Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I'm Reading "The Politician"

I've been intrigued with Senator John Edwards for awhile now (see my earlier post about him). But then I am also intrigued by train wrecks, spontaneous combustion and those movies where a piano falls out of a window on to someone's head. Perhaps that is why I got my own copy of Andrew Young's insider book about John Edwards: "The Politician". It's a behind the scenes view of Edwards' rise and fall as a politician, family man and overall human being.

Frankly, if it was just another story of an ambitious political figure caught in the act, I'd probably pass. Plenty of those to go around. But I am drawn to the Edwards' story because, in a way, he is like me. Not politically, but on a more personal level.

Edwards portrayed himself as a "family values" guy, like me. So far (I'm about 1/2 through the book) Andrew Young portrays him that way, too -- of course, we haven't met Reille Hunter yet. But I note that Edwards married Elizabeth the year after I married Robin and, like us, they had four children.

John Edwards is also a sparkling example of a "successful" boomer. He was born two years before me, played football in high school and graduated college with a law degree. Okay, I don't have a law degree and I never played football, but, in my youth, I thought I might want to grow up to be a lawyer. As a politician, Edwards was fond of pointing out that he came from humble roots before he "made it big".

Like Robin and me, Edwards and his wife have also endured family tragedies and difficulties along the way including the death of their son, Wade, in a freak auto accident. Of course, Robin and I survived her accident, but we understand how your life can radically change in only a moment's time.

And, finally, Edwards is a North Carolina man which makes him a product of that classic Southern culture that also shaped the heart of my own mother, a Greensboro-born graduate of Graham High School in the 1930's. Many of my favorite childhood memories go to my summer-long visits to Edwards' home state of North Carolina. After crossing the country by train with my mother, we would spend weeks there visiting her family and revisiting her roots. It was in rural NC that I first encountered fireflies, chiggers, ticks, and fishing from brim in a mill pond. I also learned the glories of Southern foods like fried okra, pound cake, grits, biscuits and gravy, and vegetables straight from the garden.

But the most intriguing thing to me about John Edwards is that he and I both confess a born-again faith in Christ. His faith was formed in the kind of Southern Baptist environment that formed the witness of another famous Southern political figure: Jimmy Carter. Like Jimmy, Edwards made no secret of his faith while in the public eye. This is one more reason why his story grabs me and compels me. I want to do my own postmortem on the public image of this ambitious political rising star so as to better understand his current descent into chaos and shame and to see if there are any signs of hope for someone who has so thoroughly lost his way.

I should probably confess here that I have never truly admired John Edwards nor did I feel that he was sincere about all that "two America's" stuff (a line, the book says, that came from the mind of David Axelrod). Nevertheless, I can't wait to get to the part about Reille Hunter because it seems to me that she entered his life like a guided missile.

The bottom line: I want to learn about John Edwards because he is human, vulnerable, and full of contradictions and, well, so am I. As I make more progress, I'll share any insights worth noting.

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