Next Stunt, Please!
Plus--Can I vote for McGovern?
Monday, August 4, 2008
Why write about the Edwards scandal? Here's a short clip-'n'-save response to those (including many friends) who argue the Edwards scandal shouldn't be pursued--or at least pursued too vigorously-- even if it is true:**
1. No "private citizen": Edwards was certainly a contender for VP, or a big cabinet post like Attorney General, or even the Supreme Court, before the scandal first erupted in the "undernews" in late 2007. Some reporters say he was still on Obama's VP list until quite recently. If he's now finished as far as those big jobs are concerned, it's in large part because of this scandal, which Obama might never have learned about if everyone had followed the MSM's lead. Even now, Edwards may not be out of the running for an array of lesser public posts--including cabinet-grade positions--that provide non-trivial power and a platform for future advancement. Important unions back him. Until last week, he'd been traveling the country keeping himself in the public eye in a way well-designed to let him play a big national role in either the Obama administration or the opposition to the McCain administration. It's silly to say "he's just a private citizen"--he's much less of a "private citizen" than, say, William Bennett was in 2003 when Jonathan Alter and Joshua Green torpedoed Bennett's career by revealing his gambling habits.
What makes the scandal awful and unpleasant--as opposed to the Bennett scandal, which was delicious--is that Edwards has a very ill wife. But, as Susan Estrich has noted, that's also what makes Edwards' alleged behavior awful and unpleasant--more objectionable than anything Bennett was accused of doing.
2. Hypocrisy: Ah, but Bennett was a hypocrite-- a man whose chief claim to national attention was as a sophisticated moral scold who turned out to have a major gambling jones. Edwards is a hypocrite too, in much the same way. Why, after all, was Edwards ever considered presidential material. Is he a great executive? No. A brilliant policy expert? No. An accomplished diplomat? No. He's an ex-Senator with one undistinguished term in office who rose in life on the basis of his singular ability to use tearjerking stories to move juries and win large verdicts . His presidential campaign has featured similarly moving anecdotes, such as the famous 10-year old girl "somewhere in America" who goes to bed "praying that tomorrow will not be as cold as today, because she doesn't have the coat to keep her warm."
Edwards' most effective anecdote this year, however, was probably the story of his popular wife Elizabeths' struggle against cancer. He made it the emotional center of a TV ad:
And Elizabeth and I decided in the quiet of a hospital room, after 12 hours of tests and after getting very bad news, what we were going to spend our lives doing. For all those that have no voice. We are not going to quietly go away.
During a joint 60 Minutes interview focusing on his wife's illness, Edwards explicitly linked his behavior in that struggle and his fitness for public office:
Some have suggested that you're capitalizing on this.
Here's what I would say about that.
First of all, there's not a single person in America that should vote for me because Elizabeth has cancer. Not a one. ..[snip]
But, I think every single candidate for president, Republican and Democratic have lives, personal lives, that indicate something about what kind of human being they are. And I think it is a fair evaluation for America to engage in to look at what kind of human beings each of us are, and what kind of president we'd make. [E.A.]
3. Relevance: If a politician is a great executive, thinker or diplomat who cheats on his brave, ill wife, you figure, "OK, We're not hiring him because of his sterling private behavior." If a politician whose chief appeal is his self-advertised loyalty to his brave, ill wife cheats on his brave ill wife, what's he good for again? And if Edwards' crucial talent as a public official is his ability to move people with tearjerky anecdotes, and those anecdotes (like the tale of his spousal loyalty, or the girl with no coat, or the anecdote that reportedly made John Kerry queasy about him)--turn out to be BS or half BS, that's more than random hypocrisy, It goes to the core of what he does and what he claims to offer. (I'd also argue that an emotional, anecdote-led liberal approach to poverty inevitably tends toward the failed solution of simply sending poor people cash welfare, but that's another argument.)
Photograph of John McCain on the Slate home page by Alex Wong/Getty Images.