The gaffes of John Edwards.

Politics and policy.
Sept. 26 2003 10:59 AM

The Gaffes of John Edwards

His most embarrassing quotes, in context.


Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates' biographies, buzzwords, agendas, worldviews, best moments, worst moments, and flip-flops. This series assesses each candidate's most embarrassing quotes, puts them in context, and explains how the candidate or his supporters defend the comments. Today's subject is John Edwards.

Quote: "One evening while he was campaigning for the Senate in North Carolina, Edwards was faced with a choice of several events he might attend. An advance man suggested, 'Maybe we ought to go to the reception for Leah Rabin.' Edwards responded, 'Who's she?' 'Yitzhak Rabin's widow,' replied the aide. 'Who was he?' asked Edwards" (Charles Peters, Washington Monthly, June 2003).


Charge: Many critics regard Edwards as a lightweight. During an appearance on Meet the Press, he "did not display a command of the information a president should know," Peters wrote. Peters cited the Rabin anecdote—"a story recently told to me by a reliable source"—as "less than reassuring" about Edwards' readiness to be president.

Context: Edwards has less experience in office than any 2004 presidential candidate except Wesley Clark and Al Sharpton. According to the Charlotte Observer, Edwards "bought subscriptions to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Economist and the New Republic" when he was preparing to run for the Senate in 1998. After Edwards' Meet the Press appearance, President Clinton reportedly advised him to bone up on policy.

Defense: The Edwards campaign says that Peters' anonymously sourced story "has no bearing in fact" and that Edwards has never been to an event that included Leah Rabin.

Quote: "Like many of you, I grew up in a small town in North Carolina" (California Democratic convention, Feb. 17, 2002).

Charge: At a convention filled with Californians, it was a "small-bore slip—but one that prompted snickers," the New York Times reported. In Edwards' home state, the Raleigh News & Observer headlined its story, "Edwards Forgets His Place." The CharlotteObserver declared, "Uh, somebody tell Sen. John Edwards they only filmed Andy Griffith in Hollywood."

Context: Edwards was accustomed to speaking in North Carolina, where the line made more sense.

Defense: He was on autopilot, and the slip had nothing to do with issues or policies.

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Chris Suellentrop is the deputy editor for blogs at Yahoo News and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine. He has reviewed video games for Slate, Rolling Stone, and Follow him on Twitter.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.