The Real John Edwards

From the beginning when John Edwards bursted onto the national scene when he was named John Kerry’s VP running mate in the 2004 presidential campaign, I did not take seriously this pretty boy — and it’s not because he is pretty. From the beginning, I saw the deep narcissism in Edwards, which is so amply displayed in this famous youtube video:
While it is probably true that all those who aspire to the U.S. presidency necessarily have a healthy large ego, Edwards’ goes way beyond the self-confidence and self-possession that accompany such vaulting ambition. Not only do I believe that it is narcissism — excessive self-love — which is the root of all evil, a person who is blind to his flaws and defects (for who among us is without flaws?) necessarily is also blind to other aspects of reality. Not exactly the kind of person you would want to be “the most powerful person in the world” in charge of “the most powerful country in the world.”
New York magazine has a long excerpt from a new book, Game Change, which will be in bookstores tomorrow (Monday). Yeah, it’s the same book that exposes Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) as the racist hypocrite he is. Here are some choice segments from the excerpt, aptly titled “Saint Elizabeth and the Ego Monster.” They amply reveal the public images projected by both John and Elizabeth Edwards cannot be more different than the reality.

But while the Clintons themselves regarded Edwards as Hillary’s most formidable rival, there existed a deep wariness about the North Carolinian among his fellow Democrats. In the Senate, in particular, Edwards was regarded almost universally by his former colleagues as a callow, shallow phony. Quietly, the Establishment began a quest to find a different alternative, eventually settling on the unlikely horse that was Obama….

Some of Edwards’s advisers dismissed his outsize confidence as pro forma, but others took it as a sign of something deeper—a burgeoning megalomania. He was not the same guy who’d come out of nowhere and defeated the incumbent Republican senator Lauch Faircloth in 1998. Back then, everyone who met Edwards was struck by how down-to-earth he seemed. He had fewer airs about him than most other wealthy trial lawyers, let alone most senators.
Many of his friends started noticing a change—the arrival of what one of his aides referred to as “the ego monster”—after he was nearly chosen by Al Gore to be his running mate in 2000: the sudden interest in superficial stuff to which Edwards had been oblivious before, from the labels on his clothes to the size of his entourage. But the real transformation occurred in the 2004 race, and especially during the general election. Edwards reveled in being inside the bubble: the Secret Service, the chartered jet, the press pack, the swarm of factotums catering to his every whim. And the crowds! The ovations! The adoration! He ate it up. In the old days, when his aides asked how a rally had gone, he would roll his eyes and self-mockingly say, “Oh, they love me.” Now he would bound down from the stage beaming and exclaim, without the slightest shred of irony, “They looooove me!”
Once Edwards had been warm and considerate with his staffers; now he was disdainful, ignoring them, dismissing their ideas, demanding that they perform the most menial of tasks. He made his schedulers find out what movies were available on different flights so he could decide which ones to take. He would fly only first class or on private planes he cadged from donors.
…The denizens of the valley of staff were astonished by the narcissism that had infused their candidate. But for a long time, they continued slaving in the service of the illusion at the core of Edwards’s political appeal: that he remained the same humble, aw-shucks son of a mill worker he’d always been. The cognitive dissonance was enormous, sure, but they were used to that. Because for years they’d been living with an even bigger lie—the lie of Saint Elizabeth….
But it was the illness that elevated Elizabeth to a higher plane. She confronted her treatment with bracing courage and wry humor, emerging as one of the most outspoken and widely admired cancer survivors in history.
No one in the Edwardses’ political circle felt anything less than complete sympathy for Elizabeth’s plight. And yet the romance between her and the electorate struck them as ironic nonetheless—because their own relationships with her were so unpleasant that they felt like battered spouses. The nearly universal assessment among them was that there was no one on the national stage for whom the disparity between public image and private reality was vaster or more disturbing.

With her husband, she could be intensely affectionate or brutally dismissive. At times subtly, at times blatantly, she was forever letting John know that she regarded him as her intellectual inferior. She called her spouse a “hick” in front of other people and derided his parents as rednecks. One time, when a friend asked if John had read a certain book, Elizabeth burst out laughing. “Oh, he doesn’t read books,” she said. “I’m the one who reads books.” During the 2004 race, Elizabeth badgered and berated John’s advisers around the clock. She called Nick Baldick, his campaign manager, an idiot…. She routinely unleashed profanity-laced tirades on conference calls. “Why the fuck do you think I’d want to go sit outside a Wal-Mart and hand out leaflets?” she snarled at the schedulers.

To read the rest of New York magazine’s excerpt from Game Change, CLICK HERE.

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