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Department of Corrections:
About That John Edwards Endorsement

Mardi Gras has come and gone, and Ash Wednesday too, and now it is Lent: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Speaking of dust and repentance . . .

Two years ago we endorsed [1] John Edwards for president. That was before we realized how far superior Barack Obama was (is), and before we read Heilemann and Halperin’s Game Change [2] from beginning to end. (Click here [3] for an excerpt.) Now, our endorsement got a bit of attention [4] through Huffington Post [5] (because we said “Democrats need a tough candidate who won’t hesitate to kick the Republicans in the balls”), but apparently the endorsement caused no irreversible damage. Still, we would like to issue a correction, an admission of error of character judgment.

We were not alone, and there were very good policy reasons [6] why we thought John Edwards was the superior choice: his progressive ideas for health care reform (bolder than Obama’s or Hillary’s) and ending the Iraq War, for aggressive action to address climate change, and his focus on the poor, his advocacy of the social compact [7] and his populist, anti-corporate combativeness. But oh, what we did not know about his personal life! How reckless, selfish, and delusional he was, after his tawdry affair with what’s-her-name (beginning two years before the 2008 Iowa primary), to pursue the presidency and then to plead desperately with go-betweens for appointment as Obama’s attorney general. As if. The damage he could have inflicted on the nation and the party if these matters had blown up, as they would have—it makes you shudder as you read. Former campaign staff spilled because he and Elizabeth used their aides shabbily, and worse.

So, though we stand by our reasons for liking his message—health care reform, assistance for the poor, rebuilding one America—we must acknowledge that John Edwards was not the champion we thought he was.

He ended his campaign, as he began it, in New Orleans [8]. As he withdrew, he said:

“I don’t know when our party began to turn away from the cause of working people, from the fathers who were working three jobs literally just to pay the rent, mothers sending their kids to bed wrapped up in their clothes and in coats because they couldn’t afford to pay for heat.”

Now, this is a little hard to take when you read [3] in Game Change about the enormous house he built in Chapel Hill, “a two-building complex totaling 28,200 square feet, with an indoor basketball court, swimming pool, and squash court, two theatrical stages, and a room designated ‘John’s Lounge.’” (Still, Democrats campaigning in the 2010 midterms—and those already in office—would do well to remember these hard-pressed working people and the jobless.)

There was also the matter of his role as “senior adviser” for Fortress Investment Group [9] “for which he reaped a minor fortune”—the same group that purchased mortgages on properties in the Katrina-damaged areas of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast with the intention of foreclosing on the mortgages through affiliates.

After the self-inflicted damage, Edwards needs redemption (don’t we all), his reputation rehabilitated. If we may humbly suggest a way to regain some measure of self-respect and public trust: he could come back to New Orleans and roll up his sleeves again and do some more carpentry work as he did for the cameras in the Lower Ninth Ward when he announced his run for the presidency. He could start simply, modestly, without notifying news organizations, but by volunteering his physical labor, his intelligence, his genuine empathy for the downtrodden. He could advocate for a continuation somehow of Charity Hospital [10]’s free health care for the indigent and uninsured (with or without LSU and the VA and their plans for a bright shiny new medical corridor), and he could put his environmental concerns to work by pitching in with coastal restoration groups. Or he could assist in Ivor van Heerden [11]’s legal defense against LSU pro bono.

Come to think of it, there might be other fallen politicians in need of rehabilitation who could join him in these and other efforts. New Orleans could always use more help. It’s a fairly tolerant and forgiving city, and wouldn’t hold their misbehavior against them. Come on down.

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