The greatest political saga, the one that has it all, that gets to the real heart of American politics, is the John Edwards story.
It’s too bad that, for reasons of shock-shocked morality and heavy political correctness, we can’t really revel in it. All good people are required to turn away and express no interest in this tawdry tale. But, in our primness, we’re missing something major, and real, and tortured, and spectacular.
This isn’t just politics, it’s literature. It’s the great American novel, the kind that isn’t written anymore.
The untold story of American politics is laid out before us: tortured marriages. We’ve got the smart, grasping, political wife
running her inch-deep husband’s political career, struck down by cancer. The husband is a liberal-populist candidate, far better looking than his wife, and not half as smart, seeking adoration on the campaign trail. Into this steps the other woman. Is she, as the wife compulsively and virulently portrays her
, a craven climber, a groupie in politics, as she once was in the Manhattan demi monde? Or is she more the searcher, the vulnerable (or neurotic) heart, caught in the headlights? What’s more, having the politician’s child, she’s a mother—suddenly as morally entitled as the politician’s wife. And now there’s the aide with his own version. Andrew Young is the “special assistant,” the figure who exists in all high-flying campaigns, the go-anywhere, do-anything guy, who, in this instance, the candidate drags down a terrible rabbit hole, and who—this being the age of confessions and of media—emerges to tell his own tale.
The problem here, let me argue, is not John Edwards
, but our inability to see politicians for who they are.
We reduce these guys to stick figures, either to boring, righteous leading citizens, or incorrigible grotesques. We’re not interested in the former, and not allowed to be interested, except as witnesses to a train wreck, in the latter. Hence, we can never really understand the nature of politics, because we’re not allowed to know the people who have, for strange and heroic and horrifying and, no doubt, emotionally unsound reasons, committed their lives to this business.
The John Edwards story, as it helplessly and haplessly unfolds and keeps unfolding, is a remarkable window, which we ought to look into with the greatest curiosity and awe. Edwards isn’t, I doubt, much of an aberration. He is the American politician. The only difference is that circumstances now find him beyond spin, truer, and more naked than perhaps any American politician has ever been.
We need this story. We need it to be told in all its fullness.
More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NewserColumns.
Barack Obama is an uplifting but, so far, ultimately boring story.