Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Is John Edwards' Fall a Tragedy?

Is John Edwards' Fall a Tragedy?
By Mona Charen

The Washington Post has issued a post-mortem on the career of John Edwards ("American Dream is Irrevocably Undone") and finds tragedy and pathos. "The man born Johnny Reid Edwards had it. Great gobs of potential." He might have been, the Post laments, "a great husband, could have been an enduring statesman ... president."

But fate intervened. With his indictment on misuse of campaign funds last week, "America witnessed the latest distasteful episode in ... (the) fall from grace of a political comet."

Grace, as any unblinkered observer could detect, is not a word that ever belonged in the same sentence with John Edwards. But from the beginning of his political career, liberal enthusiasts gushed about his talents. He was, People magazine pronounced, America's "sexiest politician." Nicholas Lemann of The New Yorker called him "the next Bill Clinton" -- without irony. Katie Couric was impressed by more than his looks: "He was the first to raise issues like poverty, universal health care and climate change," she said. "He bucked the conventional wisdom and took political risks, speaking honestly about why he wanted to raise taxes, for example." Ah, yes, bucking the conventional wisdom by talking about universal health care and climate change.

The Washington Post doubtless speaks for Couric and her crowd when it sees in Edwards' fall "the spiral of the Great Man."

In fact, John Edwards, Mr. For the Little Guy, who, in his own words, "represent(ed) people who were in very difficult places in their lives and tr(ied) to give them a shot," made his fortune as an ambulance chaser. No one who examined his career as a fortune-hunting, slick, and unscrupulous trial lawyer should find any inconsistency in his later incarnation as a manipulative, mendacious, and morally bankrupt politician.

As a trial lawyer, Edwards specialized in suing obstetricians after the birth of babies with cerebral palsy. Employing junk science and theatrical courtroom oratory, he convinced juries that the doctors' failure to perform Caesarean sections soon enough caused the disorder. The Edwards technique included speaking for the unborn child. In his summation at one such trial, an emotional Edwards told the jury: "She speaks to you through me. And I have to tell you right now -- I didn't plan to talk about this -- right now, I feel her. I feel her presence. She's inside me, and she's talking to you."

The jury came back with a $6.5 million verdict in that case. It was one of 60 such cases Edwards handled during his career -- half of the verdicts were for more than $1 million. Trial lawyers usually pocket between 30 and 40 percent of jury awards. And though Edwards claimed that he was proud of his career, and that he gave "little guys" a shot, The New York Times quoted a fellow trial lawyer: "He took only those cases that were catastrophic, that would really capture a jury's imagination. He paints himself as a person who was serving the interests of the downtrodden, the widows and the little children. Actually, he was after the cases with the highest verdict potential."

It never troubled Edwards' sleep that studies have shown no connection between delivery-room decisions and cerebral palsy. A 1989 report from the Institute of Medicine argued that obstetricians were being falsely blamed. Lawsuits like those Edwards filed led to the widespread use of fetal monitors during hospital deliveries. The result has been a surge in the number of Caesarean deliveries, many of them unnecessary. This, in turn, has contributed to complications like infection, blood clots, longer recovery times, and more maternal deaths, to say nothing of the increased medical costs.

And here's a bitter postscript: Despite the increased use of fetal monitors and the much readier resort to C-sections, the incidence of cerebral palsy in the population has remained unchanged. In fact, a study in Sweden suggests C-sections may increase the incidence of cerebral palsy.

Additionally, thanks to Edwards and his colleagues, medical malpractice insurance rates for obstetricians have skyrocketed, leading many doctors to abandon the field. It is poor women, not the rich who can travel more easily, who suffer most from doctor shortages.

Mr. For The Little Guy adamantly opposed legislation that would have capped damage awards and set up a fund for the 99 percent of brain-damaged children who did not win big verdicts. There were "two Americas" all right -- those whose misfortune Edwards could profitably exploit, and the rest.

Between the 2004 and 2008 campaigns, Mr. FTLG joined Fortress Investment Group, a hedge fund. While acknowledging that making money was "a good thing, too," Edwards stressed that he was primarily motivated by a desire to learn more about financial markets and their relationship to poverty. Where, oh where, was the press's gag meter?

Edwards seduced a cooperative press corps with ostentatious displays of affection for his stricken wife -- "the love of my life" -- including annual visits to the Wendy's where the couple supposedly passed their first anniversary.

Fall of a great man? How far can a worm fall?

To read another article by Mona Charen, click here.

John Edwards, Campaign Reformer
By Debra J. Saunders

As a U.S. senator, John Edwards, a staunch defender of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, decried "a system in which huge amounts of money (continue to) flow unregulated into the campaign process and ordinary people feel as if their vote makes no difference anymore."

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted the North Carolina Democrat for allegedly violating federal election law by funneling nearly $1 million in campaign contributions -- in violation of the $2,300 federal campaign contribution limit -- to conceal an extramarital affair while he ran for president in 2008.

Edwards denies any guilt.

"I did not break the law, and I never, ever thought I was breaking the law," Edwards told reporters last week.

Then again, Edwards also denied having an affair with Rielle Hunter -- before he admitted to the affair, while denying he was the father of her child -- only to admit later that he was the father.

This may be a good place to note: Edwards is a lawyer. And Washington is a town of lawyers. The knee-jerk Beltway reaction has been to call Edwards a dirtball but then intone that his actions probably did not constitute a federal crime.

GOP attorney Victoria Toensing summed up that attitude when she described the case as "legally dubious but factually devastating."

Forget the conventional wisdom about the cover-up often being worse than the crime. The Washington Post editorialized, "There is scant evidence that Mr. Edwards understood the payments to be campaign contributions."

Even campaign finance reform scolds have gotten in on the act. Melanie Sloan of the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in

Washington (D.C.) criticized the Department of Justice for pushing a "remarkably weak case" that is likely to leave the department "with egg on its face."

Hmmm. Do you think that could be because Edwards was the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee? If John Kerry had won, Edwards would have been one heartbeat away from the Oval Office.

The indictment charges that big donors Bunny Mellon and the late Fred Baron (Persons C and D) paid $725,000 and $200,000 to keep Hunter quiet while Edwards pursued the presidency as "a devoted family man."

Sloan told me, "If Fred Baron" -- an old friend of Edwards -- or the 100-year-old Mellon "wanted to spend his money supporting John Edwards' mistress, that was his business."

Think about that. A major campaign-finance do-gooder is arguing that if rich guys want to ladle close to $1 million in hush money to bankroll a cover-up by a presidential hopeful, that's probably legal.

Republican campaign finance attorney Jan Baran observed that this is not a "run-of-the-mill" election prosecution. But: "We have a pretty rigorous campaign finance system." The $2,300 limit "seems a little quaint" if wealthy donors can funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit a candidate outside the campaign.

Baran told me he is collecting the names of all the campaign-finance lawyers "who have said this is not illegal, and I'm going to seek from them an opinion letter the next time I get a high net-worth individual as a client who wants to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars defraying the expenses of presidential candidates."

No comments: