Misplaced trust

Chris DeLotell | MHS Alumni Class of 2005

As a senior at MHS in 2004, I couldn’t have been more excited about getting to vote for the first time. Regardless of the candidates, I knew voting in my first presidential election would be a memorable experience. But I was even more fired up because I fell in love with the message of one candidate in particular: A young senator from North Carolina named John Edwards.

Edwards had everything it took, or so it seemed. He was a successful “man of the people,” who had made his fortune as a lawyer who sued big corporations on behalf of families whose children had been injured by faulty products. He came from modest means (his dad was a steelworker in Pennsylvania). He had an inspriational, intelligent wife (lawyer Elizabeth Edwards, who had beaten breast cancer). He had a cute family (including a six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son).

Perhaps most important of all, John Edwards looked and sounded like a president is supposed to look and sound. When he spoke, I didn’t just want to believe him, I did believe him. When he smiled and flashed his trademark thumbs up to the crowds at political rallies, I was convinced that he would be the perfect president. He was a man who “got it,” and had the intelligence and skills it took to run the country.

So I was disappointed when Edwards didn’t win the Democratic nomination, but heartened when he was chosen as John Kerry’s running mate. I got a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker, and even wrote a column in the Chronicle about why I was voting for them. They lost, but I kept my interest in John Edwards and waited for him to make his run at the presidency in 2008.

He did, and I backed him completely. The smile, the family, the speeches…everything was back and just as impressive at it had been four years earlier. But he campaign flamed out, and his life followed.

In short order, John Edwards: had an affair with a campaign staffer, impregnated that campaign staffer, tried to buy her silence by going around dozens of campaign finance laws, coerced another of his employees to falsely claim paternity of the child, and made plans to leave his wife. All while his wife was battling a reoccurance of breast cancer.

This man who I was so convinced would make the perfect president wasn’t even a good man. John Edwards let down a lot of people: his wife, his kids, his parents, his campaign staff. He also let down his supporters. People like me who chose to believe him and believe in him.

But from John Edwards I learned a valuable lesson: look deeper. As a voter, it is easy to be wowed by the way a candidate speaks, looks, and sounds. It is simple to fall in love with a narrative of good deeds done and hardships overcome. We want to be swept off our feet by someone who makes the difficult choice an easy one, and we are just waiting for the candidate who does that to come along.

It doesn’t work that way. As citizens who are given a great responsibility in voting for the most powerful politician in the world, we are required to do our homework. We must look closely at what the candidates stand for, not just on one issue but on all issues. We should then – and only then – decide which candidate represents more of what we believe. We might still fall for the wrong candidate, but at least we will have made a real effort to get it right.

Learn more aboutĀ DeLotell on thecspn.com’s Alumni Advisory Council page here.

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