Former Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards’ trial for violating campaign finance laws began in North Carolina this week on a low note, and it’s likely to remain there.
The government has indicted Edwards on six felony charges, accusing him of using more than $1 million in contributions to his 2008 presidential campaign to keep mistress Rielle Hunter out of sight of Edwards’ wife Elizabeth, who later died of breast cancer.
If convicted, Edwards could face 30 years in prison (pretty steep, in my view) and $1.5 million in fines.
His former aide Andrew Young testified that when he told Edwards that Hunter was pregnant and threatening to go public with it, the candidate “said she was a crazy slut and there was a 1-in-3 chance that it was his child.”
Who needs Charlie Sheen when you have John Edwards around?
Maureen Dowd summed it up best in The New York Times: “It’s a trial without heroes, just liars and an abhorrent trio of selfish people trying to spin the story their own way.”
But what everybody’s missing is how close this clueless narcissist got to the presidency of the United States.
He was Sen. John Kerry’s vice-presidential nominee after serving only one term in the US Senate, even though he reportedly loathed the Massachusetts senator. Kerry almost beat President George W. Bush in the 2004 election, so Edwards could have wound up a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Then Edwards ran for president again in 2008 on a demagogic liberal platform of “the two Americas.” But he was a distant third to Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, far superior candidates.
Edwards had been a wildly successful trial lawyer in North Carolina and was a fairly active senator, co-sponsoring 200 bills, including one supporting military action in Iraq, which he subsequently disavowed. He also served on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But as a one-term senator, he had the lightest resumé of any vice-presidential nominee since Richard Nixon tapped Spiro Agnew in 1968. (Of course, Edwards had spent more time in the Senate than Obama did when the latter ran for president.)
More important was his personality—that of a preening, self-absorbed egoist, covered up by the persona of a smooth trial lawyer or slick salesman.
Two recent presidents—Bill Clinton and John F. Kennedy—had reckless, narcissistic streaks tied to what may have been sexual addictions, very dangerous for occupants of the Oval Office. Still, their presidencies are ranked well above average by historians.
Other presidents with deeper psychological problems of paranoia and persecution complexes—like Nixon and Lyndon Johnson—ran into big problems.
We can’t give candidates psychological tests, but we can give their behavior and temperament much closer scrutiny. Sen. John McCain’s selection of Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate was a catastrophe. But Democrats didn’t cover themselves in glory with their lackadaisical vetting of John Edwards, either.