Edwards Sets His Hair Ablaze

Amid the press of world affairs, Topic A among the domestic political press has been the extraordinary spectacle of erstwhile presidential wannabe John Edwards self-destructing in public.

As CL reported eons ago (July 28, actually), Edwards screwed the pooch on any future he may have had in politics the moment he decided it was a Really Good Idea to lock himself in a hotel bathroom at 3 a.m. when confronted by a National Enquirer ambush interview. Now Edwards, apparently thinking his charm so irresistible he would talk his way back into a speaking role at the Democratic convention, has made things even worse.

In a Friday interview with ABC News, he adapted the old Nixon modified-limited-hangout-route strategy of trying to finesse the mess he got himself into playing around with an old party gal, who later produced a progeny at always a local angle! Cottage Hospital. Far from finessing, however, Mr. Breck Boy appears instead to have proved anew another chestnut of Watergate wisdom: Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, it's hard to get back in.

In an interview peppered with cringe-causing lines, his self-justifying claim that, after all, his wifes' cancer was in remission at the time he decided to have an affair ("oncologically correct," Maureen Dowd memorably termed it) was at the very top of the list.

For those just awaking from a post-Fiesta siesta, everything you do or do not want to know about the scandal is on Huffpost's handy new Big News page,
found here. Aficionados of navel-gazing debates amid the political-news complex will find the most comprehensive history of the slashing New Media-Old Media conflict over the Edwards yarn at kausfiles, found here.

Bottom line: Edwards is (still) finished.

Where things stand: Despite the out-of-context news item on the Indies' web site about Gov. Terminator's embrace of a sales tax increase, the political dynamic of the deadlock over the state budget hasn't budged since CL's last report on Aug. 1. Here's the state of play among the major players:

1) The governor's repeated efforts to become relevant notably his order slashing state employees' pay, his flip-flop on tax increases, his threat to veto all non-budget legislation, plus lots of grimacing, grunting and heavy breathing - have all fallen flat, for one simple reason: he can't guarantee a single vote from lawmakers in his own party, which is what he needs for table stakes to get back in the game. As long as that's the case, Democrats will keep shaking him down for his lunch money. Next step: The Swami says Dems will pants Schwarzenegger and throw his trousers on top of the school bus.

2) The Democrats, led by state senate leader Don Perata, have declared "an impasse" and haven't budged off their unified budget stance that calls for $8 billion in new taxes. Beneath the surface, however, there's growing concern about the long-running FBI investigation of Perata's dealings in Sacramento, amid reports that longtime aide Sandy Polka is cooperating with the feds. The sooner Perata steps down, to be replaced by Senator Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, the happier all the D's will be, not least Hannah Beth Jackson, who's trying to pull off an upset in the SB-Ventura 19th senate district, and needs big bucks preferably without the taint of scandal sent down from Sacto.

3) The Reps are still threatening to hold their breaths until they turn blue. Their big goal in the budget mess is a constitutional amendment that can be wielded to put a serious cap on state spending; their other Big Idea is borrowing money from special, earmarked state funds, in lieu of tax increases, to paper over the $17 billion deficit.

One other pol to keep an eye in the mess is Controller John Chiang, who's positioned himself as the Democratic foil to the governor, by refusing to carry out Schwarzenegger's order to cut state workers' pay. In a memorable performance before a senate committee last week, Chiang testified, among other things, that _ the state of California's computer system simply isn't up to the task_ of re-computing everyone's pay rate. He and the gov will be going to court over the issue soon.

Forecast: No movement, at least until Democrats start getting worried about missing the national convention in Denver, which starts Aug. 25.

Olympics update: As President Bush channels the late George Plimpton at the Olympics, (an amusing account of the Bushman's awkward response to Misty May's invitation for a traditional, beach volleyball butt tap may be found here) political junkies are focused on the GOP's Tony Strickland, Jackson's 19th SD rival, who made a surprise move by putting money into TV advertising during the Olympics.

Whether spending big bucks in early August will pay long-term political dividends remains to be seen; what is clear from the ads is that Strickland is portraying himself as a Green Republican; look for the Jackson camp to try to put the lie to Strickland's environmental claims by questioning the bona fides of "GreenWave," the alleged energy company the Republican conveniently joined shortly before campaign season.

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