Many claims have been made concerning Chapel Hill's very own John Edwards, one of the leading prematurely announced candidates for the Democrat nomination for the presidency of the United States in 2008. For example, some have accused him of living in a 29,000 square foot Orange County estate, when it's not even finished -- so how can they know that?
In the name of fairness, these assertions should be addressed rationally, dispassionately and in an unbiased fashion. But we will leave that for another day; for now I'll give you my take. Each of the following things has been said in the media about John Edwards, but are they fair or unfair?
Great trial lawyer -- fair -- but it is unfair to bring it up. The man has moved on in his life and dredging up sludge like this has no place in modern American political life. Those who say that he spent most of what little energy he spent in the U.S. Senate defending personal injury attorneys must understand that they are people too, usually being citizens who vote and, more importantly, donate to political candidates and so have same right as any other American to buy a candidate, not that this would have been necessary in this particular case.
The Breck Girl -- unfair. His hair appears to have much more mousse than any Breck Girl in recent memory. Still, it has been said that "perfection is a direction." Well, if John Edwards' hair is to be entered into evidence, that statement is not true because his hair has definitely arrived. But more to the point for his career trajectory, if Edwards doesn't make it as president, there will always a place for him anchoring "The News at Six."
Robotic speech reader -- unfair. This is based on his 2004 campaign speech. He did not read it; he had it memorized. (Please note the use of the singular here.) This is not, however, that impressive an accomplishment. His campaign workers had it memorized as well, often mouthing his words as he gave "the" speech. But, also, he was not robotic. Based on what I heard, Edwards actually gave one of the more authentic recitations from memory I've personally experienced, in the same league with Karen Shields recitation of the Apostle Paul's Love Chapter (I Corinthians 13) in the sixth grade Sunday School class at First Baptist Church in Danville, Virginia in 1963.
Former North Carolina state government employee -- fair. The etymology of the word "employee" (from Middle French employer, from Old French empleier, from Latin implicare "enfold, involve, be connected with") indicates this would mean that John Edwards was connected with the government of the state of North Carolina. That he was. He was definitely on the payroll. Evidence that he is a state government worker (oxymoronic as that might sound), however, is very limited, based on news reports showing that he was rarely in the state during this time.
Son of a millworker -- fair. Since Edwards is the only one who brings this up, and boy does he ever, it would be hard to believe it’s not true or to criticize him for it.
Millionaire -- unfair. Yes, he has millions, but compared to a billionaire like John Kerry (spouse of Teresa Heinz), John Edwards is a pauper. Calling him a millionaire makes him sound rich, and he's not, once forced to live off the donations of tens of thousands of political supporters, the earnings from his part of the more than $150 million in jury awards he collected while a practicing tort attorney and a state salary ($40,000 for a part-time job "finding ways to alleviate poverty").
Knowledgeable on foreign affairs -- unfair even to ask. We need to remember that John Edwards was against foreign affairs quizzes before he was for them. Before Edwards "passed" his Hardball quiz this fall, he "passed on taking" the previous Hardball quiz the last time Chris Matthews tried to give him intellectual batting practice.
America's sexiest politician -- fair -- though it depends on which sex you're asking. None, not one, of the guys I hang out with find him the least bit attractive. However, Edwards was named People magazine's sexiest politician in 2000, so someone over there, possibly a female, must have.
Former U.S. senator -- unfair. While he is clearly "former," it is not at all clear he ever was actually a senator. Extensive research into the congressional archives finds few indications that Edwards performed senatorial duties during his nominal six-year term, with the clear exceptions of several key fact-finding trips to Iowa and New Hampshire.
Gary D. Gaddy married an attorney, "worked" for the state, grew up in a milltown, read several speeches, is a millionaire (in lira), and has a sister who sometimes uses Breck shampoos, but is definitely not the sexiest politician in America.
A slightly neutered version of this column first appeared in the Chapel Hill Herald, Thursday February 8, 2007. Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy