Thursday, August 14, 2008

So much for the safe choice

Let's pause for a minute amidst the scatty cacophony to John Edwards' affair with his flighty "videographer," who no reasonable person would pay to film paint dry.

There's an irony here that's been completely overlooked - and I don't mean the obvious one that the multimillionaire thought he could get away with schtupping the help and still become the Leader of the Free World in an age of 24/7 media.

No, it's the fact that the down-home son of a millworker with his lazy Carolinian drawl (and lily-white skin) was supposed to be the safe bet for the Democrats. Jaded liberals squawked that America would never go for the ballsy chick or the black dude, so you'll vote for Edwards and you'll like it.

That's the best we can hope for. America's just not ready and all that.

Of course, folks in Iowa didn't listen to the conventional wisdom and the rest is history. But even after Barack Obama secured the nomination, a pundit here or there would sourly mumble that he was floundering because of that black thing, needling that John Edwards would be blowing John McCain out of the water.

Which amounts to a nice theory for political science students to contemplate in between Jager bombs at the bar. Those of us in the real world rejected the Plastic One because we didn't know who he was (even after being a few thousand votes in Ohio away from the vice presidency in '04) and didn't trust him.

After observing and interviewing Edwards at political events since 2003, I can say that he was heavy on sheen and light on substance. He said all the right things, repeating Democratic talking points in his artful, aw-shucks way. The father of three was great at kissing babies.

But there was no way His Contrivance seemed ready to take that 3 a.m. phone call. (Although I would vote for him to play the president on tee-vee. His coif is killer).

So maybe that's why few of us were shocked at his revelations that yes, he actually did dally with Rielle Hunter, who still sports '80s Madonna hair as a nod to her days as a coked-out New York clubhopper.

John Edwards lie? Stop the presses.

In a truly classy move, the pretty boy heaved his party girl-cum-paramour under the bus ("I didn't love her") and stressed that he timed his infidelity between his wife's bouts with cancer, something the brilliant Maureen Dowd skewered as being "oncologically correct."

To think that Elizabeth Edwards (who Rielle sniffed "didn't give off good energy") will have to spend her last years shuddering from this humiliation is just vile. Monsieur Edwards claims he told his family, which presumably includes his eldest daughter, Cate, a Harvard law student. Maybe his other two kids, 8 and 10, can find out as a Christmas present later after Mommy's passed away.

Edwards, who nailed himself in an ABC interview as a narcissist, has cringingly insisted there's nothing more for anyone to say as "I've stripped myself bare." Well, there are questions of the paternity of Hunter's daughter and if this was the first time the senator strayed.

But that's just a measure on the hypocrisy scale. It's the political implications that I'm interested in.

Just think for a moment if he were the nominee. This would be game-over for the Dems. You can argue that McCain dumping his disfigured wife for an Anheuser heiress 18 years his junior would become an issue. Perhaps. But that was almost 30 years ago and all we see now is silver-maned Cindy, doting mother of seven.

We can have a robust debate whether extramarital affairs should have any place in political discourse. I vote no, but I'm a journalistic curmudgeon, in spite of my Gen X birthday and the fact that I'm paid to blog. But Edwards' tryst is out there (and how). Given the appalling scenario with his wife's metastatic cancer, I don't really feel like doing him any favors by ignoring the political fallout.

The reality is that this kind of salacious scandal is ruinous for politicians, especially when it reinforces the very doubts people had about the candidate in the first place. Edwards knows this, having watched Bill Clinton implode (and castigating him for it).

Which is another crisis likely averted by not picking Hillary as the nominee, besides the fact that she could unite the right in a way McCain never will. Who knows when Bill's next bimbo eruption would strike, not to mention his less sexy, but far more troubling dealings in Dubai. That's the real reason Clinton's not on Obama's veep short list, not bad blood after a bruising primary.

When it comes to arrogant politicians' penchant for extracurricular activities, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

And so a skinny black guy with big ears, a funny name (and the magazine-cover perfect family) is not only the voters' choice, but has turned out to be the Dems' safest bet for presidency.

Who would have thunk it.

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