In the statement he released last Friday, John Edwards said, “If you want to beat me up - feel free. You cannot beat me up more than I have already beaten up myself.” Perhaps not, Senator, but I never back down from a challenge.
One week before his “Nightline” interview, the Center for Promise and Opportunity in Greensboro, North Carolina announced it was suspending operations. Edwards founded and helped fund the Center. Beginning in 2005, its “College for Everyone” program provided scholarships for poor kids graduating from Greene Central High School in the small town of Snow Hill. Over the first two years the program raised over $600,000 to help 190 students afford college.
Class of 2008 graduates from the high school will also receive financial aid from the program, but they will be its final beneficiaries. The program is being terminated, according to the Center’s director, because it was always intended as a three-year pilot project. Apparently, the hypothesis being tested was that if you give poor students college scholarships, then more of them will go to college. This might seem like a theory that could have been vindicated in a matter of weeks rather than 36 months. I’m not an expert in these matters, however, so I have to assume there were compelling methodological reasons to withhold judgment until three years’ results were in. The alternative explanation – that Sen. Edwards pulled the plug on the program when he realized he wouldn’t be boasting about it in his acceptance speech or any other kind of public address at the 2008 Democratic convention – is too absurd and spiteful to be taken seriously.
“Reaction to the [Center’s] announcement was one of disappointment,” according to one news account, strongly suggesting that the intention for the program to self-destruct after three years had not been announced in advance. The students and parents of Snow Hill, NC may now be able to help scientists test another hypothesis: If people have been led on, then they’ll get pissed off. Preliminary data suggests there might be something to this theory, as well. “Many disappointed students enrolled in the program questioned whether Edwards’ promises were anything more than campaign rhetoric,” according to the story.
Sen. Edwards came to national attention as the fierce critic of our country’s division into two Americas, “one that does the work, and one that gets the reward.” Edwards logged many years in each America. As he occasionally let slip during rare moments of autobiographical revelation on the campaign trail, he was a mill worker’s son. Edwards went on to become a millionaire trial lawyer and build a house the size of Portugal, the better to accommodate unexpected guests on Father’s Day.
Having passed a great deal of time in America #2, the part with warm meals and ample leg room at the front of the plane, Edwards has gotten to know quite a few of his fellow first-class passengers. One of them, a Dallas lawyer with the usefully aristocratic name of Fred Baron, served as the chairman of the Edwards-for-president finance committee. He also paid for Rielle Hunter and Andrew Young, Edwards’ campaign staffer and paternity beard, to move to California. Baron says that he did this “on my own, without talking to Edwards or anybody, to try to help [Hunter and Young] move to a community to try to get away from” tabloid reporters.
Baron and Edwards have, so far, kept their story straight. “I had nothing to do with any money being paid, and no knowledge of any money being paid, and if something was paid, it wasn’t being paid on my behalf,” Edwards said in his “Nightline” interview, during which he seemed both bemused and utterly uncurious about benefactions being given by his friend in America #2 to others of his friends in America #1. No one is surprised that the redistribution of income is one of the results of the Edwards presidential campaign, but this pilot program, undertaken by Mr. Baron, sounds unexpectedly haphazard.
The National Enquirer, one of the few participants to emerge from l’affaire Edwards with enhanced credibility, reported that Ms. Hunter has been receiving $15,000 a month from “a wealthy colleague who was closely tied to the Edwards’ campaign,” a man who has also been “shoveling cash” to Andrew Young. Now that he’s a private citizen with a good deal of time on his hands, perhaps Sen. Edwards could identify and reach out to this philanthropist. A call to Fred Baron seems like a good place to start, though Edwards may have lost the phone number, and even forgotten whether he left it in the part of his house in the eastern time zone or the part in the central.
Still, the effort would be worth taking, since it sounds like the stipends being given to Hunter and Young approximate the low-to-mid-six figure annual budget of the College for Everyone program. “Saving the middle class is going to be an epic battle, and that’s a fight I was born for,” Edwards said in a campaign commercial. If Citizen Edwards could use his legendary charm to persuade the contributor to the SilenceIsGolden.org charity to match that gift with one to revive College for Everyone, the sons and daughters of the mill workers and waitresses of Snow Hill could continue to help Edwards and America wage that fight.