Book portrays Edwards as liar, wife as demanding
Posted January 30, 2010 2:11 a.m. EST
Updated January 30, 2010 4:11 p.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — By all outward appearances, John and Elizabeth Edwards were the power couple of the 21st century – intelligent, compassionate, devoted to each other – but a new book written by a former top aide to John Edwards shows a dark side to the couple that helped derail his presidential aspirations and culminated with their recent separation.
"The Politician," which went on sale Saturday, chronicles the association of author Andrew Young with John Edwards, beginning as Edwards was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998 and extending through two unsuccessful bids for the Democratic nomination for president. Their close bond ended when Edwards used Young to hide an affair with a campaign staffer and the fact that Edwards had fathered her child.
"It is an indisputable fact that I willingly participated in this ruse," Young said in the prologue to his book, clearly referring to Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, who was hired by the campaign to produce promotional videos.
Still, Young's portrayal of the Edwardses in the 300-page book suggests that "the ruse" may have been John Edwards' persona as a down-to-earth champion of the working class and Elizabeth Edwards' image as a valiant cancer survivor.
John Edwards built his presidential campaigns on eliminating the divide between America's rich and poor, yet he lived an extravagant lifestyle and never appeared comfortable rubbing elbows with lower-income people, Young writes. He preferred private jets, hid his luxury cars and imported suits during campaign appearances, built a lavish estate outside Chapel Hill, and even used plastic water bottles to conceal the wine he drank.
Young depicts Elizabeth Edwards as shrill and demanding, saying she asked him to do tasks such as set up the family's Christmas tree and oversee repairs to the couples homes in Raleigh and on Figure Eight Island. She repeatedly threatened to fire him when she was angry at her husband, he says, and as the scandal of the Hunter affair grew, she accused him of all sorts of wrongs, including stealing her dead son's baseball cards.
He says he felt that her cancer, which was originally diagnosed in 2004 and returned in an incurable form three years later, eventually became a campaign ploy for the couple.
"The brave pursuit of a victory despite the cancer would seem heroic," he writes about the 2008 campaign.
John Edwards affair with Hunter was the result of the politician's growing ego and sense of entitlement and invincibility, Young writes. The couple would flirt openly on the campaign trail – in front of staffers and donors – and Edwards would dismiss warnings from aides to end the liaison.
"He had wealth, fame, a younger woman who called him 'the King' and promised to do whatever he wanted anytime," he says in the book.
Young says he paid for many of Hunter's expenses to keep the affair hidden from Elizabeth Edwards. Wealthy donors such as Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, heiress to the fortunes of the Warner Lambert pharmaceutical company and 19th century industrialist Andrew Mellon, also cut checks to pay for Hunter's bills, he says.
A federal grand jury in Raleigh has been investigating for months whether any campaign funds were used illegally to hide the affair.
Hunter was emotionally needy, Young says, noting she would throw fits whenever John Edwards praised his wife in public and when the couple renewed their wedding vows on their 30th anniversary in 2007.
Elizabeth Edwards learned of the affair in 2006 – her husband initially told her it was a one-night stand – and she repeatedly badgered Young about Hunter's presence on the campaign trail. Still, Elizabeth Edwards wanted her husband in the White House as much, if not more than, he did and figured his personal betrayals were the "price of real estate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue," Young writes.
John Edwards refused to choose between his wife and Hunter, Young says, noting Edwards said he still loved his wife "in certain ways" and couldn't leave her while she was battling cancer.
"He believed his wife was more popular with many voters than he was and that if he left her, he might as well forget ever becoming president," Young writes.
Young says he eventually becomes disillusioned with Edwards when after risking his own family and career to protect Edwards, his boss refuses to acknowledge fathering Hunter's child even after finally confessing to the affair.
"My decision to cover for John Edwards, a choice made out of loyalty, friendship and hope for my own future as well as the country's, was turning out to be a foolish mistake I was powerless to correct," he says.
Edwards admitted to the affair in August 2008 – Young says occurred only after it was clear that Democratic nominee Barack Obama wouldn't name him as his running mate – and he acknowledged paternity of Hunter's daughter only days before Young's book was released.
The Edwardses said Wednesday that they were separating after more than 32 years of marriage.
"Gifted, charismatic and mesmerizing, John Edwards knew what was right but was so blind to his own flaws – narcissism, greed, power and lust – and so determined to hide his shame even from himself that he couldn't correct them," Young concludes in the book.