Saturday, June 04, 2011


He must have been the brightest kid in school but, in three years, John Edwards has gone from a leading Presidential candidate to a pariah now charged with violating federal law.

Yet, in a season of reminders that brains alone are not enough to navigate the world safely and successfully, to lump Edwards with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dominique Strauss-Kahn and even Bill Clinton as just another victim of unzipped desire would be an oversimplification.

More to the point may be what social scientists call “emotional intelligence”--skills that promote self-awareness of one’s feelings and how managing them or not may affect others in pursuing goals in a social context--in short, an antidote to the inflated sense of ego and entitlement that leads public figures into private follies that eventually destroy their careers.

Before John Edwards was taken down by a sex scandal, there were clear signs that he did not understand the consequences of failing to rein in his greed. Between running for VP in 2004 and President in 2008, he collected $479,512 in one year for consulting to an investment group specializing in profit from selling subprime mortgages to the unsuspecting poor.

Oh, Edwards loftily assured voters, it was only a part-time job and educational in his mission to fight for the victims of poverty. His supporters bought that rationalization as readily as they did when he explained away the sexy videographer always with him as documenting his campaign

Now, as the former negligence lawyer faces his day in court, Weinergate goes on with a bright and aggressive Congressman acting like a tanglefoot in a farce that should have ended with a firm denial that he tweeted the offending picture instead of fueling endless speculation about whether or not his underwear was ever photographed.

For someone of age, all this suggests that Baby Boomer self-absorption is still driving public life by completely erasing the line between public and private. By using his terminally ill wife as a campaign prop, John Edwards certainly opened the door to the kind of scrutiny that brought him down.

Still, the media and the rest of us don’t have to go charging in every time a half-smart politician doesn’t close it firmly. But as the 2012 primaries loom, that process may require superhuman restraint.

"You can't beat brains," JFK used to say, but character and common sense are crucial, too.

Update: A columnist nails the lesson of the latest half-smart media to-do: “For such a savvy practitioner of the political game, Anthony Weiner has violated the cardinal rule of Washington crisis management: If you don't have anything to hide, don't behave like you do.”

But then again, even in a situation that makes you look like a sap, isn’t all that attention irresistible?

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