Sunday, October 4, 2009


Oh don’t get excited. The headline is irresistibly seductive, and here you are. Unfortunately you’re not getting any sex here. It just seems like time to update some of our most tawdry political bad behavior stories. What’s John Edwards up to? Is Liz divorcing him? Why is David Vitter about to be investigated…again? And Senator John Ensign from Nevada – you remember: he’s the guy who allegedly had an affair with an ex-campaign aide and may have been the recipient of a little strong-arming by his paramour’s husband. (Very “David Letterman, right?) Ensign thought it would all just go away, but…it hasn’t. It’s all so trashy, isn’t it? And we hang on every word, don’t we? Go figure.

The Edwards epic just keeps gaining new layers. Now, The National Enquirer reports Elizabeth Edwards may divorce John Edwards. The new book by Andrew Young -- Edwards’ former aide who claimed paternity to Rielle Hunter’s child until he didn’t want to any longer—reportedly reveals Edwards may have had more campaign trail dalliances with more campaign workers. Oy. And let’s not get too journalistically snooty about the Enquirer. The Enquirer broke the Edwards story, and everything it has reported so far has been accurate.

I told people way back when, when Edwards was campaigning for president, that I did not trust him. For me, it started when he came to New Orleans, to the Ninth Ward, and did a live TV feed that showcased him “helping” rehab a house that was damaged by Katrina. Word spread through town pretty fast that as soon as the cameras were off, he put the tools down and got into a waiting black SUV and took off. Edwards was (and is) all image, and not enough substance. To his credit, he does some good work, even now. He is reportedly very active in a campaign called “Half in 10,” which aims to cut poverty in half in 10 years. He even made a public appearance on its behalf as recently as last week. And say what you will about the guy, it cannot be easy to make those appearances right now. You just never know when we pesky reporters are likely to ask him if he spread his DNA further than earlier reported. That’s what we do. We ask.

Meanwhile, guess who’s back in the public prurient consciousness for a minute -- David Vitter. He of the high priced Washington call girl scandal of a couple of years ago. How’s this: he calls for an investigation of ACORN after the scandal that suggested ACORN workers were counseling prostitutes. About five seconds after he comes forward with his outrage over ACORN, a group called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington steps up to suggest Vitter himself should be investigated. After all, the group reasons, it seems likely that Vitter violated the state’s rule that says it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to “commit a criminal act especially one that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects.”

Do you love it or what? Vitter has never really appeared to be the brightest bulb in the room, but even he has to be scratching his head right now and asking himself what the hell he was thinking. Washington in 2009 is just high theatre. It’s got everything. Sex, scandals, cover-ups, under-the-table deals, power…it’s like Dynasty on acid.

John Ensign even looks like Blake Carrington from Dynasty. Suddenly, the seemingly dormant Ensign affair seems to be back in the headlines. It seems despite their earlier show of support, Ensign’s Republican cronies are abandoning him faster than a gaggle of feminists at a Chris Brown concert. Here’s the rub: The New York Times reports that Ensign will be investigated by the Justice Department, over allegations that not only did he get his secret squeeze’s husband a job, but that he may have had a severe conflict of interest when the husband, Douglas Hampton, started lobbying Ensign on behalf of his clients. Hampton was subject to a one-year delay in any lobbying efforts because he had been a top Congressional aide. According to the Times, preliminary whispers indicate the FBI may be involved with any potential investigation of Ensign.

All of this tawdry stuff causes one to think about two things: judgment and privacy. The online media explosion has created a new paradigm…well, maybe not that new. It seems now one can live a public life or a private life, but there are no gray areas in between. And since we all know that, one has to wonder how an experienced public figure – a legislator – can exercise such deplorable judgment. In the end, it’s about “getting away with it” for these guys. I just wish Edwards, Vitter, Ensign, et al would wise up and realize the last guy that got away with it was John F. Kennedy. The entire Washington press corps knew Kennedy was getting away with it and via their silence they aided and abetted. That was 1960. This is now. Are you listening boys?

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