The Silky Pony, The Witch, And The Game Change.

by John Hawkins | January 11, 2010 7:44 am

If you haven’t heard about John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s Game Change[1] yet, prepare yourself for the onslaught, because this is going to be One! Hot! Book!

Moreover, either because McCain’s treacherous staffers have already done their hit jobs on Palin or because Halperin & Heilemann are both liberals with lots of left-wing sources, the really juicy dirt all seems to be coming from the Democratic campaigns.

The John and Elizabeth Edwards’ story? It’s blockbuster material. Over at New York Magazine[2], there’s an extraordinary excerpt from the book, sections of which I am about to repost along with my commentary. Let me just tell you: it’s worth clicking on the link and reading the whole thing. Onward…

In the Senate, in particular, Edwards was regarded almost universally by his former colleagues as a callow, shallow phony.

…Over and over, he proclaimed to his aides, “I am going to be the next president of the United States.”

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.

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 accused David Axelrod, his (and later Obama’s) media consultant, of lying to her and insisted that he be stripped of the responsibility for making the campaign’s TV ads. She would stay up late scouring the Web, pulling down negative stories and blog items about her husband, forwarding them with vicious messages to the communications team. She routinely unleashed profanity-laced tirades on conference calls. “Why the f*ck do you think I’d want to go sit outside a Wal-Mart and hand out leaflets?” she snarled at the schedulers.

Brumberger was beside himself now. He flew down to Washington and met with Baldick; Peter Scher, who had been Edwards’s chief of staff for the 2004 general election; and Kim Rubey, Edwards’s press secretary. For Baldick, the alarm bells had already started ringing when he got a look at the first webisode produced by Hunter. It was filled with so much flirty banter and overfamiliarity between her and Edwards that it made Baldick cringe. When he and his wife watched it at home in bed on Baldick’s laptop, she turned to him at once and said, Oh, my God! He’s f*cking her!

Stuff from the road is getting back to people, and it’s obviously you who’s doing it, Edwards said angrily. You didn’t recognize who you work for. You don’t work for Nick and Peter. You work for me. I trusted you like a son, but you broke my trust. I can’t have you around me anymore. You’re not coming to China, and you’re never working for me again.

Brumberger’s heart sank. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” he said. “I always thought my goal in all of this was to do everything I could to help you become the next president of the United States.”

“Why didn’t you come to me?” Edwards asked.

“I did come to you! I came to you in Ohio. I called you after Labor Day! I tried!”

“No,” Edwards said. “Why didn’t you come to me like a f*cking man and tell me to stop f*cking her?” (My emphasis)

They all sat in silence around the square table in the Edwardses’ living room in the new estate on Old Greensboro Road. It was the afternoon of March 21, 2007, and John and Elizabeth had called their closest aides together to talk about her health. It had been a roller coaster of a day, with Elizabeth at the hospital for hours of tests and difficult conversations with her doctors. John explained that Elizabeth’s cancer had returned and moved from breast to bone. Calmly, clinically, he explained the diagnosis and prognosis: It was treatable but incurable.

Among the aides gathered in the room and listening in by phone, more than a few wished Edwards would use the development as an excuse to quit the race. For the past three months, as the campaign got under way, Elizabeth and John had been fighting savagely on the road, sometimes causing events to be delayed. She was telling friends that John had changed, that he no longer cared about anybody but himself. To a longtime aide, she put the question, “Don’t you think he’s kind of messianic?”

But Elizabeth didn’t ask her husband to get out. She insisted that he stay in. We can’t let my cancer affect the future of the country, she told the group that day. He has to run. He has to be president. I believe it’s the most important thing we can do.

The next morning, John and Elizabeth were scheduled to fly out of Raleigh to separate destinations–he to South Carolina, she to Iowa. But when the traveling staff arrived at their home, they found Elizabeth out of sorts, disconsolate, still in her bathrobe. She had drafted a blog post she wanted published, defending her husband from the accusations against him. This kind of tawdriness was something the Clintons would be involved in, she wrote, but not the Edwardses.

The staff persuaded Elizabeth that posting the item would do more harm than good. But she was livid about what she saw as the campaign’s feeble response to the story. After pulling herself together, she and John set off for the private aviation terminal at the airport–but partway there, their car pulled over, and John hopped out and jumped into the staff car, saying in an exasperated tone, “I can’t ride with her.”

At the terminal, the couple fought in the passenger waiting area. They fought outside in the parking lot. Elizabeth was sobbing, out of control, incoherent. As their aides tried to avert their eyes, she tore off her blouse, exposing herself. “Look at me!” she wailed at John and then staggered, nearly falling to the ground.

John tried to bring down the temperature, remaining calm and impassive, but his apparent standoffishness only seemed to infuriate and disorient Elizabeth more. Finally, after talking to her doctor on the phone, Edwards sent his wife home and flew off to South Carolina.

Out of view, the Edwards campaign was in damage-control mode, going into overdrive to dissuade the mainstream media from picking up the story, denouncing it as tabloid trash. Their efforts at containing the fallout were remarkably successful. The Enquirer’s exposé gained zero traction in the traditional press and almost none in the blogosphere

The new Enquirer piece rocked the campaign to its core. Crazy as it sounded, the idea that Young was taking the fall for John had the deafening ring of truth. An attorney in his forties, Young had a history of run-ins with the law and a rumored alcohol problem. Though he’d done some fund-raising over the years, his main role with Edwards was menial: household chores, personal errands, airport runs for the family. His devotion to his boss was comically servile.

Edwards denounced the Enquirer piece vehemently to his staff. On the campaign bus, he railed at the tabloid: “How could they fucking say this? How could they do this to me? How could they do this to Elizabeth?”

Some Edwards aides believed John’s denials, thought the story was too far out to be true. But others decided to stop spinning the candidate’s disavowals to the media, so certain were they that their boss was lying. Too many of them knew that Young had talked openly about having had a vasectomy a few years back. A bit of math and a glance at a calendar made clear that Hunter had gotten pregnant around June, within months of the recurrence of Elizabeth’s cancer.

After the story broke, things went from bad to worse. John and Elizabeth were fighting all the time, sometimes all night long. On more than one occasion, she announced to the staff that she could no longer speak in public on her husband’s behalf or stay in the same hotel with him. Once, in the middle of the night, she woke up a trip director and commanded, Get me out of here! I’m not campaigning for this *sshole another day.

There are a lot of fascinating details in there. Edwards was apparently just as much of a blow dried, phony, show pony as everyone thought he was. He wife? After reading that description, while the cheating can’t be excused, it makes a lot more sense, doesn’t it? Then there’s the bit about the Edwards campaign stopping the mainstream media from running with a true blockbuster story. That’s one of the biggest fringe benefits of being a Democrat in this country — deferential treatment from your servile allies in the press.

However, here’s what I really think people should take away from this: John Edwards could have very easily been the President of the United States. Kerry came VERY close to winning in 2004. In 2008, people forget that it was John Edwards, not Barack Obama, who was initially supported by the hard Left. In the end, Obama won Iowa 38% to 30% over Edwards. Had that result been reversed, John Edwards may very well have succeeded in killing this story and could have become the President of the United States. Furthermore, had Kerry been elected as POTUS in 2004 and fallen ill or been killed, John Edwards would have become the President of the United States that way. So, this is a man who came very, very close to becoming the leader of the free world.

Yet, what are we finding out about him now? Edwards’ own colleagues in the Senate thought he was a “callow, shallow phony.” Some of his own aides feared a “burgeoning megalomania.” His staffers were “astonished by the narcissism.” His own wife viewed him as her “intellectual inferior.” She also thought he was “kind of messianic.” Edwards was also cheating on Elizabeth and they were having horrific fights that must have made life living hell on both of them.

Now, here’s the point: You think that most of the other people crafting bills in Congress that dramatically impact your life aren’t every bit as screwed up as John Edwards? Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think all of them are narcissists or are having affairs, but I guarantee you that the percentage of them in that boat in DC is probably several times higher than it is in the population at large.

The image the press feeds you — and that many of these people have of themselves — is that they’re better, smarter, and more capable than everyone else. That’s utter horsecrap. If anything, politicians are considerably more screwed up than the average person because they spend all their time being catered to like movie stars by their aides and they seldom talk to normal people who don’t live and die based on polls and the front page of the New York Times. That’s one of the many reasons it’s so important to keep the power to control your life in YOUR hands, instead of in the hands of politicians in DC.

  1. Game Change:
  2. New York Magazine:

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