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Jewish Journal

Political Theatre with Bad Actors

by  David A. Lehrer

February 4, 2010 | 7:20 pm

Today is one of those days when the stars aligned and light illuminated realities that are otherwise too often hidden or ignored.

The Daily Beast’s Tina Brown penned a scathing portrait of Sen. John Edwards—-former vice presidential candidate and a few votes in Iowa away from being the winning candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in the last cycle.

The catalyst for her piece is the just published book The Politician, by Edwards’ former “body man, beard and shit-eating courtier” (her words) Andrew Young.  Reading her account of the immoral narcissist that is John Edwards is chilling. Not because it is “shocking” to learn that a politician has an out-of-control libido and ego, but that his disgusting duplicity was known by many in the media but was left unmentioned in miles and hours of analyses and political punditry.

As Brown writes, “

there was virtually no aspect of the Edwards campaign persona that was true

.”  Yet, it was the National Enquirer, of all sources, that was left to dig into the muck which finally revealed the person behind the slick-haired persona that sought to become the most powerful man in the world.

I have no illusions about the saintliness of those who seek to be president, from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton, monogamy and honesty in inter-personal relations are not derigueur for political leaders. But somewhere between accepting moral shortcomings and being a compass-less, empty suit playing a role, there is a point at which the public has to be treated like adults who need to know whom they might be voting for.

When Edwards was bleating about the “two Americas” that only he cared about, we should have known that he was simultaneously deriding the “fat rednecks” (his words) he had to meet who reminded him of his own humble beginnings. His campaign workers were so cynical that during the Democratic candidates’ debates, they would “knock back a drink every time he uttered the words ‘son of a mill worker’” to describe himself—-“soon they were howling with laughter.”

As Young writes about Edwards, “

Virtually every word that came of his mouth was a lie, but it was convincing

.”

But where were the media—-the guardians of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press and the public’s right to know? Apparently, they were too busy with other issues (e.g. was Hillary genuine when she teared up before the New Hampshire primary) and the unending nonsense that fills the 24/7 news cycle.

The mainstream media couldn’t or didn’t want to let us know what a dangerous, disingenuous phony Edwards was.

Lest this blog be perceived as being a partisan posting, today brought another example of political theatre that the media didn’t appropriately report on. A phony politician who had presidential aspirations and who might have slipped through, but for the unpredictable vagaries of history and an unchecked libido—-Gov. Mark Sanford.

In excerpts from his wife’s just published book, Staying True, Jenny Sanford offers a portrait of a politician seduced by the trappings of political success into becoming a thoughtless, narcissistic, self-deluding putz. As The New York Times reviewer summarized, “she watched her husband morph into a restless, distant character. He stopped bothering to be strict with their children. He worried about his bald spot. And he spent more and more time away from home, telling what turned out to be flagrant lies about his reasons for travel.”

The Sanford story isn’t just about adultery and the lies that inevitably accompany it, these days that may be a relatively minor blot on a politician’s resume.  Rather it is about the warped view of the world of which the adultery seems to have been a symptom.

What kind of judgment does someone have who seeks his wife’s permission to continue his affair, who calls her after his disastrous “mea culpa” news conference to ask, “How’d I do?” and who thought nothing of lying to his aides and his state about his whereabouts overseas while still serving as governor (he was in Argentina, not on the Appalachian Trail).

Where were the reporters who covered him as the governor of South Carolina in all the months leading up to his very public fall? Where were they in letting the public know that this man had no right to think about being president of the United States, let alone governor of South Carolina? His flawed judgment must have been manifest in so many ways, especially to reporters who practically live with their subjects in smaller state houses. They must have known about Sanford’s wackiness, but they didn’t let the public know and the jabber about him being “presidential timber” continued.

These two incidents converging on one day’s news are reminders that our electoral system is only as good as the information we have about the candidates and issues we vote on. When reporters don’t inform the public about relevant personal traits and the shortcomings of our leaders that speak to judgment, honesty and integrity—-the system is compromised.

Garbage in—-garbage out!

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