Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Mourning For John Edwards

The epic fall from grace that John Edwards has incurred has gotten worse. Only Lucifer has fallen further and faster or so it seems. The former Senator from North Carolina and almost Vice President of the United States (only a few thousand stolen votes in Ohio made the difference) is no longer a player in national politics. Edwards could not even get elected dog catcher running against a convicted child molester truth be told. Words like narcissist,” “craven,” “heartless,” and “egotistical” are attached to the mention of his name.Iam quite sure that people like Taylor Marsh have even more pungent and unprintable opinions of the man that they offer in private.

Ms. Marsh reflections on the man are particularly germane because of the two hats she brings to the evaluation. Not only is she a jaundiced and sharp observer of the political landscape but she also a self-taught expert in relationships. With ten years of real world interviews with real world people Ms. Marsh has a better handle on the real life vagaries of relationship dynamics than many people sporting fancy degrees and writing in professional journals. Thus when she paints John Edwards as an epic heal you can trust the description.

Still Edwards is not the first testosterone poisoned individual to skate on very thin ice. Many men in and out of government have let their baser passions and their lizard brain fog the more noble aspects of their personality. We can gape at the shear self-destructive, "what the hell was he thinking about?", aspect of their behavior but we can not deny that this is a story that has been repeated many times. JFK was much more reckless with his dalliances and in the White House at that. JFK was fortunate that he operated in a much more male-centric world. No president today could get away with the multiple affairs JFK had in office (and with a mob mall at that.)

Still Edwards should have known the type of fishbowl he was swimming in. Our celebrity driven culture now makes infidelity next to impossible for the glitterati to hide. Celebrity magazines and tabloid newspapers are constantly on the prowl for the smallest piece of gossip or the barest of hints of impropriety. John Edwards was a flat out fool thinking that the National Enquirer would not eventually get the goods on him. He only had to look at the recent history of Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Ms Lewinski to understand how the tabloid and Corporate Media now operate.

We still must separate John Edwards the egomaniacal, narcissistic, shallow man from the personality he projected, no matter how false, on the campaign trail. Edwards was the most progressive of the candidates running. He consistently pushed both Clinton and Obama on important issues. Edwards was first out of the gate on health care, on social justice, on the need to control corporate greed. His theme of One America was a much needed bit of truth telling to the rest of the nation. Only Edwards was willing to continuously mention the bitter truth about the other America. By opening his campaign in New Orleans Edwards attempted to be the candidate of forgotten America. Only Edwards seemed willing to talk about the losers in our capitalist system. Only he seemed concerned about the plight of the poor.

It is only now that the economy has cratered and many Americans are fearful that they may join the growing ranks of the dispossessed that Edwards political message seems prescient. Unfortunately the message has gotten confused with the messenger. Edwards’ betrayal of his marriage while hurtful to Elizabeth pales next to the betrayal of the populist message he represented. There is no progressive counter weight to Terrible Tim Geithner; there is no strong counter-weight against the Chicago School mafia running the economic show at the White House. Because there is no political heavy-weight to run opposition against Wall Street Obama appears to be conceding to every wish and desire of the incompetent greed-heads that tanked our economy. It appears that there will be a massive transfer of wealth from those who can’t afford it, the tax payers, to those who do not deserve it, the Wall Street bankers. There is no one out there who can call halt to the reverse Robin Hood policy that Obama has rubber stamped.

There were only two politicians who could have at least served as a speed bump to this run away vehicle. One was Elliot Spitzer, the bet noir of Wall Street. The other was John Edwards. It is interesting that both men have fallen due to their sexual peccadilloes. With either of these men being a strong and viable candidate for future office the Obama bailout program may have taken a much different form. With Edwards lurking on his left, Obama would have to at least offered his former opponent an olive branch appointment in his administration. A strong anti-corporatist voice, a credible populist alternative candidate in 2012 would have forced Obama to at least be conciliatory to his left flank. Right now he gives only the slightest of nods to his main progressive critic Paul Krugman.

More often than not Obama is more than willing to slight Krugman’s opinions. Krugman can be safely ignored because his just an op-ed writer in the New York Times. If Krugman’s critique were coming from a viable populist politician, a politician with Edwards’ former credibility, Obama would not be so quick to dismiss the criticism out of hand. Edwards political fall and self-emollition leaves a gaping hole in the populist progressive movement. With Obama’s natural proclivity to compromise, there is no strong voice to move the reforms that will actually help blue collar America. Hillary Clinton, once the blue collar mama and champion of “hard working” Americans has been co-opted by the President by her selection as SoS. She is doing stellar work as America’s face to the world but she now must keep quite about any disagreements she may have about Obama’s economic proposals.

Thus it is not John Edwards per se that is missed but the voice that he took up in his attempt to win the highest office in the land. Perhaps that voice was a complete fraud. Perhaps it was just another of John Edwards serial seductions. Edwards have provided more than enough data to prove the cynical supposition that he is nothing more than a dissembling, slick, amoral charmer who was (and is) only driven by an oversized ego. He has shown himself to be absolutely untrustworthy, a greasy, ambulance chasing shyster of a man who only has a passing relationship with the truth. That he would betray his wife in the way and at the time that he did makes him a particularly odious person, a snake in the grass, pond scum.

There is a small silver lining in the story of John Edwards and it is this: never underestimate the ability of a slick and legally trained conman to fool you. Edwards fooled many people from political professionals to ordinary voters. Many people other than his wife failed to get the measure of the man. He was able to con even his wife into believing that his ego-driven pursuit of the presidency actually served some higher purpose. Not only was Elizabeth betrayed but so too were millions of Americans who deeply believed in his populist message, in the idea of One America, of a more perfect union. We wonder how to work ourselves out of the crater his fall created. We wonder how we can overcome the setback to populist progressivism that Edwards caused. We worry about the well earned cynicism the next left/liberal golden boy (or girl) may engender. Edwards’ collapse only accelerates our willingness to ignore the needs and desires of the working class. It provides yet another excuse to disregard the lower classes. It leaves the less fortunate even less engaged in the political process. It only accelerates the trend in the USA toward plutocracy and oligarchy. It is a tragedy that the man that Edwards portrayed in his campaign had no relation to the real man. We need that man who talked about One America more now than ever. We needed a prince, we got a horny toad.
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