Monday, January 25, 2010

The monster with the nice smile

While working at a N.C. newspaper one day in 1998, there began much commotion around me, especially amongst the women.

There was a guy in town, a new guy, a charismatic guy, a handsome guy, and he was running for the U.S. Senate for N.C. He was a phenom. He was young. He was a Democrat. He was a famous trial lawyer who had put the screws to doctors, hospitals and businesses and talked about the poor and blacks and the sick in ways that made my cohorts have virtual orgasms at their computer terminals.

The newsroom nearly emptied and I, a Curious George with a writer's attraction to the circus of humanity, could not resist. I followed close behind.

There he was. Perfect hair. Perfect smile. Perfect demeanor. Thanking my cohorts and many other citizens of Greensboro for their kind, kind support near a high-rise bank's entrance. He was slick. Devilishly slick. After watching him in creamy motion for a couple of minutes, I went to lunch, thinking along the way, "This greasy troll will be the next John Kennedy." I shook my head in dismay and ate my double cheeseburger.

His name is John Edwards. He is now road-kill of his own making. The weight of his double-life has made a stain of him on the American landscape and mind. He's a stranger in a strange land, and I can think of only a few demagogues more deserving. But in his heyday, he was a ruthless killer of productive individuals and companies.

His victories in court were devastating to doctors in N.C. and eventually nationwide. He almost single-handedly caused a double-digit increase in Cesarean sections because of his multimillion-dollar success in one suit in which a doctor allegedly didn't extract a child fast enough to ensure survival through natural child birth. The judge presiding over the case reduced the verdict's award by more than $3 million because, he said, the jury was "under the influence of passion and prejudice." That didn't affect the precedent, however, and the effect it had on millions of women giving birth for the following decade. (My ex-wife, Kelly, and I had to tell the doctor presiding over the birth of Livy that he would not be allowed to "bring this one out through the sunroof," as he put it without even doing a thorough exam of Kelly before he decided on Cesarean.)

Edwards was renowned for winning the unwinnable suits at an N.C. lawfirm. The suits were allegedly unwinnable because there simply weren't enough facts. But facts never stopped the wunderkind Edwards. After all, he had charisma and could emote in a flash for a jury or a camera (vomiting can be induced by watching ANY saccharine speech he ever made).

Edwards made more than $60 million in his suits, many of which simply boggle the mind. In a suit he took against Sta-Rite, a maker of swimming-pool drain covers, he won an award for $25 million against the company for not having redundant warnings on the covers of the danger of their removal. The suit came about because kids at a pool had removed the cover after the people who owned the pool hadn't installed it correctly and a young girl died when she got too close to the opening. There was absolutely no error committed by Sta-Rite, and the case was allegedly unwinnable. But not for Johnny Reid Edwards. He won big after a 1.5 hour speech to the jury, in which he channeled the recent death of his own son.

Edwards brought Sta-Rite, a legitimate company made up of hard-working people and creators, to its knees. And the people he won the suit for later became happy aides to his eventual Senate campaign.

As a senator, Edwards joined or led fights for mandatory health-care insurance purchases by all Americans, for "vouchers" for "underprivileged" because poor people and middle-class people "should live together," for "global warming" restrictions and taxation, for a "College for Everyone," for "affirmative action," for rolling back Bush tax cuts, for a crackdown on "predatory lending."

He spoke to ACORN and the NAACP and spoke out against good constitutional judges seeking Federal court positions. He made a campaign of his life to be a predator of the good and just and diligent.

And then in 2008, the fabricated smile disappeared. A lifetime of immorality parading as do-gooderism collapsed with the revelation (by dedicated journalists at the Enquirer, of all places) that he'd been having sex with a woman that was not his wife. For a while, he denied it in stellar, trial-lawyer fashion, placing blame, as he was want to do, upon evil-doers, on others doing their job. When he was finally caught on tape, even John Reid Edwards had to fess up on national TV.

But there was more. A child. No, he most certainly hadn't fathered a child, he said, with that woman. His campaign aide had done so. But campaign aides are notoriously fickle in devotion, and so this aide has a book coming out stating clearly that the child is Edwards' and that the aide was dishonestly covering for his boss.

So a few days ago, Edwards admitted that he'd lied again, to citizens and to his wife. Another pathetic episode in a pathetic life that has single-mindedly caused devastation to those around him and those he comes into contact with for some macabre psychological endeavor to garner praise and glory at the expense of those who seek no such artifice.

His story is not an uncommon one, modern or past. Shakespeare made a living off of ingeniously depicting such men and women. Something was rotten in the state of N.C. in 1998. My colleagues didn't see it because they were blind to altruism, false humility, protestations of alleged unfairness and egalitarianism's cudgel. They shared Edwards' philosophy, if not his megalomania.

It is that philosophy that we still fight today, and more monsters with nice smiles. And the only way to fight it, to fight THEM, is with an exactitude of mindful reason, thoughtful reflection and determined action -- so that the idea of liberty purges such political vampires from our political landscape forever.

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