The Politician: An Insider’s Account of John Edwards’s Pursuit of the Presidency and the Scandal That Brought Him Down
By Andrew Young
(Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 301 pages, $24.99)
Can there be anyone left on the planet who has not yet heard of the sex-and-money scandal involving the former North Carolina senator and über-ambulance chaser, John Edwards, and his airhead girlfriend, Rielle Hunter? The story, originally broken by the National Enquirer, titillating supermarket patrons for weeks before the mainstream media deigned to touch it, is now enriched with further lurid detail in the memoirs of Edwards’s longtime gofer, sometime Senate scheduler, “policy director,” and fullservice aide, Andrew Young.
Mr. Young, it will be recalled, stepped forward at the time of the original story in the Enquirer to claim that he was the father of a baby daughter recently birthed by Ms. Hunter, though there was already considerable evidence to the contrary. Indeed, at the time nobody believed Young except, ironically, Mrs. Edwards, who got this highly unlikely story from her cheating husband.
Since then the plot has considerably thickened, since during her pregnancy and thereafter Ms. Hunter received rather considerable sums of money from Edwards. The Justice Department is investigating whether these transfers involved a violation of federal election laws, as they might have come from Edwards’s campaign chest. In the midst of all this Young changed his story and denied that he fathered the child; Mrs. Edwards no longer believes her husband — who has rather tardily confessed the truth — and has announced her intention to divorce him. The latest installment involves the existence of a lurid sex tape filmed while Edwards and Ms. Hunter were, as they say, in flagrante. (Hunter is something of a camera buff, and originally met Edwards while filming a “documentary” of his presidential campaign.) Young, who claims to have come across the tape while emptying the Edwards family garbage, was holding onto it as his ace in the hole against his former boss. Alas, he has now been forced to surrender it to the FBI. Stay tuned for further developments.
Meanwhile, there is this book, which in spite of itself is of more than ordinary interest to students of American politics. The Politician is the story of two fiercely ambitious (and unscrupulous) men. One, Edwards, aspired to overcome his humble origins and amass great wealth, crowning his achievements with the presidency of the United States. The other, Young, a faceless young man on the make, thought to hitch his wagon to Edwards’s star. At one time the two were as close as brothers, and as Edwards’s prospects seem to brighten, Young was prepared to do anything — anything –– to advance both their careers. It started with driving the senator all over his state, moved to picking up his laundry and buying Thanksgiving turkeys for the Edwards family — even at one point rising before dawn three times a week to drive a young woman, a friend of Mrs. Edwards, to take lessons in how to drive a truck.
From these trivial tasks Young graduated to more meaningful assignments, for a time becoming Edwards’s gatekeeper (“scheduler”) in his Washington senatorial office. After a season in the capital he returned to North Carolina to run Edwards’s operation there. Sometimes he dealt with real policy matters, but not always. Much of his work involved the care and feeding of potential financial contributors, an exacting business requiring much tact and patience, as well as a willingness to suffer fools gladly.
But by the time of the 2004 presidential campaign Edwards had a far bigger demand to make of Young. He asked him to nurse his mistress through her pregnancy. As unbelievable as it may seem, Young forced his wife and children to accompany him — pulling his kids out of school, in fact — in order to babysit a petulant and intellectually vacuous young woman in various “safe houses” scattered about the country (the last of these in elegant Montecito, a very pricy suburb of Santa Barbara, California, courtesy of one of his wealthy trial lawyer friends) until the “miracle child” (as Hunter referred to her) was brought to birth.
The story of John Edwards and Andrew Young is really the story of Southern White Liberal Politics as it has emerged in the post-civil rights era. Both men were hatched from the same misshapen egg that gave us Jimmy Carter — a protoplasm that combines greed, power lust, hypocrisy, and sanctimony. The last ingredient is particularly cloying; more than once while reading this book I found myself reaching for my insulin needle. So much sweetness and light! So much dedication to the poor and underprivileged!
In truth, Edwards’s hackneyed campaign theme of “Two Americas” was not totally fictitious, but it bore little resemblance to the one to which he continually referred in his campaign speeches. Rather, one America is made up of ordinary working people, folks that (in Young’s telling) Edwards privately despises. The other is the America of gated estates, private jets, landing strips, and vast inherited wealth — where the White Knight of North Carolina (again, according to Young) feels most comfortable. Together with bloated trial lawyers, who saw Edwards as the surest protection against tort reform, these people were ready to write large checks to put their man in the White House. Alas, it all came to an end when Barack Obama entered the race, sweeping Liberal America off its feet.
Apparently it came to an end for Young as well. Exhausted at the end of the presidential campaign and at the ceaseless demands of Edwards and his wife — which by now included even perjuring himself by acknowledging a fatherhood that was not his — he expected to be rewarded with a well-paying sinecure at a “center for the study of poverty” which, he claims, was to be funded by Edwards admirer Bunny Mellon, a 90-year-old billionairess reputedly the wealthiest woman in America. When Edwards abruptly told his aide that Mrs. Mellon had backed out of her commitment, the relationship instantly soured. Stung by this unexpected turn of events, Young asks us to believe that this caused him to see the light and break with his former boss.
Perhaps. But one could be forgiven for speculating that the real reason that Edwards lost Young’s loyalty is that, like most wealthy (and non-wealthy) politicians, he expects other people to pay his bills. His lack of gratitude and his sense of entitlement proved to be his downfall.
The facts of the case are that the senator is a very wealthy man with assets in the neighborhood of $150 million, thanks to having won several sensational class action suits during his years as a trial lawyer. He could easily have sat down and written a large check to Young. In that eventuality Ms. Hunter’s baby girl might well have been baptized as one of Young’s children; and — assuming that the unfortunately loquacious Ms. Hunter could be persuaded to quietly wait out the death of cancer-stricken Mrs. Edwards so that she could eventually marry the senator — we would have heard no more of it.
Instead, we get this book, which is supposed to pay for Young’s accumulating legal expenses as he faces investigation by federal authorities. Given the lengthening developments that characterize the case, Mr. Young may soon experience the poverty he was so eager to study with Mrs. Mellon’s millio