Monday, February 1, 2010

Slow-Motion Train Wreck

The drama of John Edwards' fall from grace continues to spin hilariously, tragically out of control. A galaxy-class train wreck which hasn't yet reached its peak, the sordid, tawdry details just keep on coming, like Cheerios rolling out of the General Mills ovens. It still amazes, confounds and delights the rest of us who sort of have the normal ration of morals.

Former campaign aide and snubbed bromance-partner Andrew Young is working the talk shows with a vengeance and intensity normally reserved for the publicists of a young Hollywood starlet who somehow forgot that wearing panties is a fairly good idea when you are getting in and out of cars. His book detailing the whole tacky affair is due out tomorrow and it's sure to be a top-seller, if not a cultural milestone, just like the tell-all book "Game Change" that came out a couple weeks ago, spilling the behind-the-scenes dirt of the 2008 presidential campaign.

It seems as if the American public cannot get enough of highly-detailed accounts of the scandalous behavior of politicians. That may be due in part to the fact that there is no scarcity of this scandalous behavior and in the hyperactive, instantaneous news cycle of the internet and cable television, we are constantly bombarded by all kinds of ludicrous conduct practically the minute they see the light of day. Maybe Americans have made up their minds long ago that politicians are vile loathsome pigs and every new report of love children or illicit trysts just reinforces and validates that opinion. Or maybe it's like watching the audition shows of "American Idol" - seeing legions of the terminally crazy lose their minds in a very public fashion make us feel better about our own lives. Or maybe, I like scandals because they give me reason to use cool words like "tacky," "tawdry," and "sordid." Whatever the reason, political scandals are like media crack-cocaine, and that monkey shows no sign of getting off our backs anytime soon.

But once we get past the sadly-obvious fact that the Edwards situation has more cheesiness than a Wisconsin state fair, we begin to see the debris field of broken lives and hearts, of promises and confidences betrayed, and marriages and families torn asunder by conduct of the most selfish and thoughtless kind. When stuff like that hits the fan, everybody gets splattered with something nasty. Even cancer-striken Elizabeth Edwards, who throughout most of the emerging scandal was sympathetically cast as the Wronged Woman, has been portrayed as a shrieking, batshit-crazy harpy.

A scandal of this magnitude requires an enormous, highly elaborate web of lies and deceit to contain it. It takes on a life of its own and rapidly becomes unsustainable. Even the most carefully-constructed house of cards has to collapse under its own weight, and that is what we are witnessing now. Apparently Edwards and his erstwhile collaborators thought they could get away with something, but the harder they tried to keep it under wraps the more it started to trickle out. I don't know how Edwards expects his children to be able to weather this whole situation. They are what soldiers call "collateral damage," that is, innocent bystanders who get hurt solely because they were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place when everything goes to hell. And what about this "love child?" To me the most outrageous, immortal aspect of this whole thing is that Edwards tried to get Young to assume paternity for the child. It's completely astonishing to me that you would deliberately lie about who is a child's father. Someday she would have discovered the truth, and what a horrible, life-shattering revelation that would be. I could not even imagine living through something like that.

So, when we last saw John Edwards he was wandering through the pulverized landscape of earthquake-ravaged Haiti, trying to find himself some sort of redemption in the rubble and tragedy, a very apt metaphor for his political dreams. That was probably the only place he could find people more miserable than he is. The big difference is that the people of Haiti did nothing to deserve their current predicament, the senile babbling of Pat Robertson notwithstanding. Edwards, on the other hand, did everything he could to deserve his sorry fate, and I have absolutely no sympathy for him. I'm saving my sympathy for the children of the Edwards' and the Youngs, who have perfect examples of how responsible adults do NOT behave.

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