The Losers

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POLITICS FEBRUARY 25, 2010

The Losers

The Politician: An Insider's Account of John Edwards's Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down
by Andrew Young
Thomas Dunne Books, 320 pp., $24.99

The unfortunate circumstances befalling John Edwards (or Elizabeth Edwards, or the Edwards children, or the Edwards campaign, or the Edwards mistress—choose one) took an odd turn. A man identified as a campaign aide, Andrew Young, was taking the fall for paternity. For people of a certain age this made no sense, of course, because the Andrew Young we thought of was the African American politician, diplomat, and pastor, now seventy-seven. First, why would he be an aide to a Senator, and second … well, never mind. In any case, as the world soon learned, this Andrew Young was white, young, and a loyal disciple of Edwards. He is still white and young, but he is no longer loyal.

One thing is certain: few things can gum up a presidential primary—if you are a candidate—like a blonde who is pregnant, especially when all fingers are pointing to you. Damage control came in the form of Young. To be sure, his is a different kind of political memoir. Even the acknowledgments are singular. Seldom do you see thanks offered to “FBI agents, IRS agents, and the officers of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.” Early on, when some people regarded John Edwards as an ambulance chaser with good hair, Young was devoted to the man he saw as a great public servant who could go all the way. (And of course take Young with him. There is no idealism in this awful book.)

God knows this whole mess had resonance for Young. His father, whom he worshipped, was a preacher who got caught with a deacon’s wife at a Red Roof Inn. After writing of his own background and rocky road to a stable marriage, he talks of Edwards’s early days as a senator. Some people regarded him as “Clinton without the baggage.” Ted Kennedy thought he was a comer. The new Senator's office dealt with the usual nonsense, like a federal inmate writing him on ten-foot stretches of toilet paper, a female whack-job leaving explicit sexual messages on the office answering machine—you know, the usual.

Young also developed a relationship with Mrs. Edwards, friendly at first. To her, he was something akin to a butler, receiving long “fix this/fix that” notes at one of their houses, waiting for the cable guy, accepting an eBay delivery. Later he found her to be a Nancy Reagan clone when it came to personnel. It would not be a stretch to say that Young proclaims Elizabeth to be the brains. When things got messy, she turned on him with great fury. Interestingly, the Edwardses always said to him, “You’re not staff, Andrew. You’re family.” Way down the line it transpired that the familial role for which he was slotted was “Daddy.”

If I am right about why people want to buy this book, there is way too much about Young, his family, national politics, Ted Kennedy keeping one of his Portuguese water dogs in his office, and life as a political aide to a senator. My mind wandered reading minutiae about Bob Shrum, important senators, Kennedy’s dog again, fat cats referred to as “future ambassadors,” and the importance of money in campaigns. (This is the element that interested the FBI agents, IRS agents, and the officers of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina.) Young reveals himself to be a bit of yokel by being impressed with big stars and big money: he refers to his “brush with fame” as being in a shot on CNN. There is a certain pathos to that.

Although warned by other staffers (mostly former) that life with the Edwardses was a snake pit, Young stuck it out anyway. Little by little, he began to see the snakes. He noticed that Edwards, before he was anointed John Kerry’s running mate, referred to both John and Teresa as “complete assholes.” After his anointment, both Kerrys morphed into being A-OK. (When the last dog was shot, the Heinz-Kerrys reverted to being referred to anatomically.) It was at that moment, Young says, that he understood that Edwards had two faces, and sometimes both had something different to say.

One story I did like that was not about sex, drugs, and rock and roll with the idiosyncratically named Rielle had to do with an Edwards family visit, along with the Young family, to Disney World. Young left the Senator and four kids at the pool and went to the Edwards suite, where “Mrs. Edwards…screamed at me, ‘Andrew, you know how irresponsible he is. You can’t leave him alone with four kids.’ She called security and we all searched the hotel.” When Young returned to the pool, he saw Edwards carrying “a bunch of clothes and there were four buck-naked kids trailing behind him. He explained that he had taken them to a little beach for a swim in a pond where big signs warned, do not swim. alligators.”

Another family situation (we are not yet in a family way) was that John Edwards had his own Roger Clinton-Billy Carter clone in the person of his brother, Blake Edwards. (No, not the director. There’s that generational confusion again.) He was arrested for ignoring a drunk driving ticket in the charmingly named town of Fuquay-Varina. He went to the can for sixty days, displeasing both his brother and sister-in-law. And then finally, half-way through the book come “the good parts.” Young starts to notice the Senator flirting with waitresses, but thinks nothing of it. He is a little quizzical, though, when a woman who picks up Edwards at the Regency is given a $100,000 contract to do video work.

This would be Rielle Hunter, née Lisa Druck. Young decides she looks practiced at “identifying rich men, married or not, and connecting with them—at least temporarily.” Young writes that, when arriving in New York in her early twenties, she briefly dated Jay McInerney and wound up in Story of My Life as “the repulsive character Alison Poole.” Oh, and her father participated in a horse-killing insurance scam. Young then goes on to paint her as a forty-one year-old round-heeled fruitcake who “when she first saw John Edwards she noticed ‘an aura’ of energy floating over him. When she made eye contact with the senator, she knew their destinies were intertwined, and that she had been sent to Earth to serve him.” And of course everyone knows the rest. Boy runs for president, meets trollop, knocks her up, can’t afford the scandal, arranges a financial cushion (see FBI agents, IRS agents, and the officers of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina) and all hell breaks loose. Or rather, the National Enquirer is on to him. (It has just been nominated for a Pulitzer for its coverage of this nationally repercussive sordidness.) Of course Young, the good shnook, is recruited to be the admitted father of Rielle’s baby bump.

There is a certain naïveté to Young’s melodramatic realization that the Senator is not true blue. He is very surprised when the nanny tells him one morning that the night before, Jack (one of the little ones Elizabeth belted out at the age of fifty) went to find his father and the bed was empty. How to explain the local motel card key left on the kitchen counter? Then Young remembers little signs, like Edwards requesting to be on a different floor than his staff when they were in hotels, pocketing notes “from eager women,” going out “to jog” at two in the morning. We learn that Edwards makes fun of his donors and is, in general, a phony. Of course many people at a much greater distance from the candidate already knew this.

And did I mention that Rielle and Edwards agreed on an “open” relationship? With time, Edwards started to complain that Rielle was crazy, just as he had complained about his wife. By now Young had become the beard in order to keep Rielle around. It was decided that Elizabeth’s recurrence of cancer would be useful to the campaign. Ick. When Rielle reveals she is with child, Edwards elevates her title to “crazy slut.” As some mistresses are wont to do, Rielle became jealous of the real wife. She was infuriated when there was a lot of publicity about the Edwardses renewing their vows on their thirtieth anniversary and then celebrating at Wendy’s. (Wendy’s?!) The running and hiding and supporting Rielle and the Youngs on the run was financed by (metaphorically) poor, trusting, Democratic, aged Bunny Mellon—to the tune of six million dollars. Another rich supporter, a Texan lawyer named Fred Baron (since deceased), also paid for the care and upkeep of Rielle, then the baby—but he, at least, knew where the money was going.

The lesson, if that is the word, of this sad and tawdry book is that Young was being played by John Edwards, and that a stiff whaddya-call-it has no conscience and no brains, either. When I read Young’s account of Edwards saying, essentially, that if the truth did come out, it would be a one day story because “everyone knows” that politicians fool around, I felt that Edwards and Hunter deserved each other. Oh yes, and it’s possible that Rielle herself tipped off the Enquirer. Now I am going to take a shower.

Margo Howard is an advice columnist for Creators Syndicate and www.wowowow.com.

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