Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sex, Lies and Videotape – and Politics! What Could Be More Exciting?

From the Desk of Joe Rollins

I promise that this will be the last book review I will write for some time, but Andrew Young’s The Politician about the John Edwards scandal was just too hot for me not to read. If I post another book review over the next two months, it’ll have to be of the Internal Revenue Code. Believe me, that subject would definitely put you to sleep!

I decided to take a short vacation last week before things get too crazy in our office from tax season. While soaking up the sun in the Caribbean, I quickly devoured the pages of The Politician. Andrew Young was a key staff member in John Edwards’ 2008 Presidential campaign, and he is not to be confused with the highly principled former City of Atlanta Mayor, Congressman and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations of the same name.

In The Politician, Mr. Young outlines his career wherein he basically started working as a volunteer in John Edwards’ 1998 campaign for Senate and quickly became his most trusted confidant. As you may know, John Edwards was an incredibly successful trial attorney who principally represented plaintiffs in medical malpractice and personal injury cases. His wife, the former Elizabeth Anania (she used her maiden name professionally until 1996), was also a very successful attorney.

John Edwards’ 1998 campaign for U.S. Senate was successful, and he served as a U.S. Senator from North Carolina until retiring before the 2004 Senate election. Even though Edwards was a millionaire himself, he promoted programs to eliminate poverty in the United States and generally supported initiatives that provided opportunities to the poor. This can probably be attributed to his humble background; his father was a textile worker and his mother was an antiques refinisher and postal letter carrier, and Edwards was the first member of his family to attend college.

Edwards was also a proponent of a universal healthcare plan wherein all Americans would be required to purchase health insurance. His plan also required employers to provide health insurance or be taxed to fund public health care.

In September of 2003, John Edwards became a Democratic presidential candidate, but he ultimately withdrew from the race after being defeated by John Kerry in the Super Tuesday primaries. Despite their strong dislike of one another, Kerry asked Edwards to be his vice presidential running mate in July of 2004. As everyone knows, they lost to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and Kerry and Edwards reportedly do not speak to one another.

In late 2006, Edwards announced his U.S. President candidacy in the 2008 election. The odds were on him to win over then Senator Hillary Clinton, who was considered to be too controversial to ever win the Democratic nomination. At that time, hardly anyone had heard of the junior senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. Things were looking pretty good for John Edwards until the allegations of an extra-marital affair surfaced in January of 2008. He withdrew from the race on January 30, 2008, although he was still hopeful that Barack Obama would ask him to be his vice presidential running mate.

As far as the book is concerned, I can’t necessarily recommend it as a good read. It was fairly clear to me that Andrew Young wrote the book as a self-serving exercise to protect himself legally. He does go through an exhaustive list of his positive impressions of John Edwards when he first met him and many of the interactions he had with Elizabeth Edwards.

You may recall Elizabeth Edwards’ announcement that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in November of 2004. After radiation and chemotherapy treatments, she went into remission only for the cancer to return and metastasize to her bones and a lung. The Edwards announced together during John’s campaign for President in 2007 that Elizabeth now had stage IV breast cancer, but that they would continue campaigning together even though her cancer was only treatable, not curable.

Also tragic is the loss of their teenage son, Wade, in 1996, which seemed to set John Edwards’ political career in motion. The Edwards have four children together, two of which were born after Wade’s death, when both John and Elizabeth were in their late forties.

The Politician focuses on the relationship that John Edwards had with his mistress, Rielle Hunter, while campaigning beginning in 2006. As the famous colonist William Randolph said, “Truth is not only stranger than fiction, it is more interesting.” This is one of those particular situations that is so outrageous that it’s almost unbelievable.

Somewhere along the line, John Edwards met Ms. Hunter and he hired her to produce a series of promotional videos showing his life behind the scenes on the campaign trail. Her production experience before being hired by the Edwards campaign was questionable, but that didn’t keep him from paying her a $100,000 retainer from his campaign funds. Ms. Hunter utilized that money to purchase equipment and set up a crew to begin filming the campaign, but according to Young, Edwards only hired Hunter so she could go on the campaign trail with him.

With Edwards’ wife and children back in North Carolina – where Elizabeth was undergoing the fight of her life against cancer – the allegations of Edwards’ affair with Hunter surfaced. Furthermore, Ms. Hunter was pregnant, and there was speculation that Edwards was the unborn child’s father. Edwards vehemently denied those claims until August of 2008, when he admitted to having an affair with Hunter but still denied that he was the father of Rielle Hunter’s daughter, who was born in February of 2008.

Andrew Young reports that during this ordeal, he became the principal caretaker of Ms. Hunter. He would make the arrangements for her to meet Senator Edwards and he would pay all of her bills with campaign funds. This was all moving along quite smoothly until Ms. Hunter discovered that she was pregnant with John Edwards’ child. Young portrays himself to be so loyal to Edwards that he agreed to publicly announce that he was the father of Hunter’s child – not John Edwards – to keep the campaign going. As incredible as it may sound, Edwards was even able to convince Elizabeth that Andrew Young was the father of Hunter’s child. Young says he was unaware of that for several months. Interestingly, Young was married and had three children of his own, and by all accounts, his marriage to Cheri Young has always been very strong.

Young further relays that when Ms. Hunter was five-months pregnant, the Young family and Ms. Hunter lived in the same gated community in North Carolina. Can you imagine how joyful that neighborhood must’ve been with all the paparazzi and tabloids hovering outside of their gates? They all subsequently moved into a home together in Santa Barbara, California, which is where Ms. Hunter gave birth to her daughter. The cost to rent the house was over $20,000 per month. They had hoped to insulate themselves from the media and keep Ms. Hunter and the baby out of the public eye until the Democratic Convention was over in 2008. Edwards intended on seeking the vice presidential nomination if either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama were nominated. Everyone knew that as soon as word got out about Edwards’ lovechild, his political career would be over.

Young’s story gets even more sordid when he reports that he sought money from a wealthy political contributor to the John Edwards campaign in order to pay Ms. Hunter’s expenses. He says that this same contributor gave him over $6 million, and that the contributor believed that this money was simply for Edwards’ Presidential campaign. In fact, all of the money was being spent on keeping Rielle Hunter out of the public eye.

There is an interesting passage where Andrew Young relays that he found a tape in the rental home that he had provided for Rielle Hunter. He was shocked to discover that Ms. Hunter had filmed herself having sex with John Edwards. How is he certain it’s her? Because the woman was noticeably pregnant in the film. He also reports that he found numerous pictures of John Edwards with Rielle Hunter and her baby.

On January 21, 2010 – less than 10 days before Young’s book was to be released – John Edwards finally admitted that he was the father of Rielle Hunter’s daughter. He and Elizabeth Edwards are legally separated after being married for over 30 years.

There is a significant lawsuit pending against the John Edwards campaign for violation of federal campaign laws which is extraordinarily serious. Rielle Hunter recently sued Andrew Young to turn over personal videotape which she says is her property. Furthermore, it was reported today that Elizabeth Edwards may be preparing to sue Andrew Young for “alienation of affection,” arguing that Young’s role in covering up the affair contributed to the demise of her marriage. Typically, those lawsuits are filed against a husband or wife’s lover. Some legal experts don’t think the argument will hold in court.

Unlike the public’s perception of Elizabeth Edwards, Young portrays her as demanding and menacing. This may just be a case of sour grapes, but Young recounts several events that were made much worse by the actions of Elizabeth Edwards. In all honesty, there isn’t a single redeeming character in the entire book. Even Andrew Young couldn’t be viewed as a hero, since he was clearly a conspirator to keeping the affair away from the media and from Elizabeth Edwards for over three years.

I won’t spoil the entire book for you in case you would like to read it for yourself, but if you’re interested in one of the ugliest stories in politics today then this is the book for you. If you think Washington is the center of moral ethics in today’s day and age, then I’ve got some oceanfront property to sell you – in Valdosta, Georgia.

If you decide to read Andrew Young’s The Politician, let me know what you think about it.

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