Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Kennedy Scandal, Low-Rent Version

He won't be running for VP again, he won't even attend the Democratic convention, but John Edwards is still in the news with reports of a Virgin Island vacation by private jet for Rielle Hunter and her baby as well as rumblings of contributor unhappiness about the $100,000-plus of campaign funds paid her to videograph their time together.

In every scandal, there are haunting questions about motives, about what prompts people to risk humiliation and invite disaster by their choices.

In the Edwards debacle, it's easy to accept his own explanation of ego and hubris, even while doubting his sanitized confession, but what teases the imagination is why the woman involved, Rielle Hunter, would go ahead and have a baby when not doing so might have kept the affair from becoming public.

A provocative clue comes from, of all places, the ESPN website by a lawyer-sports journalist who ties Ms. Hunter, nee Lisa Druck, to a decades-old criminal case in which prominent Florida "sportsmen" conspired to kill thoroughbred horses to collect on insurance.

One of them, Lester Munson reports, was the young woman's late father who arranged to have a show horse she owned and jockeyed electrocuted to cash in on a $150,000 policy rather than accept $25,000 less by selling the animal.

From this seamy background, the self-created Rielle Hunter went on to a notorious career on the Manhattan party scene, immortalized by the novelist Jay McInerney in a roman a clef as, in his words, a "cocaine-addled, sexually voracious 20-year-old who was, shall we say, inspired by Lisa."

The fount of wisdom on the Edwards affair, the National Enquirer, now reports that "Hunter's own lawyer advised her to allow Edwards to take a paternity test but she refused out of misguided belief that Edwards will marry her after the death of his cancer-stricken wife."

There are echoes here, on a far tackier level, of Marilyn Monroe and the Kennedys. One of her last visitors the day she died was Peter Lawford, JFK's Hollywood brother-in-law, in an attempt to disentangle Marilyn from Robert Kennedy, reflecting a disordered state of mind that had led to hope there could be a future for her with a prominent married Catholic politician who was then the father of seven.

The Edwards parallel suggests that, even in the 21st century, marrying up is still a fantasy of redemption from a rotten childhood.

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