Monday, June 01, 2009

Warren and John

The recent downfall of former Democratic Senator John Edwards has been nothing but tragic. Here was a legislator who demonstrated distinctive empathy for America’s underprivileged, a mediagenic politician with a reportedly brilliant legal mind who might one day have been elected president of the United States (or at least been appointed as the nation’s attorney general), destroyed because of a tawdry extramarital affair. The loss to America’s future can’t be predicted. But the outcome of his dalliances surely could have been, says Philip Payne in an essay for the History News Network site: “Edwards’s story is, sadly enough, a familiar one that underscores the confluence of politics, scandal, and popular culture that goes back at least to the 1920s and Warren G. Harding.” He continues:
Despite rumors of extramarital liaisons, Harding reached the White House. Harding’s secrets did not derail his election, but they did ruin his reputation. Although now considered a failed president, Harding had his strengths as a candidate. He was handsome. Commentators noted his leading man looks, his Romanesque profile, and his presidential appearance. Although pundits derided his speeches as empty, they were popular. Harding enjoyed “bloviating,” that is giving winding speeches before crowds. Florence, his wife, was a no-nonsense woman who somewhat balanced the candidate’s lightness. She came from a prominent family in central Ohio, but had overcome illness and hardships. Her business success and personal narrative appealed to newly-enfranchised female voters. At the time of his death in office, Harding was a popular figure. It was not until after his death that rumors of his infidelities became fodder for tabloids and the stuff of scandal. Today, Harding serves as a case study in the impact of private decisions on a public legacy; one that Edwards’s staff might have considered discussing with the candidate.
You’ll find Payne’s full essay here.

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