Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hart Throbs

During the primary season, the reincarnation of Gary Hart, circa 1988, was Barack Obama – the Rorschach Man, the proponent of vague “new ideas.” Now, of course, it’s a lot clearer what those ideas were; as I’ve been writing all along, they’re the old Clintonite ideas of the Democratic center-right. This fact has yet to dawn on most Obamamaniacs, but it is nevertheless beyond dispute. Therefore Obama is no longer the Gary Hart of 2008; he’s a 2008 version of what Gary Hart would have become had he stayed in the 1988 race longer -- a mainstream Democrat.

However Hart’s spirit lingers, finding its way into another flesh and blood Democrat. This time, though, it isn’t Hart’s vacuity that is back but his self-destructive “narcissism” (as the offending party himself calls it). Sadly, for those of us who saw the present conjuncture as an opportunity for real change (not the “plus ça change…” Obama offers), the new Hart avatar is John Edwards.

It was never likely that that Obama would choose Edwards to be his running-mate. If Obama has it in him to look to his left, he has so far shown no sign of it. But John Edwards, and Elizabeth Edwards too, might have played a major role in the Obama campaign and in the coming Obama administration. Perhaps Elizabeth still will. But now, having “confessed” to an extra-marital affair after disparaging both the very idea and the messenger who brought it to public attention, John Edwards is toast.

[What does it say about our political culture that some of our best investigative reporting comes from the tabloids, just as some of our most cogent commentary comes from the celebrities – Paris Hilton, most recently -- they cover. As I wrote when the story “broke,” if The National Enquirer says it, it’s probably true. The contrast with The New York Times could hardly be starker.]

What rankles is not just the infidelity. It’s not even the cover up – the denials since The Enquirer caught Edwards in a Los Angeles hotel with Rielle Hunter and her baby on July 22. “Face it, they’re all crazy; they all do it,” as the Two Thousand Year Old Man (Mel Brooks) put it. “And,” he added, “if they don’t do it to their wives and girl friends, they do it to the country.” That pretty much explains Kennedy, who was President at the time those wise words were uttered – back in the golden days of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Kennedy did it with the discretion of a bunny rabbit. [In Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba….And Then Lost It to the Revolution, T.J. English describes a particularly exotic orgy arranged for Kennedy in Havana by mobsters who watched but, to their everlasting regret, didn’t film. As we know from many sources, Kennedy’s appetites were insatiable and his exploits legion.] It also explains Nixon, who seems to have been utterly sexless in his declining years, and who most certainly did it to the country. These are the extreme cases, but rare is the American President who didn’t have a paramour or several. If we start with the Roosevelt era, the only ones about whom there is any doubt are, by my reckoning, Truman, Ford, Carter and the second Bush. Given that the Two Thousand Year Old Man was very wise, Bush is the only one I’m really confident about -- on the grounds that he surpasses even Nixon in doing it to the country.

Why, then, is Edwards special? It isn’t just that, being more left than any other major national figure, he’s more on the corporate media’s ignore and/or ridicule list. That explains why they did their best to marginalize his campaign while he still had a chance. But the “quality press” remained mute on this one for as long as they could; they behaved like the “gentlemen” of the Kennedy’s era.

The problem, much like with his famous haircut and his oversized house, is hypocrisy. Edwards flaunted his family. Who can blame him? Elizabeth is more estimable than he. Of course, she is also terminally ill. Thus it took not only a level of recklessness of Kennedyesque proportions but also crass thoughtlessness to do it to somebody else while running for office. In a better world, it would only be the betrayal of the wife, not the fact of the affair itself, that mattered. We’re not there yet. Much has changed since “the sexual revolution” Kennedy never lived to see, but American puritanism has not gone away; not, at least, where political figures are concerned. America is not now and probably never will be like Mitterand’s or Sarkozy’s France. Gary Hart found this out, if he didn’t already know, when he and Donna Rice were caught doing it on The Monkey Business. Two decades later, it is the same. But even if it were not, it would still be the case that Edwards acted disgracefully.

Hart all but dared reporters to find him out; it was as if he longed (unconsciously?) to be discovered. Edwards now claims that, though he lied before (or, rather, only told most of the truth), he told the whole truth on ABC last night. If so, Hunter’s baby is not his, and his affair with her ended in 2006. Perhaps, but the story reeks of implausibilities. Now that even The New York Times is on his case, if he is holding something back, it’s sure to be discovered and turned into legitimate news – just as it was with Gary Hart, who was also outed by The National Enquirer. Edwards is toast for now; if he wasn’t completely forthcoming last night, he’ll be toast forever. That bodes ill not just for him, but for us too – that is, for those of us who were counting on more than just restoring the United States to the level of malign neglect and international criminality that characterized the Clinton era.

1 comment:

Mitchell J. Freedman said...

History buff that I am, I must say: The Carl Reiner-Mel Brooks bit comes from the 2013 Year Old Man, recorded ten years after JFK's murder. Still, it is on point with guys like Hart and Edwards.

As for your point about The Enquirer, I still think it is mostly wrong and exaggerating, if not making it up. Howevr, I do recall Tommy Lee Jones' immortal statement about The Enquirer in "Men in Black", which is that the tabloids got it right about aliens from outer space...