The award-winning opening sequence of Mad Men begins with protagonist Don Draper comfortably ensconced in the greyed-down pastel office of an obviously successful executive. He wears a silhouetted black suit. As he puts his briefcase down, the office starts to fall apart. The isolated Draper figure is suddenly in free-fall outside the tall glass-sided host skyscraper. It’s a languid fall past images of his professional life affixed to the building. His back is to the ground with arms extended. At the last moment he flips face-first for the landing. Before he can land he morphs into a figure comfortably postured on a couch with his back to the audience and his right arm casually draped across the top of the sofa.
Symbolically, what I’ve just described is a perfect fit for the one time golden boy of Democratic Party politics, John Edwards. I was reminded of the Edward’s era after reading a recent newspaper account of the latest chapter in his unseemly fall from the political skyscraper that he had ascended almost to the top. Now, he’s clearly near the bottom, the final step being the almost-certain guilty verdict and subsequent sentencing at the end of his current federal criminal trial in front of a Greensboro, North Carolina jury.
I had a close-up view of Edwards in the summer of 2003 when a friend and I journeyed to Bowling Green, Ohio to listen to John Kerry and John Edwards speak at an open-air event. Edwards, at the time, was Kerry’s running mate in their bid to unseat incumbent President, George W. Bush. After the speeches (and a nearby heat-induced fainting spell) Kerry and Edwards walked a path by the crowd, shaking hands and chatting briefly along the way. My friend, at about 6’6” was able to work his way through the attendees and press the Edwards flesh. I was a few feet away from the candidate.
Up close, he was a good looking fellow and taller than you might think. Next to the 6’4” John Kerry, people probably thought of him as short. He’s not. He’s about 6’ tall. He had the look of Don Draper success. Polished, self-contained and approachable. He had good color, tanned without being garish, and seemed very comfortable in his own campaign skin. In summation, a politician at the top of his game.
But a scant 4 years later when he was campaigning in 2007 for the 2008 democratic nomination for president, Edwards was playing a very different kind of game. A game of sex, lies and videotape that the likes of Spitzer, Weiner et al could identify with. He was messing around on his wife.
The messee was a presentable blond, Rielle Hunter… not as attractive as Edwards was handsome, but with a lithe frame and most important of all, availability. They reportedly met in a bar where she told him that he was ‘hot’. I guess that’s enough of a come-on for an egocentric presidential aspirant. It was shortly thereafter she came on board the campaign.
She now called herself a filmmaker and it was her job to capture Edwards’s latest campaign on videotape. That put her in close proximity of Edwards. I imagine they often found themselves in the snug confines of planes and bars and hotel rooms and, well, you know the drill. She became his mistress. As a home-wrecker, Hunter should have known better. She was 43 when she met Edwards. She was the daughter of an attorney and the ex-wife of an attorney. She wasn’t some goo goo-eyed teenage rock groupie ripe for the picking. For a time she dabbled in minor and forgettable roles in some movies and theatre productions. I also believe she is what is referred to in modern-day America as a ‘fame whore’. In a GQ feature on her, she displayed a fair amount of midriff with the tie on her sweats suggestively undone while lying on a bed holding Quinn, her daughter from John Edwards. Tacky!
She was, in truth, a bit player in life when she met yet another attorney. In their liaison, she was destined to play her most destructive role.
Edward’s wife at the time, Elizabeth, is an entirely different story. She is purely Shakespearean. The bard’s model of courage and tragedy. Also an attorney, she met John Edwards when both were law students. They eventually married and had 4 children. Son Wade, an energetic and bright student, died in a car accident at 16. In her grief Elizabeth acknowledged his passing, but being a true person of faith said she would be seeing him in heaven. She and John had two later children after Wade’s death.
Elizabeth was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004 during an annual breast exam. It was in remission when her husband met Hunter. Still, he was perfectly aware that the cancer was still there – somewhere. She once told a TV interviewer that she eventually found out about Edwards and Hunter but thought of it as little more than a one-night-stand. It wasn’t. It was long-standing and produced a child between the two. It also produced numerous tabloid stories and furtive photographs of John sneaking around that had to be of great embarrassment to Elizabeth and the family. Elizabeth separated from John in early 2010 and died December 7th of that year. By this time, John was a moral pariah to decent people of all political stripes. A man who abandoned his wife in her time of greatest need.
To learn how real men support their women, tune into the Style Network on Tuesday nights for the wonderfully sweet and instructive story of spousal support for a beloved wife going through breast cancer, up to and including a double-mastectomy. Bill Rancic of ‘Apprentice’ fame is everything a husband should be and Giuliana Rancic, an ‘E’ Entertainment hostess, is his heroic wife. Happily, she’s progressing very, very well.
As for the trial, Edwards faces six counts stemming from the acceptance of nearly a million campaign dollars from two donors to hide the pregnant Hunter while Edwards pursued the presidential nomination. The whole story is just coated with sleaze through and through. A campaign Aide, Andrew Young claimed the child was his. There was some foolishness about altering DNA, stealing a diaper and other equally distasteful three-stooge’s strategies. Speaking of foolishness, now comes the revelation that Young spent the lion’s share of that near-million dollar windfall, on creating the house of his dreams and very little on Mama Hunter.
We’ll find out soon enough whether Edwards is guilty of knowing about the donations (wherever they ended up) that were highly illegal.
So Edwards goes from husband of a lovely and accomplished wife and mother to a hugely successful law career, to great wealth, to U.S. Senator, to VP nominee to seeker of the presidency to adulterer, liar, denier of paternity, knocker-upper and possible recipient of a 30-year stretch in federal prison.
There will be no comfortable couch landing for Edwards. His final denouement will be far uglier.