When I read this article in the New York Times this morning about the early stages of the trial of John Edwards, my mind drifted back to an evening seven years ago.
I t was May of 2005. I met John Edwards at my law school’s commencement, where he was the featured speaker. He spoke about public service and the ongoing problem of poverty in the United States. He was laying the groundwork for his 2008 presidential run, less than a year after the 2004 election.
To call Mr. Edwards engaging and charismatic doesn’t begin to describe it. I managed to get one picture with him, just as he emerged from an elevator and entered a reception before the event. We talked briefly as the photographer set up for the shot. I thanked him and said that I hoped his wife was doing better. He said “I appreciate that.”
A swarm of people surrounded him seconds later. Now that his trial has started and the witness list is set, here is that picture:
In the weeks that followed, I sent the picture to a few friends, along with an email captioned something like: “Dream Ticket for 2008?”
Even in brief meeting like this, I could see why John Edwards was so successful as a plaintiffs’ lawyer. I understand how he was able to become a U.S Senator, and a candidate for Vice President and President. While his politics didn’t exactly square with my own, he seemed to have something that was lacking in most politicians.
Some in the press have called Mr. Edwards’ downfall an example of hubris (“excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance”). I am reminded, however, of a professor in my first semester in college who explained that many great works of Greek literature involved hamartia, “the flaw in character which leads to the downfall of the protagonist in a tragedy.”
That seems to fit here. Lawyers abound, and not just the prosecution and defense teams. It’s the defendant with his daughter at his side at the counsel table. And the memory of his departed wife.
People want someone to believe in. Maybe more than anything.