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The rise and fall of John Edwards

by Keith Barber

The rise and fall of John Edwards

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” — Mark Antony from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Two years ago, I made a two-anda-half hour drive to Southern Village in Chapel Hill to attend a John Edwards campaign rally. Two days earlier, Edwards had announced his candidacy for president on national television while working to help repair homes ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. In that moment, Edwards established himself as a champion of the poor and disenfranchised. A bluegrass band warmed up the hundreds in attendance as the sun began to sink that cold Saturday afternoon. Suddenly, there was a buzz as Edwards, his wife Elizabeth and their three children, Cate, Emma and Jack, made their way toward the stage. The crowd roared its approval, as Edwards, dressed plainly in blue jeans and a blue fleece jacket, took the microphone and began his 45minute address. The former North Carolina senator and 2004 Democratic vicepresidential nominee carved out his position on the major issues of the day. He said he rejected the troop surge in Iraq, supported US assistance to Darfur and Uganda, urged America to break its addiction to foreign oil. Re-establishing America’s moral leadership in the world became a central theme in Edwards’ speech. I was perhaps most impressed by Edwards’ call for personal responsibility. His address was not your run-of- the-mill stump speech. Edwards encouraged everyone within the sound of his voice to volunteer in their communities Staff Reporter and take decisive action to improve their lives and the lives of their neighbors. All the while, Elizabeth Edwards — whose cancer was in remission at the time — stood behind her husband and applauded at various points during his speech. At the conclusion of his remarks, Edwards posed on the stage with his wife and three children as flashbulbs popped. Edwards hoisted his young son Jack to his hip and waved to the crowd. The image was iconic. From my vantage point, I truly believed I was looking at the next president of the United States. Two years hence, Edwards’ words ring hollow after the revelations regarding his extramarital affair with a former campaign staffer — Rielle Hunter. President-Elect Barack Obama’s recent cabinet selections have left many to wonder what might have been if Edwards had remained on the straight and narrow. “It’s clear if Edwards were untainted, he’d be in the cabinet,” David Holian, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, said. There was always a rumor after Edwards dropped out of the race that he would become attorney general if he endorsed either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. If Edwards, a successful trial attorney, had not committed political suicide and had been tapped by President-Elect Obama, the severity of the current recession would have signficantly muted Edwards’ ability to serve as a champion for the poor, Holian said. “Given the state of the economy, there’s no way anyone could be focused specifically on the poor because everyone is hurting,” he said. Many political observers have given Edwards credit for bringing the issue of poverty into the spotlight during the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. When Edwards finished second in Iowa, both Obama and Clinton picked up on his campaign’s central theme. If Edwards had won the Democratic nomination, he would’ve had to broaden his message in order to defeat John McCain. But of course, if Edwards had won the nomination, John McCain would most likely be the President-Elect. Edwards dropped out of the race and was courted by Obama and Clinton as they hoped to gain his endorsement. A few months later, Edwards officially became political kryptonite. The revelations that Edwards had lied about his extra- marital affair with Hunter broke in August, just weeks before the Democratic National Convention. In an interview with ABC News, Edwards admitted the affair but denied accusations of paying Hunter hush money or fathering her infant child. Edwards told ABC reporter Bob Woodruff the affair had ended in 2006 before his run for the presidency, and he had admitted his infidelity to his family. ElizabethEdwards did not appear by her husband’s side during the interview, butthrough a blog post stated she was standing by her man. Edwards wascontrite in the televised interview, and touched on what caused hisinexplicable self-destruction. Edwards said his meteoric rise topolitical prominence fostered “a narcissism that leads you to believeyou can do whatever you want. You’re invincible. And there will be noconsequences.” Many die-hard Democrats, including three formerObama campaign volunteers I spoke with last week, are keeping a closeeye on the president-elect during the transition to power. Some criticshave said Obama is taking a page from the Clinton administration whenmaking his cabinet selections. Others have praised the president-electfor his ability to make picks that appeal to both Democrats andRepublicans. Given the current recession, political observers wonder ifObama will be able to pass his proposals aimed at eradicating poverty.Given the current economic climate, Holian said the most effective wayto address those issues is by increasing federal funding for stateentitlement programs. However, there’s a slight problem with thatapproach. “Because tax revenue is plummeting, the revenueisn’t there to fund programs to provide states with the ability to meetthe needs of poor people,” he said. Obama will have a full plate comeInauguration Day. And his supporters, many of whom were once Edwardssupporters, will be keeping a close eye on his every move. The tragicfall of John Edwards is a stark reminder that political integrity is arare commodity in this world. Even those with the best of intentions,like Obama, can become intoxicated by their own power and begin tothink they are not only invincible, but invisible.

To comment on this story, e-mail Keith T. Barber at keith@yesweekly.com.

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