Notes on the meteoric Rise and ignominious
Fall of former Senator John Edwards
Saturday, June 2, 2012
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
Is it just me?... or did the public statement this past Thursday [31 May 2012] by former Senator John Edwards [Dem., NORTH CAROLINA] outside the Federal courthouse in Greensboro soon after his acquittal on one of six counts against him- with a mistrial declared as to the other five- make anyone else so uncomfortable?
By sheer dumb (or was it simply "bad"?) luck, I was able to catch his full remarks 'live' at not all that long after 5 o'clock Eastern Daylight Time US [2100 GMT] and 1. kind of wished I hadn't and 2. felt the need to immediately take a shower! And seeing "highlights" (a word that can only be used in quotes herein) of his comments- as excerpted on cable, local and national news- throughout the rest of that evening here in the USofA did nothing at all to either make them seem any the better or alter my initial "creeped-out" reaction to them in the first place.
Senator Edwards is- it has to be admitted- one of the odder politicians to have crossed the national political landscape here in the United States during the existence of The Green Papers.
When this website first went online back in September 1999 (a moment in time, for me, that- at times- seems as if it had been more than a lifetime ago, yet- at other times- could have only been a few months back now-- depending!), he was still a freshman Senator (a quick note about terminology here, if I might: "freshman Senator" is not synonymous with the term "first-term Senator"; a first-term Senator is one who is in his/her first full, six-year, term in that office: a freshman Senator is one who is serving in his/her first two-year numbered Congress [so that a "freshman" in the Senate has the same experience in that body as a "freshman" in the other chamber of Congress (a "freshman Representative" is serving his/her first two-year term which happens to coincide with a particular numbered Congress]-- Senator Edwards was first elected in the 1998 Midterm Federal Elections and was, therefore, a freshman Senator only until early January 2001, even though he would end up serving but one six-year term in the Senate ending in early January 2005 [thus, he was never not a first-term Senator!])...
prior to his election to what is described as both "the world's best known (if not also foremost) deliberative body"- as well as "the world's most exclusive club", Edwards had not only never served in public office, he had never even run for elective office... yet, while still a freshman Senator (as already defined above), he was- reportedly- Vice President Al Gore's second choice as a running mate, behind the man who actually was nominated Gore's #2, Joe Lieberman... while in that sole six-year term in the Senate, Edwards was already running for President in 2004 (instead becoming John Kerry's running mate) and, of course, he ran for President again in 2008 (which is why we all were able to even witness this whole mess engendered by Edwards fathering a child with someone other than his wife with all its negative consequences for that second presidential campaign, consequences that Edwards himself most sought to mitigate [the criminal charges against him being based on allegations that he had utilized that campaign- its staff, as well as its assets- to so mitigate these]).
But, hold on there!... a little "reality check", please: if we could!
Just why the hell was a freshman Senator with no prior experience in public office even being seriously discussed, in the first place, as possibly being one heartbeat away from the Presidency should Al Gore have been elected President? Similarly, just what was a first-term Senator doing running for the Presidency itself, settling for being that "one heartbeat away" had John Kerry gained the White House and then- having been out of public office for four years- trying to become President yet again?...
and all of this within a mere decade, too!
Not that having only served in the United States Senate is at all a bar to running for the Presidency (or, for that matter, the Vice-Presidency)-- Utah Senator Orrin Hatch (who had also never run for public office until he first ran for, and was elected to, the Senate) ran- albeit unsuccessfully- for his Party's presidential nomination in 2000... but, agree with him or not, no one can say Senator Hatch hadn't "paid his dues" before attempting a run at the Nation's Highest Office!
Even President Obama- criticized by many of his detractors for (among many other things) his lack of political experience before becoming President- had served in the State legislature for several years before his less-than-one term in the Senate (and he was only able to even be seriously considered for the Illinois State Senate because his service as a Community Activist- while mocked by those who don't much care for Obama or his politics- at least made him known to the very community that made up that legislative district!)...
by contrast, Edwards seemingly "came out of nowhere" to become an all-too-prominent political figure within the national Democratic Party and- in retrospect, at least- for no real good reason!
By all accounts, Edwards was very good at "working the room" and "gladhanding the crowd"... OK-- so are many other politicians of all political stripes, whether partisan or ideological-- if not both!
But Edwards also had charm and charisma that so obviously had served him well as a trial lawyer in North Carolina-- he also wasn't (by all accounts) all that deep a thinker: this isn't to say he wasn't- or isn't- smart; it's just that he was smart enough to not have to much sweat the details (something that also well serves a trial lawyer who often has to zealously represent a client by making legal arguments in court with which said lawyer might not personally agree: being able- on a regular basis- to grab the "wheat" without having to "dig" through too much "chaff" in order to potentially win one's case doesn't much allow for the type of analysis more theoretical attorneys- those who have to explore the more arcane underpinnings of, say, American Constitutional Development- tend to engage in)...
in other words: Edwards was, evidently, a very successful attorney; conversely, he might not have made all that good a Law Prof!...
but not being all that "deep" (that is: not being the quintessential "pointy-headed intellectual" type) is what made him popular amongst those in the Tarheel State who favor good ol' "down home" Populism: thus, this man of modest origins who became a man of wealth could still tug at the very soulstrings of the Common Man and ride these into Our Nation's Capital where he immediately muscled his way into the Heavyweight Division (helped by the happy accident- rather ironic in retrospect, actually!- of his first serious Order of Business as a United States Senator being to sit in judgment of the just-impeached President Bill Clinton: Edwards became a staunch defender of Clinton and this, as much as anything [charm and charisma, gladhanding and backslapping included], contributed to his rather sudden rise within the ranks of national Democratic Party figures).
His fall, too, seems just as abrupt... though, perhaps, not as abrupt as it might, at first glance, seem.
Edwards was, in fact, more successful during his first run for the Presidency than in his second (here putting aside his having gained the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in 2004 that, so it is said, was almost his but four years before)-- he had come in a close second to his eventual running mate, John Kerry, in IOWA; didn't really embarrass himself in NEW HAMPSHIRE (in which politicians from two neighboring States- Kerry and Howard Dean- were, as expected, dominant); came in second in MISSOURI and OKLAHOMA (actually finishing ahead of Kerry in the Sooner State) and actually won his native SOUTH CAROLINA; and he then finished second in every State holding a Primary thereafter through 'Super Tuesday' [2 March in 2004] except for MICHIGAN and Dean's own VERMONT before suspending his presidential campaign (largely because South Carolina's Primary was be Edwards' only win in his native South).
By contrast, 2008 seems to have been something of a quixotic venture on Edwards' part even before we had ever heard of Rielle Hunter and their daughter Quinn: despite what was a virtual tie with Hillary Clinton behind IOWA winner Barack Obama (in hindsight, a sure sign that Mrs. Clinton was not going to win the presidential nomination without a fight) and- again- holding his own in NEW HAMPSHIRE, Edwards was simply not going to be able to compete for the votes of the downtrodden that began to already turn in Obama's favor in SOUTH CAROLINA (a State that, clearly, Edwards had to win in order for his second presidential bid to remain viable).
It is all too easy to now look back and think 'Aha! We can know the real reason why Edwards dropped out back in '08!!' (much to Hillary Clinton' chagrin- and certainly that of her own supporters, that's for sure!): yet the fact remains that none of us knew that reason in "real time" and, in addition, Edwards may simply have been "odd man out", politically, in any event (Rielle Hunter or no)-- or, to put it even more bluntly, his national political "shelf life" (and he with a "shelf" that was far shallower than than of most who emerge onto the national political scene!) may well have already been over (meanwhile: had he, instead, eschewed Kerry's offer of the Vice-Presidency and sought re-election to the Senate [here assuming- if only for sake of this argument- he were to be re-elected], he might have put forth a better resume for another presidential bid [or, to look at the darker "flip side" of that same coin, it would at least be clearer that his dalliance with Ms. Hunter was that which so badly tripped up such a bid]).
For, in many ways, Edwards was the political equivalent of the quintessential "handsome hunk" arriving at the prom: he knows he's handsome; he knows you know he's handsome; and he wants to make sure you know he's handsome (and-- well-- you're not!)... but, even where such psychological machinations on his part are only in your own mind (in this hypothetical scenario), you still can't stand him.
Such is the lot of the John Edwards's of the world: his very charm and charisma, the toothy smile and the firmest of handshakes, tick off many a person even where they might not at all be intended to tick off!
And so we now come to what it is he said outside the courthouse in Greensboro:
First of all, that appearance itself was downright bizarre: most times after a court case has ended in the manner in which this one had, the attorney for the accused does the talking; where the accused- free from legal hassle, if only (depending on the circumstances) temporarily- does speak, it is usually kept simple and to the point: thanking family, friends, other loved ones and supporters among many a stranger "out there" generally and the like...
instead, Edwards' comments were very much in the style of an ordinary stump speech (which was disconcerting at the start!)
But the discomfiture within the hearer to that which then followed may not be so much Edwards' own fault as much as it is our own: for it is also all too easy to see what he said- as well as the manner in which it was said- as both calculated and contrived... trial lawyer-turned-politician that Edwards has become- and, therefore, is, he may no longer really know any other way to express that which he wished to convey to all of us watching and listening.
Cynicism, therefore, so easily sets in and sees his having choked up upon his own mentioning his "precious Quinn" as an altogether false response-- but *I* have no way of knowing just how sincere (or not) this was (if any of you reading this can so know, then you are- indeed- the proverbial "Better Man (or Woman) Than I" [so long as you ever remember the inherent sarcasm in that very phrase!])...
similarly, his own references to God- perhaps- having further use of him: words that do not so easily fall upon the ears of born-and-raised inveterate Yankee me as they might upon those of one of Edwards' fellow Southerners.
(upon hearing his declamation that "I don't think God's through with me", I immediately thought about the end of an interview I had- earlier this very year- with a free-lance writer from, by coincidence, North Carolina [he was writing a piece on the possibility of a "protest vote" appearing in the later GOP Primaries should Mitt Romney emerge as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee (this was all back in February, mind you!)]: this writer noted how the First Amendment to the American Constitution "makes it all possible" and I- perhaps a bit too enthusiastically- responded with comments about Free Speech and Peaceable Assembly which he interrupted to say "But I was thinking about Religion!" to which I chuckled, said "Well... that, too!" and then mumbled- by way of weak apology- something about "being a Yankee"... it isn't that the North has less religious feeling than the South [although I know many a Southerner who honestly- where not also most earnestly- thinks otherwise: to which I point out that the so-called 'Burned-Over District' which contributed much to American Religious History is in the North!], it's just that Religion, in and of itself, is generally expressed very differently up my way [for instance: there's a reason President George W. Bush always seemed more comfortable amongst Christian evangelicals than his father, President George H.W. Bush-- moreso than personal religious belief might be involved, the younger Bush was- and is- Texan through-and-through (despite having been born in the same Connecticut hospital in which I myself would be born nearly a decade later), no less than another President- and Texas native- LBJ; the elder Bush, on the other hand, can sit behind home plate at as many Houston Astros games as he might wish or wear as many pairs of boots with an outline of the Lone Star State branded thereon as he can acquire and (to be at least a bit more serious here) have his own early contributions to the emergence of a vigorous Republican Party in Texas well outlined, but Bush41 will still always be the son of Connecticut's Prescott Bush (one of that State's two U.S. Senators at the time I was born there, by the way)-- while the late Senator Bush's grandson 'Dub-ya' (or, for that matter, his other well-known political grandson Jeb [currently mentioned as a potential running mate- one of many, however- for Mitt Romney]) have no such issues!]).
Certainly, though: far more seems to have been made of Edwards' reference to his and Ms. Hunter's daughter than his invocation of the Name of the Almighty!
Many a columnist or pundit has, apparently, been more than a bit put off by his even mentioning his daughter Quinn's name after having also mentioned those of his other children (those he sired with his late wife)-- but, truth be told, had he not mentioned his youngest child (the very human core of this whole recent legal controversy, after all), he would have been equally- if not the more- excoriated by these very same drivel-vendors: for Senator Edwards merely finds himself in the position of the person who is truly "Damned if he does- Damned if he doesn't" which is, in fact, a position of much loneliness...
yet it is also a position of much potential freedom (if only because, in the end: if it doesn't really matter what you do, you can then most fully choose what to do) and maybe- just maybe- that is the very answer to the nagging question as to why John Edwards felt so compelled to so speak publicly when it would probably have been best had he said nothing at all and merely pushed past the cameras and microphones, well-wishers and denigrators alike, and made his way to a soon-to-depart automobile without having said a word.
Instead, those who saw and heard this- 'live' or not- are left with an indelible image of something, indeed, all too creepy!