The Edwards Anticlimax

I was relieved to learn from Dave Weigel, who has been closely following the John Edwards trial, that I really haven’t missed a thing. Why? Because when the local Borders’ was closing down last year I bought a copy of The Politician, Andrew Young’s tell-all book about his relationship with Edwards, for about two bucks in some Final Clearance Stack, anticipating a long flight. And according to Weigel, virtually all of the testimony the prosecution is using in its effort to imprison Edwards for campaign finance law violations was fully present in Young’s book.

It’s all reasonably simple: one person who is dead (famed trial lawyer Fred Baron) and another who is 101 years old (Bunny Mellon) gave what most of us (though not their fabulously wealthy selves) would consider a lot of money to cover “personal expenses” for Edwards that turned out mainly to involve an amazingly elaborate and ultimately unsuccessful ploy to keep his largely inscrutable relationship with Rielle Hunter secret. This whole crazy thing was playing out against the background of two events in Iowa: Edwards’ famous $250 haircut in Dubuque in 2007, which led Mellon to open a vast line of credit for the kind of expenses that shouldn’t show up in campaign expense disclosure materials, and then, less than a year later, Edwards’ loss in the Iowa Caucuses, which effectively ended his presidential ambitions.

You get the sense that the government could have saved a whole lot of taxpayer money by simply entering Young’s book into evidence; letting the judge instruct the jury on the very limited questions of fact they were to resolve about the intentions of Baron and Mellon; and then going straight to closing arguments. Sure, it’s ironic that Edwards himself, whose meteoric rise in American politics was based on his reputation as sort of the Wayne Gretzky of trial attorneys, never took the stand to talk the jury out of sending him to the hoosegow. But it’s in keeping with the anticlimactic nature of this entire proceeding.

The main perceived victim of all of Edwards’ lies, Elizabeth Edwards, is long gone. Some profess to be outraged that a man of his character came within a handful of votes in Ohio from attaining a position “a heartbeat from the presidency,” but given the character of the man he lost to in 2004, it’s hard to get exercised about that. When the whole Hunter saga first went public in 2008, a lot of Democrats were horrified by the realization that had Edwards somehow won the nomination, the general election might have been forfeited. But at some point the saga drifts off into the mists of alternative history, one in which 75-year-old President John McCain might be defending 12 years of disastrous Republican rule in Washington against the hope-and-change candidacy of second-term Democratic senator Barack Obama, assuming McCain survived a right-wing primary challenge from his Vice President, Sarah Palin, who resigned after a year or so in office.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.