Sunday, July 27, 2008

Don't leave John Edwards alone

This week the Slate Political Gabfest's discussion of the possible John Edwards love child took a detour from its usual orderly, good-humored tone into something resembling the Howard Stern show (and that's a compliment). A part of the conversation that initially wasn't intended for the podcast turned into an all-out heated brawl, with everybody arguing over one another, dropping f-bombs and generally getting worked up. It's good drama and good argument; skip ahead to the 29-minute mark if you want to get right to the good stuff. (I am a fan of this podcast so I of course recommend listening to the whole thing.)

It's also not a coincidence that emotions ran high over this particular story. That John Edwards possibly has a mistress and a love child is the sort of fact that triggers so much cognitive dissonance that it is difficult to process. This is not only because Elizabeth Edwards has cancer, but also because so much of Edwards' own appeal as a politician rested on a sense of emotional connection to voters.

When Eliot Spitzer got busted, his actions seemed astonishingly reckless and delightfully scandalous, but I'm not sure many people had a strong emotional reaction precisely because Spitzer was widely understood to be a big jerk. Lots of Democrats probably appreciated him being a jerk when he was targeting big business interests and white-collar criminals, but few identified with him in the way a lot of the left has seemed to identify with Edwards.

One symptom of over-identifying with Edwards is that some people have been inclined to blame the Enquirer for publishing the story, or to otherwise claim that the media ought to but out of this one. But that's absurd, for all the reasons Emily Bazelon spells out in the podcast -- Edwards is a national figure, he aspires to future office, people care about him and so on. I don't see any reasonable argument that John Edwards visiting his rumored mistress at her hotel room after 2 a.m. and then hiding from a reporter in the bathroom is not a huge deal.

My strong intuition is that if there were a good explanation for this, we would have heard it already. But even in the absence of a non-damning explanation, it's still an open question whether having a love child ought to destroy Edwards' political career forever. I think the answer is not necessarily -- but it does probably disqualify him from doing much of anything in Democratic politics for at least a few years. It's too strongly counter to the public image Edwards cultivated, and it's too emotional a subject for too many people.

P.S. ... Boy the Dems sure dodged a bullet not nominating him for president, though, am I right?

1 comment:

stridewideman said...

For one, I was totally in to Spitzer. He was literally my favorite legislator nationwide, largely for his attack dog stance. I like Rahm E. for the same reason.

Anyway, I agree that it's news, and it also gets at the feeling I've always kind of had that Edwards was hiding something a little less savory under the winking populism.

Plus, any opportunity to use the phrase 'love child' is definitely something the msm isn't passing up. Ridiculous.