair while his wife was dying from cancer, or that he fathered a love child with Hunter that he denied paternity of for months (talk about an awkward fathers day), isn’t really an issue for me, mostly because I am not Elizabeth Edwards or any of the Edwards children, so I don’t really get a vote. That is between John Edwards, the late Elizabeth Edwards, their children, Rielle Hunter, and the aforementioned infant by-product. On the scale of horrible ordeals a politician can put his family though, this is a doozy, but is by no means the worst. John Edwards seems like a terrible human being, and his poorly concealed sexual escapades make him an abhorrent husband and father, but those dalliances alone do not disqualify him to hold office.
How then did the affable high school football star turned progressive crusading trial lawyer morph into the sort of person who would misuse campaign funds in order to bang his videographer while his wife undergoes cancer treatments? The answer is shockingly simple. Someone gave him the slightest opportunity to. In “Game Change,” Mark Halprin and John Heilemann’s blockbuster biography of the 2008 campaign, the authors dig into this question with some depth.
Many of his friends started noticing a change—the arrival of what one of his aides referred to as “the ego monster”—after he was nearly chosen by Al Gore to be his running mate in 2000: the sudden interest in superficial stuff to which Edwards had been oblivious before, from the labels on his clothes to the size of his entourage. But the real transformation occurred in the 2004 race, and especially during the general election. Edwards reveled in being inside the bubble: the Secret Service, the chartered jet, the press pack, the swarm of factotums catering to his every whim. And the crowds! The ovations! The adoration! He ate it up. In the old days, when his aides asked how a rally had gone, he would roll his eyes and self-mockingly say, “Oh, they love me.” Now he would bound down from the stage beaming and exclaim, without the slightest shred of irony, “They looooove me!”
Once Edwards had been warm and considerate with his staffers; now he was disdainful, ignoring them, dismissing their ideas, demanding that they perform the most menial of tasks. He made his schedulers find out what movies were available on different flights so he could decide which ones to take. He would fly only first class or on private planes he cadged from donors.
As Edwards’s mistreatment of his staff and supporters got worse through 2005, aides interceded, trying to set him straight. “You can’t talk to people that way,” Hickman scolded him after one off-putting display. People are attracted to the nice John Edwards, and for a lot of them, you’re not that John Edwards anymore.
Edwards bridled at the criticism. “I don’t know where that’s coming from,” he snapped.
By the time the human ego has enlarged to the density and size described by Halprin and Heilemann, only the force of a massive, earth shattering scandal can work to deflate it. I call this “Pulling a Blagojevich.”
As endeavors built on hubris and powered by ego and ambition so frequently do, the John Edwards campaign began to collapse in spectacular and awe inspiring splendor. Now that the National Enquirer had broken the story, once again frustrating the civilized news industry by being irritatingly right about something, John Edwards was on the run. Literally. From Newsweek:
When the elevator doors opened early that July morning, the reporter who spoke to Edwards had five other Enquirer reporters and photographers behind him. And then Edwards ran. He simply took off, sprinting through the hotel lobby searching for a way out. The man who campaigned on restoring America’s moral leadership then ran into the public men’s room. As Edwards crashed into the bathroom, the reporters tried to follow. But Edwards pushed the door shut, throwing his weight against it to keep out the reporters.
That image, right there, is the one that sticks out most in my mind. It is a remarkable piece of history, and is easily one of the most compelling human moments in modern political history. I believe that to be the exact moment John Edwards knew for sure that he was ruined. Oh sure, the denials, the spouse reactions, the string of salacious revelations, all of that was still to come. When we found out that he was having an aid claim paternity for his secret baby, that was news to us, but it wasn’t to John Edwards. He knew about everything he had done, knew he was making mistakes as he was making them, and probably thought he wouldn’t get caught.
Imagine that moment. John Edwards, alone, pushing against a public bathroom door with the weight of his body, trying desperately to forestall what was at that point inevitable. Running into a public toilet while being chased by reporters is not a strategy. That is raw panic. I picture him standing there, freaking out, knowing on some level that this is it. The John Edwards that leaves the bathroom is an entirely different creature than the one who entered it. What could have been happening in his mind? I honestly have no idea. What does a person do when faced with complete professional and personal ruin, and worse yet, how do they deal with the fact that the carnage is entirely their own fault? I honestly do know how someone’s psyche survives a transition like that, on that sort of scale. Perhaps John Edwards could find some comfort in the later successes of Richard Nixon, who managed to turn the lemons of impeachable High Crime and Misdemeanors into the lemonade of not being hated by 100% of the population. Not the sweetest lemonade ever, but better than going to jail for corruption. No lemons in prison.
Oddly, that is where things might be headed for John Edwards. As it turns out, knowingly misappropriating campaign funds in order to hide your secret girlfriend and your secret girlfriends love child is pretty illegal. Up till now, this is a tragic story of ego and the lure of power and it’s blonde equestrian trappings. Fantastic trivia, but fairly unimportant. John Edwards sounds like a pretty awful guy, and even worse husband. I am really, really glad we didn’t nominate him, and I’m glad to have him out of the party. What he does with his genitals remains none of my business. Until the day that you start to tell me what to do with my penis, I don’t care what you do with yours.
It’s the corruption I’m alarmed by. I am a stickler for details when it comes to stuff like this. In my mind, corruption is one small step below treason. Knowingly break campaign finance law? I don’t care why you did it. You belong in jail. If John Edwards took campaign money and used it to illegally cover up an affair, then he is a despicable criminal. At the same time, if he took the money and used it to purchase vintage Partridge Family memorabilia, I would be exactly the same amount of upset. Corruption is corruption is corruption. This subject is entirely apolitical. If Obama were to take even the slightest bribe, as much as I like him, I will need to see him driven from his office in handcuffs before I am satisfied. These people are stewards of the public trust. If we can’t trust them, the entire system breaks down. John Edwards was indicted on six felony counts, four for illegal campaign contributions, one for making false statements, and one for conspiracy. If he is guilty, I would like to see him go to jail for whatever the maximum penalty is. I want politicians positively terrified of corruption. Should the concept of corruption even come up in casual conversation, I want the elected official in question to get the feeling that John Edwards had in his chest while he was locked in that bathroom.
Ole’ Good Time Johnny is probably ashamed of his behavior on the campaign trail and the way he treated his wife and family, as he should be, but he should be far more ashamed by the behavior he is currently on trial for. That is what turned crimes against his family into crimes against democracy. And to you politicians out there: If we have learned nothing else from this and other such scandals, let it be that the while temptation of a little harmless road strange is likely irresistible to those among you possessed by the Edwards Ego Monster, it will always be a better idea to simply beat off and go to bed early. Also, keep away from sending pictures of your penis to people. Just ask Anthony Weiner.
Benjamin Phillips is a Humor Writer, Web Developer, Civics Nerd, and all around crank that spends entirely too much time shouting with deep exasperation at the television, especially whenever cable news is on. He lives in St. Louis, MO and spends most of his time staring at various LCD screens, occasionally taking walks in the park whenever his boyfriend becomes sufficiently convinced that Benjamin is becoming a reclusive hermit person. He is available for children’s parties, provided that those children are entertained by hearing a complete windbag talk for two hours about the importance of science education, or worse yet, poorly researched anecdotes PROVING that James Buchanan was totally gay. If civilization were to collapse due to zombie hoards or nuclear holocaust, Benjamin would be among the first to die as he has no useful skills of any kind. The post-apocalyptic hellscape has no real need for homosexual computer programmers who can name all the presidents in order, as well as the actors who have played all eleven incarnations of Doctor Who.
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