Let's recap the last couple weeks in The John and Elizabeth Edwards Show.
- Game Change blasts Elizabeth as a harridan so abusive of her husband and his campaign staff that most of them were rooting for her cancer cells.
- John Edwards (finally) admits paternity of his nearly 2-year old daughter, Quinn.
- The Edwards' confirm their legal separation after 32 years of marriage.
- Eeww....sex tape.
- A story that Edwards basically fleeced 99-year old socialite Bunny Mellon to the tune of $700,000 to finance his affair -- this on top of the nearly $3.5 million she gave his Alliance For A New America.
- The Politician, by former Edwards' "body man" and fall guy Andrew Young, details how Edwards made him cut the "Made In America" labels out of his suit and sew them into Edwards' Armanis. And then sucked Young and his family into hell by convincing him to pose as the father of Edwards' "love child." Among a couple hundred other slights and insults.
John Edwards has become the "most unpopular person we've polled anywhere at any time" according to the Public Policy Polling firm. Elizabeth Edwards has been called a Lady MacBeth and a American Medusa. People are comparing the saga to everything from Greek tragedy to Shakespeare to a particularly bad telenova.
But Shakespeare and Aristophanes and even Maria la del Barrio entertain and illuminate the human condition. The most depressing thing about L'Affaire Edwards is how utterly pointless it's all been.
The basic storyline is that John Edwards was irrevocably changed -- and not for the better -- by his political ambitions. Convinced he was presidential timber, drunk on the power of his own oratory and the applause of the crowds, he was a sitting duck for the "flaky"-yet-"predatory" Rielle Hunter.
When news that Elizabeth's cancer had returned in an incurable form in early 2007, Democrats wondered if it was safe to elect a man who might be devastated if his beloved wife died while he was in office. Turns out they need not have worried. Apparently his mental checklist was more like: First, call funeral home. Second, book Dave Matthews Band.
Remember when the scandal first broke in the summer of 2008? It spawned a kerfuffle among Democrats and progressives along the lines of: Oh my God... what if John Edwards had won the nomination? News of the affair would have leaked during the general campaign, and that mean old man and that horrible, horrible woman would have won the election!
It's understandable. The memory of the Clinton impeachment almost a decade ago still haunts Democrats. "John and Elizabeth Edwards' determination to play roulette with that history and those memories -- and, thus, with the futures of both the Democratic Party and of the country -- betrays an arrogance that is quite shocking, when you think about it," wrote Huffington Post blogger John Lumea.
Elizabeth was held even more culpable than her husband for her role in covering up the affair and letting the campaign continue. The only logical answer was that Elizabeth was a classic "enabler," feeding her husband's pathological need for political fame, and since, in the parlance of the self-help universe, "enablers" are always feeding their own needs by feeding the needs of their partners, Elizabeth must have been getting something out of it as well. Had Elizabeth been the mystical Any Other Woman, she would have thrown herself under her husband's campaign bus the minute she learned of the affair. But because she was that most unattractive thing -- an ambitious woman -- she let down her fans and her party and her country.
But there was no roulette wheel to play in 2008.
John Edwards' dreams of presidential greatness ended somewhere between Barack Obama's keynote address to the Democratic Convention in 2004 and the day Hillary Clinton launched her exploratory committee in 2007. By the time the actual primaries began in January 2008, the only scenario which had him winning the Democratic nomination involved a freak mid-air collision of the Obama and Clinton campaign planes.
Even if he had been a truly gifted politician, it just wasn't the race the white Southern guy was going win...but he wasn't a truly gifted politician. He had his ardent supporters, but he never managed to capture the imagination of most Democrats, nor did he have a foothold in the Party's power base. His fundraising and organization was always anemic.
His best showing was in the Iowa caucus, where he placed second to Barack Obama; this despite spending nearly five years campaigning in Iowa. He suspended his campaign just 27 days after primary season began. The idea that some of his staffers had a "doomsday" plan to scuttle campaign should their boss is really kind of cute.
Were he a more introspective fellow, a more intuitive politician, he might have foreseen this when the rumblings of Clinton and Obama candidacies surfaced in 2006. Off the campaign trail, away from the ego-stroking of the campaign life, he might never have met Rielle Hunter in that New York City bar, and there would have been no campaign "webisodes" to film.
The sad thing is, had Edwards been content that he had come closer to the White House then most politicians ever dream and understood that there is usually no second bite at that particular political apple, he could have taken his raised profile and really done what he claimed to want to do: to advocate for the poor and the needy. Elizabeth might have been able to go through her final days with the dignity she deserved and the loving husband she had earned through three decades of devotion.
But he threw it all away.