By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Will Kerry save Edwards?

Only John Kerry can save John Edwards now. Will he? It depends on who is telling the truth.

I am not an Edwards fan. However, I admire the way he has resolutely refused to exploit the death of his son Wade. Now a new book by Democratic political operative Bob Shrum tells an ugly, ugly tale. My former Phoenix colleague Michael Crowley of The New Republic finds (sub. req.) the relevant excerpt, involving the period when Kerry was considering Edwards as his running mate:

Edwards had told Kerry he was going to share a story with him that he’d never told anyone else — that after his son Wade had been killed, he climbed onto the slab at the funeral home, laid there and hugged his body, and promised that he’d do all he could to make life better for people, to live up to Wade’s ideals of service. Kerry was stunned, not moved, because, as he told me later, Edwards had recounted the exact story to him, almost in the exact same words, a year or two before — and with the same preface, that he’d never shared the memory with anyone else. Kerry said he found it chilling, and he decided he couldn’t pick Edwards unless he met with him again.

Crowley does point out that there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest Shrum’s devastating tale may not be true, writing, “When I asked one person close to Edwards about it, he argued that Shrum’s account makes no sense because Edwards had publicly recounted similar versions of the funeral home story before — and thus wouldn’t possibly have claimed on either occasion that he was telling it for the first time.”

Fair enough. But what gives this legs is that Kerry — who, after all, isn’t running for anything — now has the power to make or break Edwards. If Kerry denies it in firm, straightforward language, then the Edwards campaign survives, and Shrum will henceforth be known not just as a loser, but as a liar as well. But if Kerry confirms it, or refuses to discuss it, then Edwards might as well pull out.

By the way, if Kerry does confirm it, why on earth did he go ahead and put Edwards on the ticket?

Oh, and another thing — Edwards may not be all that big on gays and lesbians, either.

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  1. Tony

    I haven’t decided who I will vote for yet but I have been impressed by John Edwards. I was impressed with him before, too. Edwards continues to talk about the one issue which is almost a sure loser: poverty. No political candidate truly talks about poverty like he does. No one, except Edwards, talks about the fact that our country is being split in two, between the super rich and the rest of us. True, Edwards is a member of the super rich class but he got there by working for it. And, the fact that he would risk his shot at the presidency by continuing to stress that something must be done to help the working masses and the people below them is astonishing and worthy of support. Compare that to John Kerry’s windsurfing junkets, spats with his butler, or his books about protecting the environment while he hops out of gas-guzzling SUV at WBOS’ Earth Day concert. Compare that to Hillary’s pseudo “listening” tours – where she doesn’t listen at all to any of us. Compare that to Rockstar Obama who may be inspiring but offers little by way of specifics [Frankly, I’m more qualified to be president]. Lastly, I trust Bob Shrum and the soulless yuppie John Kerry about as much as I can throw them. Shrum is out of touch, a spotty speechwriter and has an 0-8 record on presidential campaigns. He would be the LAST person I would ever call for political advice on anything.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    But Tony … Shrum’s incompetence doesn’t make him a liar, does it? And Kerry’s upper-crust tastes don’t disqualify him from credibly confirming or denying Shrum’s tale, do they?

  3. Don (no longer) Fluffy

    Who cares what John “I Served in Vietnam” Kerry says or doesn’t say about John “My Wife Has Cancer” Edwards?

  4. mike_b1

    Typical Beltway style journalism. This election won’t be about who tells the truth, or who has the most money (though it will help), but rather who can communicate the simplest to digest — and most palatable — message to the American people. So far, only three candidates can do that: Romney, who won’t win because he’s Mormon and easily caricatured; Obama; and Edwards.My money’s on Obama. But I don’t think a guy who raised $14M in the first quarter and has more cash on hand, less debts, than anyone in either party but Obama and Clinton, is going to bow out over anything Shrum or Kerry says. Consider this: Even if Kerry backs Shrum’s account, what are the odds he says so in a way only a Talmud scholar could decipher?

  5. Cody Pomeray

    in my estimation edwards was finished after cheney destroyed him in the debate – it exposed a weakness that he can never recover from.

  6. Tony

    I guess my larger point was that I don’t trust a single thing Shrum says, and therefore, even if Kerry backs him up, I’m not necessarily going to believe it. While I don’t know Edwards all that well – I’ve only met him twice – I know Kerry and there couldn’t be a more aloof lightweight than Kerry. And yet, he still got the nod! So, a few insiders talking crap about Edwards isn’t going to do much damage IMHO – especially six months away from the first votes cast. In the end, it is truly Hillary’s to lose, unfortunately, with Obama, Edwards, and Richards to a very small extent, within striking distance is she stumbles seriously. Otherwise, she is probably going to win. And if she does, we all lose.

  7. Anonymous

    On the same lines, David Kravitz is the last person who should be criticizing anyone for not being gay friendly. Not only was he obsessed with forcing a vote on gay marriage, BMG is now over-run with conservative homophobes like John Howard. Just read the responses to the diary you linked to…

  8. mike_b1

    Cheney destroyed Edwards? One of the best trial lawyers in the country? What, did Cheney foist his infamous shotgun?

  9. Anonymous

    can’t really understand why this would be so destructive to Edw.’s campaign. pretty small matter true or not.

  10. Diane

    That’s funny, tony. Nice reiteration of every cheapshot gossip snipe taken at Kerry over the years.My impression of Kerry is 180 degrees from yours. I’ve found him to be a serious, thoughtful, and caring man.I’m not a particular fan of Edwards; he’s always struck me as too slick by half, and while I have no way of knowing the truth of this story it seems plausible to me.Kerry was under an enormous amount of pressure from certain portions of the party to choose Edwards, and on paper at least he was in some ways a good counterweight to Kerry.

  11. O-FISH-L

    “But if Kerry confirms it, or refuses to discuss it, then Edwards might as well pull out.”—Dan, what specifically about this Edwards story makes you think it’s so potentially devastating to his campaign?As you might suspect, I’m no Edwards fan, but it surprises me that you believe anything relating to this could be ruinous for him.Frankly, I believe he probably does tell this story, as implausible as it may be, but it’s nothing worse than parading his ill wife out for a wildly hyped news conference that produced no news or charging an exhorbitant fee for a speech on poverty.If the concern is that he apparently told the same story twice — a year apart — to Kerry while claiming that the second recounting was a first, big deal! We all grieve in different ways, and in the case of Wade Edwards, who was killed suddenly in an auto accident, his father can be excused for a little confusion / hyperbole when remembering the boy. Personally, I find the claim that he “climbed up on the slab, laid there and hugged the body…” to be farfetched. The funeral home “slab” is nothing more than an operating table. That Edwards would be allowed in the preparation room at all is questionable, but that he would be allowed to climb onto the table, lay there, hug the deceased and make certains “promises” to the deceased is a real stretch. I think Edwards is shameless and I have no doubt he would have told the story twice to Kerry and others as “our secret”, yet I don’t see why all of a sudden Shrum’s revealing this info would somehow change people’s minds on Edwards or end the campaign.

  12. Anonymous

    Dan – What’s the point? Declare a substantive candidacy dead, whether you like the candidate or not, over a piece of gossip? So what if it is true? This is somehow more disqualifying than the kinds of statements recently made by Romney, McCain, and Giuliani about Iraq? At least Edwards pays serious attention to domestic issues that in the end most people care most about and wish the government would address, rather than optional wars and cultural talking points. I’m sorry, Dan. You are spending too much time on Greater Boston, where style trumps substance in discussing politics and the media.

  13. Anonymous

    …or charging an exhorbitant fee for a speech on poverty.It has been noted over at BlueMassGroup that, in the same year that he was given the “fee,” he donated about six times the “fee” to charity. One might say that he donated to “fee” to charity.–raj

  14. Dan Kennedy

    So what if it is true?Good grief. How cynical can you get?This is somehow more disqualifying than the kinds of statements recently made by Romney, McCain, and Giuliani about Iraq?Are you under the impression that Media Nation will be endorsing Romney, McCain or Giuliani?

  15. Anonymous

    I almost can’t believe my eyes – except that DK so consistently misfires on stuff like this (remember how overblown he said Plamegate was).This is such a non-story that someone trying to make it into a story is in itself a remarkable story.

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Ah, yes, Plamegate. Brought down the entire government, didn’t it?

  17. Anonymous

    Is the outcome – so far, mind you – the sole indicator of significance?

  18. Dan Kennedy

    It was significant. I wrote a long piece on its potential significance in the summer of 2003, after David Corn and Josh Marshall started beating the drum, but before almost anyone else.But the fact that it was actually Richard Armitage who accidentally outed Plame takes a lot of the bite out of this. It shows how many people were running around saying this, and not all of them from Bush’s political operation.

  19. Steve

    This smells of an inside-baseball sort of cheap-shot thing all having to do with Shrum and his livelyhood (or legacy). The Reason Kerry Lost can’t be anything having to do with Kerry or Shrum – so it must be Edwards’s fault.If Shrum is lying, and he’s called on it, then he’s REALLY over. (Not that he wasn’t already over, which is why he’s writing books instead of campaigning.) Kerry might be keeping quiet out of some sort of loyalty. So, has anyone asked Kerry? Y’know, pick up the phone instead of gossip-mongering?

  20. Tony

    Diane wrote: That’s funny, tony. Nice reiteration of every cheapshot gossip snipe taken at Kerry over the years.My impression of Kerry is 180 degrees from yours. I’ve found him to be a serious, thoughtful, and caring man.Not to get in a pissing match with you Diane, but more than 18 years of experience with Kerry has shown me that all of my opinions of him are pretty dead on and after fleeing Mass. in 2003, I warned the Democrats that he wouldn’t win, no matter who he picked on the ticket and I was proven to be correct then and now. To start, Kerry’s constituent services, the bread and butter of politics, have always been bad, despite attempts by Drew O’Brien to get it together for him. Before his presidential campaign, he hadn’t actually had any meaningful legislation passed in the Senate. The next time you see him, ask him to point to something he got done, you know, like a Clean Air Act or something. There isn’t much there. At every turn, Kerry has found ways of changing his mind about his standards and principles to fit the times. There was a time, for example, when Kerry wouldn’t take contributions over $250 and refused PAC money. Paraphrasing, he would say, I believe in campaign finance reform and I’m not bought and paid for. Well, he had money, so it was no big deal. But after he got into a tight race with Jim Rappaport, that principle went out the window faster than you can say “The West End.” Kerry did hold to the PAC issue for a while longer but then, poof, he created his own PAC to spread walking around money around during the 2004 primaries while attacking the influence of PACs on elections! Talk about I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it. And his votes on other’s legislation? Yikes. In the Senate, Kerry hasn’t been much more than a water carrier for bad legislation. He voted for every bad piece of legislation forwarded by Clinton – from trade deals which put millions of union members [i.e. Democrats] out of work, to the terror bill and crime bills, precursors to Bush’s Patriot Act – as well as voting for the Patriot Act and Iraq invasion – the Telecom Bill which gave all our TV and radio stations to a handful of corporations, etc., ad nausea. You can read this column for more of what I think about him, if you like: was under an enormous amount of pressure from certain portions of the party to choose Edwards, and on paper at least he was in some ways a good counterweight to Kerry.First, I thought Edwards was a pretty good counterweight too with the exception that it seemed like Edwards was muffled at every turn. At the time, I watched the schedules of the candidates and it seemed like Edwards was not going anywhere where he could make a difference. He should have stuck to campaigning in the south – doing the “Aw shucks” thing – and maybe put Kerry in play in those states. If you look at where Edwards is doing well right now, it is Florida, South Carolina, and Iowa. He hasn’t placed above third here in New Hampshire.Second, Kerry was the nominee. He should have picked who he thought was best and not be “pressured” … although he didn’t seem to have a hard time listening to clowns like Robert Rubin and Bob Shrum, who helped him run his campaign into the ground. Sad really, when you think about it.

  21. Dan Kennedy

    Actually, Tony, we’re still not sure that Kerry lost.

  22. Diane

    Actually, Tony, we’re still not sure that Kerry lost.Yeah. I’ve never believed he did lose.I’d also like to point out the now conveniently forgotten huge and wildly enthusiastic crowds Kerry was drawing towards the end of the campaign. People as far as the eye could see. While Kerry certainly made mistakes in the campaign – and I’ve heard him admit that – it was not in any remote way the “disaster” that the 2004 revisionists insist it was.Kerry was the nominee. He should have picked who he thought was best and not be “pressured”I do agree with you there, but not having been on the inside I have no idea what really happened, and can only speculate.

  23. Anonymous

    And there are others who question if he ever WON…..

  24. metallicaMobes

    teeheeheeLarge enthusiastic crowds as far as they eye could see, for the most boring and stuck-up politician in the history of the universe?……I must admit though, as a conservative, Edwards scares me the most. Were the Dems smart enough to nominate him, I think he would trounce any of the “Big 3” GOP cop-out neocons.If only we could nominate Ron Paul…

  25. Anonymous

    Right on cue, Dan Froomkin reminds us today just how much more there is to Plamegate than DK apparently wants to think

  26. Anonymous

    It doesn’t seem like this should be all that hard for Dan or any other journalist to research – if Edwards had already told the story publicly, what little story there was to this evaporates.Meanwhile, Dan, you devote 26 lines here, plus a lengthy quoted passage, to the Shrum-Kerry-Edwards non-story, but only 2 to the far more significant remark Edwards reportedly made in 1998 about gays?

  27. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 2:17: I devoted 26 lines to one of the most revolting personal stories I’ve ever heard told about a major politician. As for trying to see whether he’d ever said this before, here’s what I found in the New York Times of July 7, 2004, right after Kerry picked him as his running mate:”Reporters often want to know if the death of Mr. Edwards’s son, Wade, propelled him into politics, but it is the one question he will not answer. He does not want to be seen as trading on his son’s death for political purposes.”[Democratic pollster Harrison] Hickman remembers telling Mr. Edwards that if he ran for the Senate he might find himself the subject of some bitter attacks.”‘He said, “I appreciate your saying all that to me. But I have to tell you, if you have ever had to climb up on the examining table in the medical examiner’s office and tell your son goodbye, there’s nothing they can do that’s worse than that.” At that point, it was clear to me that this was a guy who could endure.'”That’s a story I recall, and the import of it is the opposite of what Shrum is claiming. In addition, I read Edwards’s campaign book, and was struck by the dignified way in which he discussed his son’s death.As for Edwards’s comments on gay men and lesbians in 1998 … not at all surprising coming from a moderate Southern politician nine years ago. Where is he today? That’s what’s important.

  28. Peter Porcupine

    “As for Edwards’s comments on gay men and lesbians in 1998 … not at all surprising coming from a moderate Southern politician nine years ago. Where is he today? That’s what’s important.”And as for Mitt Romney’s even earlier remarks in 1994 – well, they must be excerpted and recycled ad infinitum. Because he’s a Republican – and that’s DIFFERENT….

  29. Anonymous

    PP,There’s a clear difference between (reportedly) saying you weren’t comfortable with gay people and moving to a position of comfort over time and claiming to be a better champion of gay rights than Ted Kennedy than moving to Mr. Romney’s current positions.Don’t you think you should mention you’re a Republican State Committee member when making these kind of accusations of bias?

  30. Anonymous

    Please, Ms. Porcupine, don’t ignore Romney’s expression of apparent support for equal rights for gay people as recently as 2002 when he was running for governor, and his inversion in 2004, after the Goodridge decision went into effect and it was clear that he had no political future in the state.There is a difference in the time lines that I’m sure you would even recognize.–raj

  31. mike_b1

    PP, don’t get your garments in a bunch. Perhaps you should look at it this way: Edwards flopped on gays, so we disqualify him. And Romney flopped on gays, so we disqualify him.Let’s just move on to McCain and the bald NY guy and be done with it.

  32. Anonymous

    Quite an image – Edwards and Romney taking turns flopping on a bunch of gay guys . . .

  33. Anonymous

    I just don’t get how this story is so “revolting.” DK evidently just doesn’t like Edwards. Which is fine – this is still a free country. Sort of.If true, is this story really more revolting than Bob Dole divorcing his first wife while she was dying of cancer? More revolting than Newt carrying on an affair while calling for Clinton’s head on a platter because of Monica? More revolting than some of Ted’s lesser moments? I think the tragedy of losing a child is something people process in different ways. And we don’t even know if the conversation actually took place, or if the story is being wildly distorted in the retelling. Seems like there are bigger issues to focus on in this campaign.

  34. Anonymous

    Ok, Dan, I read the piece at TNR – subscription evidently NOT required. Here’s the very next bit which you chose not to include in your quote:The person cites a 2003 Boston Globe story in which Edwards’s pollster, Harrison Hickman, recalls warning Edwards that his first run for the Senate could be a nasty experience: “And John looked at me and said, ‘If you’ve ever had to get up on a medical examiner’s table and hug your son goodbye, you know that there’s nothing worse that can happen to you,'” Hickman recalled. Whether this disproves Shrum’s account will be up to readers to decide. (An Edwards campaign spokesman adds that, as with other instances in the book, Shrum wasn’t present and is relaying secondhand information.) ~ ~ ~And there’s this, near the end of the piece:And it’s true that Shrum’s constant swipes at Edwards feel like axe-grinding. Why the bitterness? The source close to Edwards cautions that Shrum had sought a bigger role in Edwards’s campaign than the candidate was willing to grant. (Shrum himself hints at this in the book, saying Elizabeth Edwards had feared he would be “too visible and dominant a force in the campaign.”)

  35. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 4:17: God, you are pathetic. I’d forgotten that Crowley quoted that Harrison story, but I quoted it myself yesterday. Just scroll up a bit.As for Shrum having an axe to grind, of course he does. There are a lot of people I think have done me wrong, too. I don’t make up vicious, ugly lies about them.Now please stop quoting stuff I’ve already quoted as proof that I should have quoted it when I already did. Got that?

  36. Anonymous

    Dan, your source for that quote was a July 7, 2004 NY Times piece. My source for that same story is a major profile on Edwards by Patrick Healy in the Globe, published on October 5, 2003, long before Kerry would have interviewed Edwards as a possible running mate. Get it? And, I note the 2003 Globe piece was cited by Crowley – something you conveniently neglected.At any rate, I suppose I wouldn’t have missed the fact that you had cited that particular anecdote had you drawn any logical inferences from it. It seems you just don’t like Edwards, because he rubs you the wrong way. I can find plenty of more substantive reasons not to support him for the nomination at this point.

  37. Dan Kennedy

    The importance of what Edwards said to Harrison — and it doesn’t matter which source you, I or anyone else quote it from — is that it is consistent with everything we know about what Edwards has said about the death of his son. It’s dignified and moving.That’s what makes Shrum’s claim so shocking. No one has offered a shred of evidence as to why Shrum would make up such a sickening tale. Yes, Shrum is a serial loser, and he probably doesn’t like Edwards very much. But he’d have to be a sociopath to fabricate something like that, and I know of nothing to suggest that he is.Which is why I want to hear from Kerry.

  38. Anonymous

    The DATE of the source is highly significant. It demonstrates that the anecdote about Edwards hugging his dead son was out there in public in a major article about him in a major newspaper long before the conversation Shrum alleges took place between Edwards and Kerry would have occurred.

  39. Dan Kennedy

    There is nothing remotely incompatible about the two accounts. What’s shocking about Shrum’s account is that it contradicts everything we know about the way Edwards has handled and talked about his son’s death. But to say that because Edwards said X to Harrison in 2003, he couldn’t have said Y to Kerry in 2004 just doesn’t scan logically.

  40. Anonymous

    I didn’t say he couldn’t have, and neither did Crowley when he cited the 2003 Globe article. It merely casts doubt on Shrum’s account, in that it makes the story all the more incredible. Anyway. The notion that this is a major blow to Edwards, something from which Kerry will need to “save” him, is ridiculous.

  41. Anonymous

    And about your use of the term “sociopath” – looks like Dan Shaughnessy isn’t the only amateur MD around. Tell me this, Dr. Dan: Would Shrum really have to be a sociopath to distort something Kerry may have said to him? Isn’t it possilbe he’s just a just a weasel trying to sell books and even the score with Edwards?

  42. Anonymous

    DK: “No one has offered a shred of evidence as to why Shrum would make up such a sickening tale,” i.e., no one is bothering to go out of their way to attempt to prove a negative.

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