Edwards Became His Own Worst Enemy
If the story of John Edwards were a sermon, the text might be from Proverbs: "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
If that wasn't clear before, it is made all too evident in a new tell-all book, "Game Change," by John Hellemann and Mark Halperin.
Now, I don't know Wallace and Bobbie Edwards well, but I've met them. They're good, salt-of-the-earth folks. And I can guarantee you this: When their son was growing up in Robbins, they didn't teach him to treat people in the off-putting way the book describes him as doing on a regular basis.
At some point, according to juicy excerpts making the rounds, he began going from a clean-cut, small-town nice guy to an insufferable "ego monster" alienating people on all sides. It all began, the authors say, during the run-up to the 2004 presidential elections, when his ambition started taking on a ruthless and arrogant tone.
At about that time, I had a small personal experience of my own with Edwards that I've never written about before, though it did leave a bad taste in my mouth.
I still have a press badge hanging among the souvenirs on my office wall to commemorate the occasion: Edwards' formal announcement of his presidential candidacy, made on a sunny afternoon in September 2003 in front of the closed mill in Robbins at which his father had once been a supervisor - and in which Edwards himself, as I recall, had worked a couple of summers.
I should preface my account by explaining that Edwards was not particularly pleased with The Pilot, his home-county paper. We had expressed relatively mild editorial misgivings about his readiness for such a high office. Some readers might be interested or amused to know that Wallace had been quoted during that time as complaining that we/I were turning The Pilot into an "elephant paper," or a Republican organ.
(We ended up endorsing the Kerry-Edwards ticket, the alternative being four more years of Bush-Cheney. But when Edwards later announced for the 2008 election, I wrote a column expressing dread at the prospect of having to cover another Edwards campaign, which Publisher David Woronoff compared to "putting on a wet swimming suit.")
Anyway, on the day of the big announcement in 2003, I had the pleasure of mingling and talking with some familiar reportorial names from major national media as we waited for the senator - late as always - to appear.
Then, after he had spoken and the crowd was thinning, I climbed the steps to the makeshift wooden platform, waited for him to finish talking with someone else, and held out my hand.
"Hello, Senator," I said. "I'm Steve Bouser."
"I know who you are," he said, turning away coldly. End of conversation. Within a second or two, he was flashing one of his disarming smiles at someone else.
I mention that long-ago episode only because the new book, which has caused quite a sensation with its revelations about several 2008 candidates and their families, leaves no doubt that such interactions - or lack thereof - were part of a well-established and oft-noted pattern on the part of Edwards. The beamish candidate who came across as so nice and caring in public could be shamelessly rude and dismissive when the TV cameras were turned off.
More disappointingly, we learn that Edwards' seemingly saintly wife, Elizabeth, could also be hell on heels and was highly unpopular with his staff. Even before her cancer recurred or her husband fell into the highly publicized adulterous relationship with videographer Rielle Hunter that reduced his career to smoking rubble, she was ridiculing him as a "hick" and his parents (unfairly and inaccurately) as "rednecks."
At one point in the 2008 primary race, as Edwards' clay feet were starting to crumble and he still entertained irrational hopes of winning the nomination or getting some plum Cabinet appointment, his aides actually contemplated going public with some of the dirt on him to put a quick end to a campaign they knew was doomed.
"You can't talk to people that way," his pollster, Harrison Hickman, warned him after one supporter complained about an insult. "People are attracted to the nice John Edwards, and for a lot of them, you're not that John Edwards anymore."
Edwards, who should have been taking that advice to heart, haughtily brushed it aside.
"I don't know where that's coming from," he snapped. "You have to consider the source. ... A lot of these people are hangers-on."
They're not hanging on anymore.
Steve Bouser is editor of The Pilot. Contact him at (910) 693-2470 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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