As I am writing this, a jury in Greensboro North Carolina is deliberating John Edwards’ fate. The golden boy has fallen to Earth, but now the question is, will he go to jail? Even Edwards’ defense attorneys are arguing in essence that he’s a cad–just not a crook.
Before Barack Obama joined the Presidential race, I was an Edwards supporter for a time. He had bold Progressive ideas, charisma, and he was a home-town guy from Chapel Hill. It was intriguing to have a presidential campaign operating from Chapel Hill. But we were all taken for a ride by the smooth-talking former Senator.
Edwards’ ego, hubris, and lies were unbelievably cruel to his wife Elizabeth. For those in media or journalism who report that Elizabeth was full of anger and rage, or that she was paranoid, (see for example, the book Game Change) I say, WHAT DO YOU EXPECT????? Her husband was telling the biggest imaginable lies while Elizabeth was battling terminal cancer. Everyone around her was trying to act like things were okay (or were actively covering up the affair). And all this while he was running for President!
When John and Elizabeth renewed their wedding vows on their 30th anniversary in July 2007, Rielle Hunter was pregnant with John’s child. If that’s not enough to make you go crazy, I don’t know what would be.
I met Rielle Hunter once, at an Edwards event, a social event with a small group of supporters. His daughter Cate was in attendance as well. Elizabeth Edwards was not there. Rielle was introduced as the new campaign videographer. I don’t remember her and Edwards being in the same place at the same time during this event, so I didn’t see them interact. Rielle seemed pretty nice–she didn’t really strike me one way or the other. I certainly didn’t want to think “oh, she’s probably sleeping with the candidate,” and that is one of the pieces of fallout of this affair I have not heard discussed very much. It diminishes campaign workers and their credibility to have that question lingering in the air.
And it still makes me wonder what blinded me to the faults of John Edwards, and what I can learn from that for the future. If it seems to good to be true, it probably is. When the candidate who says he is the champion to end poverty builds the most expensive house in the county, that should have been a clue right there. (I rationalized that at the time by thinking, if he’s going to be President, this would be like his southern White House, so it would have to be big.)
I ended up catching Rielle in a snapshot from that night, in the background, by accident. Ironic. Here’s one absurdity: When I briefly talked to Rielle, I said what turned out to be one of the dumbest things ever. Since she was the campaign videographer and we were campaign volunteers, I said something like, “Oh, we’re the characters in your story.” Ha! Now we know that Rielle was the star in her own twisted romance, happy to be the mirror to reflect John’s narcissistic bliss back on himself.
So we all know that John Edwards is a rat fink liar of the highest degree. But what of the legal charges against him? I am not a lawyer, and I don’t understand all the legal details. It seems to hinge on the exact wording of the campaign finance laws as well as the donors’ intentions. But there is something completely absurd and fishy about our whole system when one the one hand, people can give only a maximum of $5000 to a campaign, and have to fill out paperwork and disclosures to do so. But on the other hand, Edwards wants to argue that his “friends” could give him more than $1 million to hide his pregnant mistress, and that’s not relevant to the campaign? And one of those “friends,” Fred Baron, was his campaign finance chair? Common sense says that these secret millions were necessary to keep the campaign going by covering up the affair, and were therefore campaign contributions. The reclusive 100-year-old heiress benefactor, the interior designer with boxes of “Bunny Money” to give to Andrew Young, and the cross-country journey to hide the pregnant mistress–you really could not make this stuff up.
But, it is not funny when you remember the sadness and betrayal of John Edwards’ family, ruining Elizabeth’s last months of life; disillusioning his older children; bilking campaign donors by raising money when the campaign was hindered by this secret fatal flaw; and potentially ruining the election for the Democrats and handing over the Presidency to the Republicans. Even in the South, I don’t think those are forgivable sins.
I for one wish campaign donors could sue Edwards for raising money on false pretenses. No candidate trotted out their “perfect family” image more than Edwards, using his family as a bolster to his credibility, and balancing out his good looks and charm with dedication to his smart, down-to-earth wife and three children. Yet it was all a flawed farce, from the first day of his campaign to the last. I am also still trying to figure out how the mainstream media utterly failed to follow up the investigative reports by the National Enquirer, which turned out to be true.
I don’t know what the legal result will be, but for all the absurdity of how Edwards got his secret cover-up money during 2008 election, now there is probably a legal way to do that through a SuperPAC, thanks to the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision. That is the lingering absurdity that should trouble us all.
[updated May 18, 2012]