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John Edwards, Sociopath

For a long time I toyed with the idea of writing a small book reflecting on the soul-warping megalomania that is required to run for president and other high offices.  Ambition is not enough; you need to think very well of yourself indeed to feel you are the person best fit to lead the nation and the world.  Then I discovered Jeremy Paxman's terrific book, The Political Animal, that does the job of describing the preternatural weirdness of politicians.  I highly recommend it as a great read, offering a lot of insight about familiar traits.

I'm not sure Paxman or any other single book can help us discern very well when ambition and egomania elide into a megalomania so egregious that it makes you want to throw up.  Case in point: John Edwards.  While Harry Reid's moronic comments about Obama's skin tone and dialect are getting all the attention from the forthcoming John Heilemann and Mark Halperin book Game Change, the long excerpt from the book published this week in New York magazine about John Edwards doesn't just make you cringe and rejoice that we dodged a potential disaster.  It makes clear that Edwards and his even more despicable wife were completely unfit to serve in the high station they sought.  And yet the media and many liberal elites took this total fraud of a human being seriously.  It's a long excerpt, and I'd normally include a two-cup-of-coffee recommendation, except that it would put your keyboard at risk from the numerous snort-worthy revelations in the piece.  Kudos to Heilemann and Halperin for terrific reporting.  Where was the rest of the media on this?  Why did they cover for this guy?
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Discussions - 24 Comments

Why is Elizabeth more despicable than John?

Edwards began as a trial lawyer. That can be problematic as a character-forming experience.

Just read the article and see if you don't think so. Heilemann and Halperin are good reporters, so I think it is safe to assume the article is accurate or even understated.

Read Matthew 6:1-4 ... and remember, that's Jesus teaching ... then think about politicians. It's a perfect explanation of where they veer off the path into their own righteousness. And their own righteousness will be its own reward.

I think you can interpret this tale at least two ways: that Edwards (and perhaps his wife) had architectural flaws in their character that were made manifest when they entered electoral politics - most particularly the bubble of presidential politics. An alternative is that the aids who were the source of this were making their excuses - that he was not like that when they signed on to his campaigns. The guy was a trial lawyer who (by many accounts) made himself wealthy through the use of junk science. Is the portrait of him as a sweet dude ruined by 'the bubble' all that plausible?

His wife appears rude and difficult to those around her and, as the tale progresses, emotionally distraught. About the latter, I cannot imagine what would have caused that. Honestly, how is she 'even more despicable' than a man carrying on an affair as his wife is slowly expiring from cancer?

If we're going to get into how we dodged a disaster, did you notice that these good reporters who write accurate stuff discovered that Palin didn't appear to know why North and South Korea were separate countries, and thought that Saddam Hussein attacked us on 9/11.

The "liberally-biased" mainstream media doesn't hang onto every word of Elizabeth Edward's Facebook posts (that's assuming she even has an account - perhaps the fact that we don't know that says something?), unlike the situation with Palin.

I don't agree at all with Steve Hayward's take on Elizabeth Edwards, based on the New York article. She's ambitious like any political wife, but angry, scorned and scornful, unpleasant, desperate, sad, depressed, perhaps manic, stressed out, and in denial. . .but "more despicable" than her husband??? If she is Lady Macbeth, then we'd best reread the play. She is indeed married to a kind of monster, but he's not.

What was Elizabeth Edwards supposed to do in her position? I suppose a saintly, self-controlled quiet would have been preferable, maybe even to her at this point. How awful for her, what she went through. How doubly awful that Heilemann and Halperin and the NYT will make hay from her misery and invite America to make sport of her as they are. This is the modern version of drawing and quartering.

You think we "dodged a potential disaster" by electing what we have now? I'm not so sure we wouldn't have been better off with Edwards, at least in some ways. Presumably, his disgrace would have discredited his party and its leftist agenda for many "centrist" (i.e., disengaged and uninformed) voters, at least for a few years. Of course, the country may have been left vulnerable to foreign disasters (I mean, maybe even more vulnerable than we are now) .

Never off message, are we, Craig?

Mickey Kaus has some good skepticism about the excerpt over at http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/kausfiles/

Kaus is especially right to be skeptical about the Edwards aides' "He used to be cool, and then he got like weird" narrative. Kaus gives some reason to doubt some of the details of that narrative and indicates that as more comes out, Edwards won't end up looking better, but his aides might end up looking worse.

Which gets to a limitation of this kind of reporting. Most of the sources on this story (and so far as I can tell on the Sarah Palin stories) seem to be campaign hacks who are trying to hustle up future work. So anything they say that can't be independently confirmed should be taken with a big grain of salt. The Edwards aides are trying to answer the question "What kind of scum must you be to work for scum like Edwards?"

The McCain staff are trying to answer the question "Since the McCain campaign was so incompetent, why would any nonsuicidal presidential candidate hire you?" The McCain aides responded (starting about a week before the November election) by blaming it all on Palin. Their methods seem to have involved telling Palin stories adapted from a book of yo mama jokes ("Palin is so stupid that..."), only the stories got reported as news. It is a good thing Bobby Jindal wasn't the GOP VP candidate or we would be hearing that Jindal didn't know the difference between Asia the continent and Asia the rock group.

New yo mama joke: Yo mama is so stupid, she hired Steve Schmidt and Nicole Wallace to run her presidential campaign.

And another thing. The reports from the book about Biden and Obama really point out the importance of being a Washington insider (and especially a liberal, Democrat, Washington insider) when it comes to gaffe coverage. Imagine if Palin, during a speech, had called for a wheelchair bound man to stand up and wave to the crowd.

All of which raises the question: what steps are the reporters taking to avoid being tools of these campaign hacks? Do said reporters even care?

AD, I dunno. I imagine it is something of a transactional relationship in alot of ways. The reporter gets juicy inside stuff (with lots of spin and maybe some made up stuff) and the source gets their side of the story out. I remember reading Bob Woodward's THE COMMANDERS and realizing that I was actually reading HOW COLIN POWELL IS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING, BY COLIN POWELL AS TOLD TO BOB WOODWARD. This isn't to say that the material is worthless. I'm glad I read that book for the insights into what Powell thought and (just as importantly) what he wanted me to think of Colin Powell.

Unfit to serve? sounds like they fit the washington mold to me. Is there really any career lower than national politics? The entire point of your existence is to take bribes and push through unpopular laws to the detriment of your so called consticuency. Being a bag man for the mob has less slime.

Brutus, we are a republic. Someone has to do the job of representative. Consider the alternative political systems without representive government. The slime part is a choice for a politician, unlike for a Mafia bag man. Unless our system of government is as corrupt as the Mafia is by similar necessity. I do not think tht can be wholly true. Which is why I am looking forward to reading that Political Animal book.

I have a friend who served as mayor of our town for 16 years and kept his integrity. When he quit, he was still extremely popular, but sick of the pressures that he felt would distort him if he continued or went to another public office. He said he saw that in all of the politicians he knew. It applies to the term limits argument, but I do not think term limits really works; Ohio has it and I see no ethical improvement of those in office.

Back to Richard Adams and the trial lawyer business as character formation; what kind of character becomes an ambulance chasing trial lawyer? There is some flaw there to begin with.

To the Pete/AD conversation. I have done some book editing and would suggest that Woodward reforms Powell's voice in Woodwardian terms, inevitably. COLIN POWELL ( AS UNDERSTOOD AND INTERPRETED BY BOB WOODWARD) IS RIGHT ABOUT EVERYTHING, because Woodward sculpts the finished, published interview.

Ohio has it and I see no ethical improvement of those in office.

I think you said they jump from office to office. You have too many elected offices. Just about any place allows someone to commence a political career in their 20s. Shouldn't happen.

No, that is not the 'entire point of your existence'. The difficulty we have is that there are too many politically-determined incomes.

Kate, good point, though I would add that by being a source for Woodward, one has a very good chance of being interpreted and understood by him in ways that one would like - this is especially true if the people one is dishing about were not sources. Some of this is just natural, but some of it is a kind of implied deal. If you are my source, I will make you look good. I won't emphasize your agenda and I won't bring up alternative explanations for your behavior. I'll accept your descriptions of people you dislike. If you say they snarled, I'll tell the reader they snarled. In fact I'll use my third-person journalistic voice to describe you in ways that would seem self-serving and arrogant if you described yourself that way.

AD -- Oh, that was good.

The last election threw out the established Republican crowd. Ohio seems not to have greatly benefited by the change. Perhaps the problem is too many humans in office.

I had forgotten your plan for improved government.

I did say national politics, so I agree with your observation about a local guy being a good man. I think getting into politics then becoming corrupt or remaining true is not how it happens. We need represenatives for the people, not those chosen by PR firms to fool the people.

You do recall that Robert U. Woodward claimed to have undertaken twelve hours worth of interviews with WIlliam J. Casey while Mr. Casey was dying the hospital (and by some accounts unable to speak). He managed to 'do' this and never cross paths with Mrs. Casey, their daugther, the nursing staff, hospital security, or any additional security with which the erstewhile Director of Central Intelligence might have been provided. Mrs. Casey said flat out that she and her daughter kept a vigil over her husband in shifts and that Woodward was never there. Woodward kept his job, and was treated by other members of his guild as if he was perfectly trustworthy. Sometimes I think the demise of newspapers will be nothing to lament.

Actually I had not not been thinking about that, but that is a good good point. Though I think Powell was probably well pleased by Woodward's portrayal in THE COMMANDERS, and I suspect has found Woodward trustworthy enough to be a ource for him since then. Not that this says great things about either man.

It does argue an interesting collusion -- do they say to themselves, "Great minds think alike!"?

About the Casey incident, did Woodward take words out of the dying man's mouth or put them in it? Like a coin for Charon, I suppose. Who could take Wodward seriously as a journalist after that? I remember journalists saying that it was a hoax, but Wwodward was a great man for pulling it off.

So is a good interviewer/reproter the one who is sympathetic and hides your sins or the one who is antagonistic and exposes them? In the case of the original article cited in the post I found the exposure of Elizabeth Edwards, even if she snarled, to be horrible. Who benefits if she seems despicable? I mean, besides the reporters who made a good story out of what they got.

Brutus, my friend got out because he thought he would become like the elected (and sometimes appointed) government officials he had come to know through the mayoral job. He quit to save his soul. I think there are people on the national level who do that, too. It leaves the others in office, I said to my friend, who laughed and said he might be "the others" within another election cycle.

The Neil Goldschmidt post on the front page is instructive -- men with power get to thinking they are powerful and can do what they like, when they are not free at all. That is distorting and frightening.

Kate, I suspect it creates a certain dynamic. This style of journalism offers a prospective source the benefits of a sympathetic presentation and a hostile presentation of the source's enemies IF the enemies choose not to be a source.

As for Elizabeth Edwards: I found the presentation to be deplorable. It is basically a collection of every nasty thing she might have said with no critical distance regarding the people doing the dishing and little sense of her as a person aside from her worst and weakest moments. Who benefits? Yes the reporters, but also the staff who dished - they hope. The theme regarding the staff was "We were such hardworking, loyal people who fell in with this guy who seemed to be great and it turned out that we were stuck with these two horrible people. But we [the staff] aren't so bad. We tried to steer them in the right direction, but they wouldn't listen to us." I think there is probably some truth in that narrative, but Mickey Kaus over at his site gives reason to doubt that it is the whole truth or that the staff members are as blameless as they would have us believe.

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