Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Really Happened...

Recently, I read the book "What Really Happened" by Rielle Hunter.

For reasons I don't entirely understand, I'm fascinated by the John Edwards-Andrew Young-Rielle Hunter scandal. In case you don't remember, during the campaign prior to the 2008 presidential election, Andrew Young publicly claimed to be the father of the baby carried by Rielle Hunter, who was working as a contract videographer with the Edwards campaign. It was later revealed that the baby was actually fathered by John Edwards while his wife, Elizabeth, was undergoing cancer treatment. After the baby was born, Andrew Young wrote a book ("The Politician" - one of the best books I've ever read) about his experience working on the Edwards campaign. My understanding is that it caught the attention of the authorities, and the Department of Justice ultimately investigated John Edwards for misuse of campaign funds and prosecuted him not long ago. He was almost completely exonerated by a jury and the story sort of died out - until the release of Rielle's book!

During this election season, I can't help but encourage anyone to read about this scandal. I don't actually think that the question of paternity of little Frances Quinn is all that interesting. But, I think that what these books really show the reader is just how disconnected life in the middle of a political campaign is from "the real world." I worked on a campaign while I was in college, because I had the idea that I wanted that to be my future career path. One month of interning definitely got that out of my system! I worked 12 hours a day at an office in a city halfway across the country. Most of my colleagues were also transplants from all over the place who worked all day, until heading to the bar at night. Everyone made huge sacrifices. No one slept, most people drank, lots of people smoked, I never heard of anyone exercising, almost everyone was far from home, and the primary food groups (in addition to coffee and alcohol) were donuts, chili, and PB&Js. I feel very lucky to have had the experience of participating in a national campaign, but I certainly am not under any illusions that presidential candidates, or their staff, have much contact with reality.

The experience described by both Andrew Young and Rielle Hunter is like my experience but to the extreme. The amount of money flowing through the campaign that was used for payment of expenses is extraordinary. The hounding by the media got to the point of harassment. The lives of several other people were intimately wound up with John Edwards' life, and as is quite common in politics, he let a lot of people down when he proved to be unworthy of the hero worship that had been accorded to him.

As far as Rielle Hunter's book goes, it was just okay. The writing was nothing special and I read most of it gaping open mouthed at my Nook. She refers to the candidate as "Johnny" throughout the book, noting that that's his legal name, a factoid that most people don't know. I thought it was pretty distracting. It also seemed strange that she kept naming the restaurants where she was eating while waiting for "Johnny" to become available as she traveled the country carrying on an affair with him. I've never even heard of most of the restaurants she mentioned, and she didn't really describe the ambiance. I guess I don't get out much, and I'm not independently wealthy, so the names alone didn't help the story. She vilified Andrew and Cheri Young, as they had done to her in Andrew's book. It's not hard for me to imagine that a 40-something New Age single mother and a couple of Democratic political operatives with three kids wouldn't make ideal roommates. The strangest part of the book were her comments about how "when you're a mistress, you have to _____" with the blank filled by "wait in dark restaurants" or "hide in the bathroom while your boyfriend's assistant comes to pick up his bags." It's odd that she decided to characterize these tidbits as advice for other would-be mistresses out there, though I also thought this humanized her a little bit because it showed her adapting to her circumstances. So, although I wasn't all that impressed by her book, I think this whole story is so fascinating that I could hardly put the book down!

1 comment:

  1. I was equally intrigued by that story, too! I read The Politician but haven't read Rielle's book yet. I am sure I probably will soon! Madness, indeed!