Jewish World Review April 27, 2012/ 5 Iyar, 5772
John Edwards Is Cool and Despised
By Roger Simon
When he was in junior high school, the family moved to Robbins, N.C., a town that had changed its name from Hemp in 1943. (Hemp was once a government-subsidized crop in America, used for everything from paper to textiles, until the government discovered people could also smoke it.)
John Edwards would often speak movingly about growing up in Robbins, what he learned from the millworkers there, the people in his famous phrase with "lint in their hair and grease on their faces."
But it was also good times for him. His car in high school was a red Plymouth Duster — a muscle car, a very cool car, for a very cool young man.
Edwards became the first member of his family to go to college, attending North Carolina State, where he played intramural volleyball, and graduated in 1974 with a degree in textiles. (He may have been the only member of a major presidential ticket in U.S. history with a textile degree, though American patriot Tom Paine was a corset-maker.)
When Johnny Edwards was 11 years old, he wrote an essay titled, "Why I Want to Be a Lawyer," and in it he vowed "to help protect innocent people from blind justice the best I can." He went on to earn a law degree with honors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he met and married fellow law student Mary Elizabeth Anania, who became a bankruptcy attorney.
Edwards became a very successful trial attorney. In his most famous case, in which he won a $25 million award from the jury, lawyers and law students crowded into the courtroom to hear him give a highly emotional, two-hour closing statement without ever referring to a note.
Edwards would later use some of those same skills to defend President Bill Clinton in his Senate impeachment trial. Among other things, Edwards was in charge of deposing Monica Lewinsky and Vernon Jordan.
Edwards was elected to the U.S. Senate from North Carolina in 1998, and on Sept. 15, 2003, unofficially announced his intention to seek the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination on "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart."
Edwards would win only one primary, but later was selected by the Democratic nominee, John Kerry, as his running mate. The ticket would lose, but as Edwards would say, "You can be disappointed, but you cannot walk away."
On Dec. 28, 2006, I went down to New Orleans to watch Edwards announce his second run for the presidency. He stood in the backyard of a low, yellow-brick house, one of the few habitable homes in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward. Edwards was wearing a tan shirt, blue jeans, work boots and work gloves. He carried a shovel and dug in the mud before taking questions from reporters. (Though much of the Lower Ninth did not have electricity, phone service or water, the Edwards campaign managed to provide wireless for the media.)
Edwards spoke about war and peace, poverty and the "two Americas," which he had developed as his campaign theme in 2004. ("One America that does the work, another America that reaps the reward. One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks.") He was very, very good.
"It is really important that we be honest with people," he said.
Off to one side stood Edwards' lover, Rielle Hunter (born Lisa Jo Druck), shooting video. Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, ill with breast cancer, was not there. A short time later, John would tell Elizabeth of his affair with Hunter. The news made her cry, scream and throw up. "I wanted him to be faithful to me," Elizabeth would later tell Oprah. "It was enormously important to me."
But Elizabeth agreed to keep the affair a secret so her husband could become president. That was not to be, and in December 2010, Elizabeth would die from complications of her disease. Edwards had tried to cover up his affair and fathering a child with Hunter but was unsuccessful. In June 2011, Edwards was indicted by a federal grand jury on six felony charges, including four counts of collecting illegal campaign contributions to conceal his affair from voters. He became a despised figure.
(Bill Clinton had an affair, covered it up, lied to everybody about it and never became a despised figure to his fellow Democrats, something that probably gnaws away at Edwards every day.)
Edwards trial has now begun in Greensboro, N.C., and is attracting some of the biggest names in journalism, including Maureen Dowd, who summed up the trial thusly: "Everyone's arguing whether Edwards is a swindler or merely a swine."
Precisely. The case against Edwards is an odd one. He is not being sued civilly by angry campaign contributors who feel their money was misused, but by the U.S. government, which accuses him of criminally using campaign funds to keep his lover quiet.
If the trial comes down to a morality play, Edwards will almost certainly lose and face an (unlikely) 30 years in prison. But the first burden of any trial is for the prosecution to prove a crime has actually taken place.
This may not be so easy. The money in question did not go directly to Edwards or his campaign. And it came from two wealthy individuals, one of whom is dead and one of whom is 101 years old, too frail to testify and allegedly contends the funds were a personal gift and not a campaign contribution at all.
Edwards sits at the defense table looking as cool as ever. Does he consider that had he used his own considerable personal fortune to keep his lover quiet, he would not be on trial today?
Probably not. Such is foolishness. Such is greed. Is either criminal? Though a jury will decide that, the public has already decided one thing:
Win or lose, John Edwards will remain despised.
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