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Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster
January 9, 2010 2:58 PM   Subscribe

New York Magazine has posted an excerpt about John Edwards' ill-fated campaign from John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's book about the 2008 presidential election Game Change.

The book, due Tuesday, includes juicy revelations as described by the Atlantic politics blog, including an embarrassing remark by Senator Harry Reid about Barack Obama's lack of a "Negro dialect" which caused Reid to issue an apology earlier today.
posted by MegoSteve (84 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Here's what Marc Ambinder has to say about what the book has to say about Elizabeth Edwards:
I don't want to give away the whole book... but I would be remiss if I did not point to the chapters about the unbelievably dysfunctional husband and wife team of John and Elizabeth Edwards. Not only, it turns out, did many senior Edwards staffer suspect that John was having an affair, several confronted John Edwards about it, and came away believing the rumors. At least three campaign aides resigned because of their knowledge of the affair well before the national media picked up on those early National Enquirer stories.

And John and Elizabeth (who the book says was known to Edwards insiders as "abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending, crazywoman") fought, in front of staffers, about the affair. The authors describe a moment where Elizabeth, in a such a state of fury, deliberately tears her blouse in the parking lot of a Raleigh airport terminal, "exposing herself. 'Look at me," she wailed at John and then staggered, nearly falling to the ground." (That's page 142.) (This was in October, by the way, well before the media took the reports of the Hunter affair seriously.)
posted by delmoi at 3:10 PM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow.
posted by wuwei at 3:24 PM on January 9, 2010


Never put anyone on a pedestal, I suppose.

There were a few lefty people I knew who said, always, that no matter how progressive his rhetoric, something about John Edwards just wasn't right all along. Even when Edwards embraced the core progressive issue -- systemic poverty -- these folks couldn't go there. They were right.

One does wonder at what point this constant parade of scandalous and scandalously hypocritical behavior by politicians will reap its own whirlwind, or whether it hasn't already happened and this is why no one likes any of them. In part, we just know it's human nature that people struggle with monogamy, marriages are hard work and even harder in the public eye, politics attracts people who crave attention and validation of the sort conveyed (for a lot of men, at least; I don't know what the equivalent catnip would be for women politicians) by adulterous affairs, and power attracts sexual attention in ways that surely test even the otherwise decent in challenging ways. I'm a middle aged guy, and I don't know one perfect marriage, or one man (and not many, if any, women) who have never in their lives struggled with fidelity issues. As seems clear to me, humans are not evolved to be sexually monogamous, so the cultural override on that has to fail frequently, and we all know it does. This is not even to get into the absurdities added to the mix by the stigmatization of particular and very common sexual identities and orientations that are incompatible with ambition in public life, and thus necessarily practiced in illicit and risky ways.

In a way, WTF America? How can the public be so hungry for the blood of hypocrites -- and f**k knows we have enough of 'em in public life -- when none of us are virtuous? Why do we ask politicians to embody our own model virtues knowing they will often fail, and sometimes do so spectacularly? Do most Americans really give a shit, morally, about the private lives of politicians apart from the obvious value of all of this as political theater of the bread and circus/opposition research sort?

Put no one on a pedestal.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:32 PM on January 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


I saw them on Labor Day in Pittsburgh in 2008 and they looked so happy. I guess the power of illusion is...well, powerful. Normally I disdain books like this, but it seems like a good illustration of how dysfunctional American politics are. Which may be more than I can resist.
posted by elder18 at 3:38 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


What a dick. That he could go ahead with a presidential campaign knowing that this scandal was one cell-phone call away from the front pages of every paper in the country is testimony to his massive ego. And I actually liked the guy, hoping that his schtick about the poor was genuine. Guess not.
posted by nevercalm at 3:44 PM on January 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is your title referring to Elizabeth and John or both to Elizabeth? Cause honestly, people have been saying for a long time that she's no saint; further, if she knew that he had an affair and that that hidden fact could have destroyed his campaign, then she's just as complicit in this deception as him. He's not a monster and she's not a saint - they're both narcissists who craved power equally.
posted by billysumday at 3:48 PM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Elizabeth’s illness seemed at first to mellow her in the early months of 2005—but not for long. One day, she was on a conference call with the staffers of One America, the political-action committee that was being turned into a vehicle for John’s 2008 bid. There were 40 or 50 people on the line, mostly kids in their twenties being paid next to nothing (and in some cases literally nothing). Elizabeth had been cranky throughout the call, but at the end she asked if her and her husband’s personal health-care coverage had been arranged. Not yet, she was told. There are complications; let’s discuss it after the call. Elizabeth was having none of that. She flew into a rage.

If this isn’t dealt with by tomorrow, everyone’s health care at the PAC will be cut off until it’s fixed, she barked. I don’t care if nobody has health care until John and I do!



Sweet jesus--the multimillionaire's wife threatening the plebes with lack of health care coverage certainly takes the shiny off of my old, "But for his tragic philandering, Edwards could have been poor America's RFK" fairy tale.
posted by availablelight at 3:51 PM on January 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Lucky for that haircut. We dodged a bullet there.
posted by moorooka at 3:53 PM on January 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


wow, indeed.
posted by liza at 3:54 PM on January 9, 2010


Halperin's as self-serving a journalist as they come, but this is good reporting that confirms what many of us assumed all along about Edwards. I feel a little bad. I never jumped on the bandwagon, and I always recoiled about everyone's desire to put Elizabeth Edwards in the heroine/villainous box ("Saint Elizabeth" really is what many thought of her, and struck me as unfortunately reminiscent of the Madonna/whore dichotomy).

If I were alive then, I would've loved actual RFK. But I will always be suspicious of smooth-seeming southern populists trying to carry the mantle.
posted by aswego at 3:59 PM on January 9, 2010


Edwards always made my skin crawl. That said, I really, really disliked the illustrations for the Atlantic article; ugly stuff.
posted by darth_tedious at 4:10 PM on January 9, 2010


I don't see any illustrations in any of the Atlantic links.
posted by billysumday at 4:14 PM on January 9, 2010


>
I don't see any illustrations in any of the Atlantic links.


Ah. My mistake. I meant New York Magazine:

http://nymag.com/news/politics/63045/
posted by darth_tedious at 4:19 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Edwards had actually been a North Carolina Senator for a second instead of immediately turning around and running for president, he could have been great. Can you imagine his voice in the health care debate this year? Thinking about the Senate seat he so quickly just fucking threw away makes me angry and sad at him all over again.
posted by mediareport at 4:23 PM on January 9, 2010 [7 favorites]


On policy, I really, really liked John Edwards. Bummer.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:36 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was just going to link to the NYMag article. Yeah, that Illustration sucks. I thought this was interesting:
Even before the cancer, she was among her husband’s greatest political assets. In one focus group conducted by Hickman in Edwards’s Senate race, voters trashed him as a pretty-boy shyster—until they saw pictures of Elizabeth, four years his senior. “I like that he’s got a fat wife,” one woman said. “I thought he’d be married to a Barbie or a cheerleader.”
posted by delmoi at 4:44 PM on January 9, 2010


Can you imagine his voice in the health care debate this year?

The guy got seriously rich suing doctors. Right or wrong, I can't imagine he'd be the best voice for reason and conciliation.

(Thought it kind of ironic that in later life when he and the mrs decided they wanted a new baby they had to go to very high priced specialist - doctors.)
posted by IndigoJones at 4:48 PM on January 9, 2010


In the Senate, in particular, Edwards was regarded almost universally by his former colleagues as a callow, shallow phony.

Jesus, that's quite an attack. I don't mind the specific quotes being unsourced, or sourced generally, and am finding the chapter a fascinating and revealing read, but a broad insult like the above really ought to have *something* backing it up.

Thanks for the pointer, MegoSteve. I followed the man's political career from 1998, when his money, voice and looks muscled a good, honest, long-term Dem trench worker out of the Senate primary and let Edwards beat the seriously weakened Republican incumbent, so it's particularly juicy from this angle.
posted by mediareport at 4:52 PM on January 9, 2010


(Thought it kind of ironic that in later life when he and the mrs decided they wanted a new baby they had to go to very high priced specialist - doctors.)

OMG IT'S SO IRONIC THAT SOMEONE WHO SUED DOCTORS FOR FUCKING UP WOULD ALSO GO TO OTHER DOCTORS THEMSELVES!
posted by delmoi at 4:55 PM on January 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


The illustration on page 4 is pretty funny, though.
posted by delmoi at 4:55 PM on January 9, 2010


The guy got seriously rich suing doctors.

Actually, no he didn't. His most famous case was against the Sta-Rite pool drain cover company, the only defendant who refused to settle when Valerie Lakey got her intestines pulled out of her anus in a public swimming pool. Years ago I put up a page collecting the details about that one.
posted by mediareport at 4:58 PM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


And I actually liked the guy, hoping that his schtick about the poor was genuine. Guess not.

Sexual behavior does not correlate highly with genuineness of care about the plight of the poor.
posted by DU at 5:05 PM on January 9, 2010 [6 favorites]



You have the stats on that?
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:12 PM on January 9, 2010


I particularly liked the illustrations for the NY Mag piece. They gave events a noirish heft, a pathos and drama that they certainly didn't appear to have when I was "watching" them unfold on the news. (Elizabeth's tearing her blouse open is an Oscar moment for some future Sigourney Weaver.)
posted by Countess Elena at 5:26 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would have thought most folks on Metafilter grasped the fact that politicians are people, too, with all the good and bad that comes with that.
posted by wierdo at 5:37 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Edwards replied that he was going to confess to the affair, but deny paternity of the child. He didn’t want to jeopardize his chances of being Obama’s attorney general, he said.

Wow.
posted by box at 5:37 PM on January 9, 2010


Sexual behavior does not correlate highly with genuineness of care about the plight of the poor.

You're probably right. What about the part about being a scumbag and cheating on your recently-diagnosed-with-cancer wife, while she was battling the disease?

Any correlation there with human decency, and caring for the misfortunate? Wait, wait, i get it. Do as I say, not as I do...
posted by SeizeTheDay at 5:48 PM on January 9, 2010


I was pretty surprised to learn recently that FDR cheated on Eleanor (with her personal secretary) and only cut it out because it threatened his political future. Not that I'm saying Edwards was another FDR, just that being an adulterer does not make you a bad choice for president.
posted by DU at 5:52 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


The kind of reporting that Halperin and Heilemann leaves me deeply conflicted. On the one hand, people wil buy this book and I don't mean to say that anyone who seeks out political gossip and/or buys the book is doing anything wrong.

On the other hand, books like this....heck, anecdotes like the one above...work to obscure the contributions of the people involved. Look, we know that John Edwards cheated on his wife. We may come to believe these accounts about Elizabeth Edwards being a difficult person. And in remembering this we forget that the Edwards campaign was the first to lay out a health reform plan during the 2008 campaign. We forget that this step was courageous, essentially laying out specifics that were used by opponents. That plan is very similar to the current plan, including the dread "mandate", which Obama campaigned against.

I think Ezra Klein said it best here:
"Much more so than Obama, it was Edwards who forced a new style of politics, untethered by the fear and timidity of the 90s,adamant that liberalism was an electoral boon and economic justice a popular sentiment. Knowing they had to defend against his challenge, both Hillary and Obama edged closer to his appeal.

"It left the Democrats in a much stronger position overall, and forced them to argue for, and commit to, a much broader and more inspiring agenda than we otherwise might have seen."
I've gone on for too long. I guess my point is simply that we'll probably forget this...sadly. Our memories will be replaced with the Edwards drama. And I don't care that it's his own fault, because in his own way, Edwards as much as anyone (but also Harry Reid) really helped those of us without health care. And that, so much more than some guy's cheating, is what matters...the policy, not the person.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 6:00 PM on January 9, 2010 [14 favorites]


billysumday: Is your title referring to Elizabeth and John or both to Elizabeth?

The OP's title is the title of the piece. I'm pretty sure both are nicknames for Elizabeth and John Edwards respectively, meant with varying degrees of irony.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:26 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised nobody has yet mentioned the Palin lulz aspect of the book:
* In the days leading up to an interview with ABC News’ Charlie Gibson, aides were worried with Ms. Palin’s grasp of facts. She couldn’t explain why North and South Korea were separate nations and she did not know what the Federal Reserve did. She also said she believed Saddam Hussein attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
posted by Rhomboid at 6:42 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Based on the excerpt, this promises to be a masterpiece of its rather disgusting genre.
posted by Diablevert at 6:45 PM on January 9, 2010


Sexual behavior does not correlate highly with genuineness of care about the plight of the poor.

No, but a messianic sense of one's self correlates almost 1:1 with saying anything to accrue as much power and notoriety as possible, which is almost certainly what he was doing.
posted by nevercalm at 7:10 PM on January 9, 2010


being an adulterer does not make you a bad choice for president

But it sure makes you a lousy candidate.
posted by ryanrs at 7:20 PM on January 9, 2010


I was pretty surprised to learn recently that FDR cheated on Eleanor (with her personal secretary) and only cut it out because it threatened his political future. Not that I'm saying Edwards was another FDR, just that being an adulterer does not make you a bad choice for president.

That's true, generally speaking. However, the political reality in the US since Clinton is that you will get crucified for it if you're a politician with presidential ambitions. That seems to stick to certain politicians more than others. If you're a handsome trial lawyer with a fancy haircut and a Democrat who likes social programs to boot, the Republicans are going to try to get anything on your sex life, for one because it's emasculating, but also because it makes Edwards look morally corrupt. The Republicans use this often since Clinton, as they try to paint their opponent as a philanderer, IOW not family-oriented. Of course, this works both ways, as all the Republican scandals of late can attest.

Edwards knew all this and yet failed to do anything to stop it all from crashing down on him and everyone who supported him. It's not just infidelity. It's also that Edwards was reckless in his disregard for the other people around him who depended on him. But that's the thing. It's not really anyone's business who has an affair. It's a real problem for the people involved, however, and in this case that involves a hell of a lot of people, including us. That may not be fair, but if we're all going to be adults about it, Edwards must shoulder a lot of the blame for carrying on a public charade at great expense and labor to a lot of people.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:21 PM on January 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


You're probably right. What about the part about being a scumbag and cheating on your recently-diagnosed-with-cancer wife, while she was battling the disease?

Hmm, MLK also cheated on his wife.
posted by delmoi at 7:26 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


You really buried the lede with this FPP. The Majority Leader of the United States Senate referred to one of his colleagues -- who would become President of the United States -- as able to avoid a "negro dialect." And he admitted it and had to apologize. That's shocking.
posted by Slap Factory at 7:33 PM on January 9, 2010


Hmm, MLK also cheated on his wife.

Yes, and patriarchy is alive and well.

We must remember for all the defense of infidelity, all these examples involve powerful men cheating on their less powerful wives.

I'm not defending monogamy so much, but there are other factors at play besides an artificial social boundary. In any event, plenty of people manage to go through their whole lives with little to no problems in this regard. Nobody's perfect, but in MLK's day this sort of thing happened, particularly with these circles, and was pretty much understood to be going on anyway by the public who bothered to think about it, though it was almost never reported as a tabloid political issue, a sort of "gentlemen's agreement" among all the powerful guys getting the good end of the stick. The political reality today is not the same. And at this point, if you can't hack it or are just not the monogamous type, why get married anyway?
posted by krinklyfig at 7:40 PM on January 9, 2010


We must remember for all the defense of infidelity, all these examples involve powerful men cheating on their less powerful wives.

But this is tautological. We're discussing some of the most powerful men in the world. Therefore they will, by definition, have less powerful wives. If we started talking about powerful women who had affairs we would then generally be talking about powerful women cheating on their less powerful husbands.

I'm not aware of any evidence that powerful men or women are any more or less likely to engage in cheating when they have the chance.
posted by Justinian at 7:49 PM on January 9, 2010


You really buried the lede with this FPP.

I disagree. The meat is really that ten page article on the background machinations of the John Edwards campaign as it dealt with his affair, particularly the scene of her argument with him that culminated in ripping her blouse to expose herself and screaming, "Look at me!" (Since it wasn't explicitly mentioned in the article, in case you weren't aware, she had a double mastectomy as part of her breast cancer treatment.)

I don't think what Reid said is all that shocking compared to that. That it made the front page of CNN this morning just says to me that it's been a slow news day for the "liberal" media.

What Bill Clinton is alleged to have said to Ted Kennedy about Obama is more shocking than what Reid said, IMO.
posted by MegoSteve at 7:56 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


You really buried the lede with this FPP. The Majority Leader of the United States Senate referred to one of his colleagues -- who would become President of the United States -- as able to avoid a "negro dialect." And he admitted it and had to apologize. That's shocking.

I think Harry Reid is a bit of a non-entity as far as that goes. It was completely tone-deaf. But Reid is not Jesse Helms, and nobody seriously thinks so, so although it hit the news immediately it didn't become a scandal. He apologized immediately, which I think is what he should do and all that the Party would want to ask of him, because nobody in the Democratic Party - including Obama himself - wants to make a big deal out of this. It does them no good to take offense at one of their own for something which is in reality not a big deal. Sometimes I wish Reid were not in the position he's in, but he's very good at vote-wrangling, and my concerns aren't with his antiquated dialect.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:56 PM on January 9, 2010


And at this point, if you can't hack it or are just not the monogamous type, why get married anyway?

The egos and machismo of men meet the political reality of needing a woman by your side to get elected.

And comparing John Edwards with FDR and MLK is just laughable.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 7:59 PM on January 9, 2010


What Bill Clinton is alleged to have said to Ted Kennedy about Obama is more shocking than what Reid said, IMO.

Call me naive but what is the implication there? That Obama would be fetching coffee because he's black or because he's young and hadn't been in Washington that long? I'd assumed the latter before I read of others' outrage.
posted by Partario at 8:03 PM on January 9, 2010


I'm not aware of any evidence that powerful men or women are any more or less likely to engage in cheating when they have the chance.

I was not aware we'd come to a point where women were equally powerful in the workplace.

But this misses the point. Everyone has been saying, sure, it's wrong, but MLK did it, Kennedy did it, etc. Yeah, they did. It was wrong then, too, just more socially acceptable. A lot of the time it happened because of power imbalances - you all watch Mad Men, right? I think somehow it implies that Edwards can't control his pants because he's so thoroughly occupied with important things, which I doubt very highly, and if he can't, keep him the hell away from the Oval Office. He knows what a problem that can be for him and his political career, so he should engage in some discipline. I mean, is it really that hard to do?
posted by krinklyfig at 8:06 PM on January 9, 2010


I don't get it. Except insofar as his affairs may have been a blackmail issue, how would this affect his policies, and thus the lives of the average citizen?

(If I was American) I wouldn't care if he was having a gang bang every weekend - I care about his policies, his politics, his job of representing me as a citizen. Affairs etc. aren't illegal, and I think he has rights as a private citizen to, you know, privacy.

It's interesting to contrast America with Australia. Our most beloved prime minister, Bob Hawke, was a notorious root rat, boffing everything in sight - and no one wrote about it, no one in the opposition mentioned it, and no one in public cared about it. John Howard (ex PM) is credibly alleged to have had extra-marital relations with a (now) MP for several years, and no one would touch it with a barge pole. Bloody Billy Snedden died whilst having sex with his son's ex-girlfriend - it did more for his popularity than his pathetic efforts in parliament ever did.

I think it's really depressing that we have come to conflate the job of politician with that of embodying virtue. No one else gets fired at their job when they have an affair - imagine if they did. It misses the forest for the trees and allows us to ignore the real issues that are affecting us and the world. It's like fiddling while Rome burns, but we kick the fiddler out. Dude, the city's still burning, who cares about a fiddle?
posted by smoke at 8:11 PM on January 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


The egos and machismo of men meet the political reality of needing a woman by your side to get elected.

Yeah, I know, and I know it happens all the time. I still maintain that he knows the reality of the situation, so charade or no, you have to expect this sort of thing to cause major problems for you eventually.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:11 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't get it. Except insofar as his affairs may have been a blackmail issue, how would this affect his policies, and thus the lives of the average citizen?

Well, look what happened. His presidential ambitions are dead, and he had to cancel a campaign dead in its tracks. What sort of effect do you think it had?
posted by krinklyfig at 8:13 PM on January 9, 2010


Call me naive but what is the implication there? That Obama would be fetching coffee because he's black or because he's young and hadn't been in Washington that long? I'd assumed the latter before I read of others' outrage.

You're right. My knee jerk reaction was that it sounded a more like the former, and that's probably what Ted Kennedy was reacting to. I wouldn't doubt that Clinton didn't mean it that way... it's just one of those poorly worded turns of phrase that lends itself to misinterpretation.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:19 PM on January 9, 2010


But this misses the point. Everyone has been saying, sure, it's wrong, but MLK did it, Kennedy did it, etc. Yeah, they did. It was wrong then, too, just more socially acceptable.
Whether or not it's wrong, no one would claim that MLK didn't care about the poor. That was the point that was being debated, whether JE's affair meant he was full of crap when talking about poverty, etc.
Well, look what happened. His presidential ambitions are dead, and he had to cancel a campaign dead in its tracks. What sort of effect do you think it had?
His campaign was over before the story got a lot of play (that was when the Enquirer got a photo of him holding the baby)
posted by delmoi at 8:24 PM on January 9, 2010


Good grief. Compare the comments under the "juicy" and "revelations" links, and guess which one was featured on Drudge.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 8:50 PM on January 9, 2010


The real lede here isn't Edwards' sex life so much as it is a series of bizarre behaviors which amounted to a psuedo-messianic complex. Even if Hunter was a man and they never had an affair, Edwards' willingness to alienate key campaign staff over a series of petulant accommodations for himself and the person he put in charge of documenting his every move is a sign of danger in the personal character department with direct implications for the way he would have led the country.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:21 PM on January 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


The real lede here isn't Edwards' sex life so much as it is a series of bizarre behaviors which amounted to a psuedo-messianic complex.

According messianic complex according to conservative douche bag Mark Halperin

Helperin is an idiot the fact that his writing presents Edwards as being "messianic" doesn't actually mean that was the case.
posted by delmoi at 9:28 PM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


The war room within a war room dismissed or discredited much of the gossip floating around, but not all of it. The stories about one woman were more concrete, and after some discreet fact-finding, the group concluded that they were true: that BIll was indeed having an affair -- and not a frivolous one-night stand but a sustained romantic relationship. .... For months, thereafter, the war room within a war room braced for the explosion, which her aides knew could come at any moment.

If true, this is the epitome of arrogance. I know I read something of this right after Obama had the nomination in hand, that the Clinton campaign was thankful they did not have to deal with the fallout this affair would bring.

If Hillary Clinton had become president, Bill's philandering would have been a constant distraction, keeping her from giving her full attention to the work of the presidency. What an asshole. And I agree that monogamy is not a natural state and shit happens, but no one knows more than Bill Clinton what the consequences are, and how seemingly inconsequential human acts translate to a international news audience with a prurient interest.
posted by readery at 9:32 PM on January 9, 2010


Call me naive but what is the implication there? That Obama would be fetching coffee because he's black or because he's young and hadn't been in Washington that long? I'd assumed the latter before I read of others' outrage.

Well, given that by the time Bill Clinton was Obama's age, he had been elected Arkansas Attorney general, then been elected, defeated, and re-elected as Governor, and then selected to give the keynote address of the 1988 Democratic Convention, I really have a hard time thinking that the statement made there was that Obama was "young."

The real lede here isn't Edwards' sex life so much as it is a series of bizarre behaviors which amounted to a psuedo-messianic complex.

Yes. The affair and child wasn't the "story" as much as the fact that Edwards had already had an affair and a child and ran for president anyway. His campaign was a ticking time bomb that could have dragged down the entire Democratic party if he had the misfortune to be nominated. This indicates stunningly reckless behavior.
posted by deanc at 9:36 PM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I still don't understand why I'm supposed to care that he had an affair.

Really, I just don't.

I understand the "how could he have run with a scandal hanging over his head likely to explode at any time" argument. I get that.

But the affair itself? I mean, *why* it's supposed to be such a big scandal in and of itself in the first place?

I don't get it.
posted by kyrademon at 9:47 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I looked for the webisodes Rielle Hunter produced after reading the longer article. They are kind of interesting to watch for the mindset Edwards was in at the time. The first one is here.
posted by Locative at 10:33 PM on January 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I understand the "how could he have run with a scandal hanging over his head likely to explode at any time" argument. I get that.

But the affair itself? I mean, *why* it's supposed to be such a big scandal in and of itself in the first place?


I think the public perception of the two is linked in a way that can't be decompartmentalized. The reaction to a philandering John Edwards if he happened to be a movie star, for example, is always going to be different than the reaction to John Edwards as one of only 20-something people on the planet that with a valid shot at the most powerful elected position on the planet. The former is merely interesting in a gossipy way. The other is interesting in a what-an-arrogant-bastard kinda way.

If you're still not with me, imagine two scenarios:

* John Edwards is your plumber. He's cheating on his sick wife, has fathered a child out of wedlock, he's been dodging his wife with late-night, sordid trysts and teenage-like antics, and he's been lying about the entire thing to his closest friends. It's been a huge distraction for him.

Do you care? Probably not. You'll probably ask me, "Does it make my toilet more or less likely to leak?" Probably not, I'll say.

* John Edwards is your attorney in a medical case involving your only child, who was horribly maimed in a swimming pool accident that was the result of corporate negligence and malfeasance. You're looking at decades of bankruptcy unless Edwards can artfully steer your enormously complicated court case to a successful, well-deserved conclusion. You've placed your family's entire life in Edwards' hands. He's promised to stake his entire professional career on this case.

Two weeks before trial begins, you learn he's cheating on his sick wife, has fathered a child out of wedlock, he's been dodging his wife with late-night, sordid trysts and teenage-like antics, and he's been lying about the entire thing to his closest friends. It's been a huge distraction for him.

How are you feeling now? Ready for court?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:33 PM on January 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


But the affair itself? I mean, *why* it's supposed to be such a big scandal in and of itself in the first place?

I don't get it.


It is a trust issue. He lied to his wife. A liar will cheat. A cheater will steal from you. If there were no room for taking character into account in politics, we would just vote for a disembodied set of policies instead of electing people.
posted by Slap Factory at 10:53 PM on January 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


But that's the thing, Cool Papa Bell, I feel like the reaction is exactly the same as if he was a movie star, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
posted by smoke at 11:02 PM on January 9, 2010


I've watched the first of those webisodes Locative dredged up; it's really rather affecting, seeing Edwards burble about his decision to be His Real Self, to expose himself completely (come what may!), etc., etc.

The theme song's main lyric, played loudly at the beginning:

When you look into a mirror
Do you like what's lookin' at you?

Now that you've seen your own reflection
What on earth are you gonna do?


I'm not kidding.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:04 PM on January 9, 2010


But the affair itself? I mean, *why* it's supposed to be such a big scandal in and of itself in the first place?

Remember how the final two years of Bill Clinton's presidency were spent not tracking down Osama bin Laden, not combating global warming, not putting Al Gore in position to win in 2000, all because of impeachment and the Monica Lewinsky scandal?

It's not the affair -- it's the cover-up, and the resulting distraction. It takes away your time, distracts not just the candidate/President buit everyone around him with depositions and legal bills, it means a president has less time and less influence to shape legislation, it means you give up on important progressive goals in order to pay attention to the scandal.

Bill's infidelity hurt Al Gore's chances, and that brought us Bush. Edwards had to be massivelyy reckless to risk a repeat. It strongly suggests he more highly values pleasing his cock than about his advancing his progressive agenda. It's a reckless misuse of all the time money and effort his supporters donated to him, not for his cock-fun but because they wanted to achieve those progressive goals.

I don't care who John Edwards fucks, but when his fucking risks four more years of Republican ascendancy, it's almost criminal narcissism for him to ask us to support him.
posted by orthogonality at 11:11 PM on January 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is a trust issue. He lied to his wife. A liar will cheat. A cheater will steal from you. If there were no room for taking character into account in politics, we would just vote for a disembodied set of policies instead of electing people.

Oh come on. What goes on between a married couple is not necessarily going to affect how they treat people they're not in intimate relationships with. People have different thresholds for things. Cheating on your wife doesn't make you a murder. And it won't make you into a thief either.

Not to defend Edwards, though. Orthogonality is right. Everyone knew or should have known that if the democratic nominee had been having an affair it would have been a disaster, and incredibly demoralizing to pretty much everyone.

It's somewhat meta: "I'm outraged that he would do something so outrageous!" but the outrage is really that he put so much at risk.
posted by delmoi at 1:21 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Orthogonality, I *get* reasons like the one you gave. It's the kind of thing that Slap Factory said (and it's the reason an awful lot of people give) that leaves me scratching my head and saying, "Huh?"

I mean, I suppose I understand it abstractly -- it's the same logic as saying, "This guy once stole 30,000 dollars. Don't trust him with a position where he has the opportunity to steal money."

But the chain of logic Slap Factory gives, which is essentially, "He slept with a woman other than his wife, and therefore he will steal from you!" (or, as other people seem to have argued above, therefore he did not really favor policies that would alleviate poverty) just seems like a very odd leap to me, I guess.

*shrug* Oh, well. I didn't vote for him in any case.
posted by kyrademon at 2:53 AM on January 10, 2010


edwards is the palin of the democratic party.

I do have to say I would have liked to have seen some of this journalism while his campaign was still going strong. I read that entire piece and was fascinated by it - I had no idea of mrs. edward's strange persona - but it does sound like a bunch of folks from a campaign that lost are proceeding to tear into each other. there is no way to know how much of the characterizations are true and how much is personal dislike amongst those who have reason to be unfriendly.
posted by krautland at 3:58 AM on January 10, 2010


The main impression I get from reading this piece is that Edwards didn't handle staff very well at all, or that he managed to assemble the most disloyal staff imaginable in politics. Neither scenario bodes well for the idea of Edwards as President.

I get that famous/ powerful men have affairs, and that in spite of their sainthoods, MLK and FDR were unfaithful to their spouses. But they managed a certain discretion that Edwards and the wacky Ms. Hunter would never be able to achieve.
posted by coldhotel at 5:13 AM on January 10, 2010


I agree that Edwards affair would have been disastrous, because if there's one thing Republicans hate it's when Democrats cheat on their wives. (Seriously, SC Governor Mark Sanford is going to resign in shame any day now for lying about his trips to South America to see "his soulmate" and being MIA for a week, right?)

But what I don't understand is why anybody is taking seriously the character assassination in an apparently unsourced book written by Mark Halperin. It's a long way from the now acknowledged fact that Edwards had an affair to the sheer pettiness and nastiness in that book excerpt.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:16 AM on January 10, 2010


Another thing that disappoints me about Edwards is that one of his compelling qualities was that there was a faction of conservatives that didn't just oppose him but hated him. Part of it was that the new "neoliberal consensus" of the 80s and 90s seemed to give the public a "free pass" when it came to economics: the idea was that all we needed to so if we cared about the poor was deregulate, sign some free trade treaties, get rid of unions, and the rest of it would take care of itself. When Edwards openly talked!about the fact that this wasn't working out for everyone and that we might actually have to do something about stagnating middle class wages was considered a grave offense in polite society. Watching Edwards' mere existence piss off Mickey Kaus was somewhat of a guilty pleasure during the runup to the 2008 primaries. So I am even more pissed off that Edwards basically played in to the stereotypes of all his critics. Nobody is perfect, but when you are under scrutiny and aspire to lead people, that would be an opportune time to "rise to the occasion" and not implode so spectacularly and irresponsibly.
posted by deanc at 6:18 AM on January 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Personally, it's the fact that he had an affair with Rielle Hunter, who is a nutcase loony tunes new age wacko narcissist, that disturbs me as much as the fact that he had an affair at all.

I mean, I get it, it wasn't a meeting of two great minds that had to be together. But he didn't just fuck her, Bill Clinton style. He had what was clearly a relationship. With a crazy moron. I know guys will put up with a lot of bullshit when they're thinking with the wrong head and all that, but speaking as a red-blooded male, there is not a woman in the world who would interest me for more than an evening if she was as batshit stupid as Hunter.

I do not want a president who is even willing to entertain astrological pseudoscience as a pretense to get laid.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:30 AM on January 10, 2010 [7 favorites]



OMG IT'S SO IRONIC THAT SOMEONE WHO SUED DOCTORS FOR FUCKING UP WOULD ALSO GO TO OTHER DOCTORS THEMSELVES!


Sarcasm is never attractive.

It is ironic since a many of the suits that made him rich were ob/gyn cases, notorious for large jury verdicts based on emotional baggage and bad science.

And the Edwardses were not going for a case of flu, they were going for high specialized fertility work.

So, yeah- ironic.
posted by IndigoJones at 8:34 AM on January 10, 2010


Orthogonality, Krautland, others,

This is exactly what I mean about obscuring the facts. Clinton left office with the highest approval ratings of any president since WWII. He was exceedingly close to brokering a deal between Israel and Palestine in 2000/1. Edwards, on the other hand, has had populist tendencies, but he knew the basics (unlike Palin) and, as I said, could rightfully be considered one of the most important figures in putting health care in play today.

Speaking of today, the Orszag drama is in the news. It makes sense. It costs relatively little to investigate this (as opposed to covering policy...which is hard to understand and hard to explain). This is cheap and it sells. But isn't that the story...that the salacious stuff is pushed because it is more efficient than policy coverage?

The only reason that these scandals divert attention is because the media focuses on them in such a way as to necessitate responses from the politicians in question. In other words, this is a media-economics issue, not politician-behavior issue (because cheating behavior is not uncommon in the rest of the population). They'd rather push the character-as-indicator meme and I just think that there is more to this story.
posted by Hypnotic Chick at 8:40 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


How is what Reid said any worse that what was said by our sitting Vice President?

.... you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:09 AM on January 10, 2010


To me, the more interesting thing about the excerpts from this book is the bigger question about the role of the press. Let's assume that the big picture about the Edwardses are true (messianic, overly dramatic wife, caught up in an extra marital affair, etc.). Let's also assume that the picture of Palin is also true (vacuous, uncurious, ignorant of a lot of facts, etc.) These things are open secrets and well known through out the press corps and political establishment, but aren't well known by the general public. Both have a certain amount of relevance to how well they would conduct themselves in office. It seems to me like the public has a right to know about both. But reporters often try to subliminally get across warnings about character in such a way that it can be difficult to suss out what should really be a concern and what is just meaningless gossip.

For instance, coverage of the Edwards campaign was filled with snarky asides about expensive haircuts, but did not include very much about these serious personality flaws that probably made him a poor choice to be President. Contrast that with coverage of Palin, there were tons of stories that highlighted her lack of knowledge. I think it should have been pretty clear to anyone paying even a slight bit of attention that this woman didn't have a clue about the world. Regardless of whether this troubled you or you admired her lack of fancy-pants learning, there was no confusion about it. At the time the Edwards reporting seemed to me to be mean-spirited and shallow, another example of the phenomenon from 2000 when Gore's campaign got harsh coverage because the reporters liked Bush better personally.

I recognize that one is more quantifiable than the other, and it's easier to highlight that Palin didn't know what the Federal Reserve is than it is to showcase a person's messiah complex. Having said that, how are we as citizens supposed to keep from electing a dysfunctional candidate? We can't just keep counting on their campaigns to implode as a result of their flaws.

And I say all this as a political news junkie and as someone who doesn't care who politicians sleep with. I also agreed with a lot of Edwards' policy positions and believe they probably were sincerely held by him. But I think these excerpts paint a portrait of someone who probably wouldn't have been able to effectively govern and implement much of his agenda. Which is after all the bottom line.
posted by cptspalding at 10:05 AM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


The only reason that these scandals divert attention is because the media focuses on them in such a way as to necessitate responses from the politicians in question.

two thoughts: I think every news story would like to generate a response. perhaps I'm missing your point here but I don't consider that something they'd only do to these things. the larger the response, the more of an urge there is for them to write another story. i.e.: "hey, that story got a lot of hits/reactions/links, this seems to be a story they care about, can anyone do more on that?"

I also don't think cheating is the crucial part here but that it's dishonesty. I am voting someone to represent me and for that it is important that I feel I can trust this person. if you demonstrate to me that this person isn't trustworthy you give me a pretty compelling reason to vote for someone else.
posted by krautland at 10:40 AM on January 10, 2010


It's not just infidelity. It's also that Edwards was reckless in his disregard for the other people around him who depended on him.

This - and "people around him who depended on him" sort of includes every Democratic voter in the country. If Edwards had been the nominee, and the affair stuff had come out after that, we'd currently be enjoying the first term of President McCain. It's the fact that Edwards was willing to take that big a risk (and given the experiences of Bill Clinton and others, Edwards should have understood that risk) that bugs me, beyond just the infidelity. A risk that, rightly or not, would have repercussions not just for himself and his family, but his party and his nation and maybe even the world (who knows who Pres. McCain would be bombing right now?)
Also, I really see it slap in the face to people who supported his campaign in any way - donors, volunteers, staffers. When I think about my time working on a campaign, about 100+ hour weeks and below-minimum-wage pay and countless sacrifices, the one thing that made it remotely worthwhile was working for a cause I believed in and a person I trusted. If that had been ruined by something so stupid, I can't even begin to imagine how devastated I would have been.
posted by naoko at 4:19 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Our most beloved prime minister, Bob Hawke, was a notorious root rat

This reminds me of one of Henry Rollins' spoken-word routines where he's teasing an Australian audience about how "root" is one of their synonyms for sexual intercourse; Henry finds it rather unromantic, and if Henry Rollins thinks that something's crass...
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:56 PM on January 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't get the anger directed at Clinton for allegedly saying that a few years ago Obama would have been getting them coffee.

Of course, my take was that Clinton wasn't saying that Obama should be getting anyone coffee, only that the reality is that, not so long ago, a black man would not have been welcome in the Good Ol' Boy club of prominent politicians in America. He just wouldn't have been allowed to get that far because of the power structure in place. And I can't dispute that. So if Clinton was actually supporting that kind of nonsense, that's another story.

I liked Edwards, because I liked his stance against the lobbyists. I wouldn't want to be married to him, but if he stuck to the political platform he had outlined, I would have voted for him as President, and I don't have any conflict about that. Some of our best Presidents were total jerks to their wives. Sucks, but that's the truth of it.

You know what I would like to see? A candidate's wife who publicly renounces her husband if he treats her like dirt, divorces his ass and then runs, successfully, for his seat herself (provided she's otherwise qualified). Let's get rid of all this "family values" nonsense that is actually all about covering up affairs and secrets and just be open about what is really going on with these people.
posted by misha at 6:00 PM on January 10, 2010


I also don't think cheating is the crucial part here but that it's dishonesty. I am voting someone to represent me and for that it is important that I feel I can trust this person.

And how has that been working out for you?
posted by misha at 6:02 PM on January 10, 2010


Oh come on. What goes on between a married couple is not necessarily going to affect how they treat people they're not in intimate relationships with. People have different thresholds for things. Cheating on your wife doesn't make you a murder. And it won't make you into a thief either

If a man would lie to his wife and put her (the mother of his young children, and a person whom he took a vow to honor, cherish, etc.) through the sort of emotional anguish that Senator Edwards inflicted on Elizabeth Edwards, then why would you trust him ever to keep his word? Do you think it is plausible that he will care more about the political commitments he makes to you?
posted by Slap Factory at 8:05 PM on January 10, 2010


why would you trust him ever to keep his word?

Because:

1. I don't presume to know the pressures or details of someone's intimate relationships, and believe that it's neither my place to know or judge.

2. I think that people are entirely capable of behaving in different ways in different situations where there is no direct conflict of interest.

3. I find the notion of *most* political promises a little bit naive and one-dimensional. The ones that are worth keeping may be not be possible to make or keep.

4. I'm more inclined to judge a politician by their track record in office, their attention to policy detail, and their position within their own party, rather than what they say to their wife, children, neighbours etc.
posted by smoke at 8:19 PM on January 10, 2010


And how has that been working out for you?
psssssst... I'm german. you wouldn't know.
posted by krautland at 1:52 AM on January 11, 2010


Do you not have any elected politicians in Germany? I'm just wondering if the people you trust have lived up to that trust once in office.
posted by misha at 7:15 AM on January 11, 2010


How is what Reid said any worse that what was said by our sitting Vice President?

Our sitting vice president told a paralyzed man to stand up and take a bow. How could anybody take anything Joe Biden says seriously?
posted by anniecat at 12:26 PM on January 11, 2010


This book is trash but it at least taught us that Democrats are really bad at covering up personal scandal, and really good at dismissing latent racism. I further away from 2008 it gets the more I revert back towards hating all parties.
posted by Juicy Avenger at 6:17 PM on January 11, 2010


Of course, my take was that Clinton wasn't saying that Obama should be getting anyone coffee, only that the reality is that, not so long ago, a black man would not have been welcome in the Good Ol' Boy club of prominent politicians in America.

Me, too. I recently rewatched The West Wing, and one of the episodes in this liberal fantasy series* was about how it would look to have a young black man (Charlie) holding the door for the president. Now, sooner than most people imagined, a black man (who inspired a West Wing character) is the president. I'm a couple of years younger than Barack Obama. In my lifetime, we've gone from it being illegal for him to ride in the same part of a bus as me to him being president of the United States. Sometimes it's hard to believe. I think that's what Clinton meant.

* Hey, that's why I like it.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:45 AM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


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