Now that his sex tape and other assorted sleazy doings seem to have taken John Edwards to the bottom, the mainstream media is on to the inevitable next story in this minor Greek tragedy, "Can Edwards make a comeback?"
CNN, CBS, Politico and other usual suspects have weighed in with predictable on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand analysis. Time's Belinda Luscombe trenchantly observed that Edwards "needs to recruit the missus" in order to try for a comeback, but even that probably won't help.
Now the venerable Atlantic -- a respected magazine with a storied, 150-year history whose website features terrific blogs by Marc Ambinder and Andrew Sullivan -- has jumped the shark. In a web piece featured over the weekend on the Atlantic home page, writers Nicole Allan and Niraj Chokshi asked nine well-known political and public relations operatives (teased as "the people whose opinions matter most") for comment on the Edwards comeback perplex.
Democratic strategist Bob Shrum -- whose campaign work on behalf of Al Gore, John Kerry and Edwards himself has added "Shrum curse" to the political lexicon -- and Republican consultant John Weaver agree that, in Shrum's words, there's "no hope for a rebound." Political consulting being but a single step removed from pimping, it's a good bet either of these guys would take a few of Edwards's millions to try for one.
Other suggestions from famous flacks and "crisis management" gurus -- "Go on Oprah," "Do good," "Drop off the map," "Give up" and "Give something back" -- are pointless cliches any seventh grader could have come up with, except that few seventh graders would have the nerve to ask to be paid for them.
David Heller, president of Main Street Communications, gives the penultimate advice: "Focus on Fatherhood." Observing that Edwards has "an opportunity to come across as an outstanding and doting father in a way that most other men who stray don't," he ends with an impressive insight: "And I do believe the American people like and respect people who are good parents." The last recommendation -- from an anonymous source! -- is too ghoulish to repeat.
After finishing the Atlantic piece, I had a moment of panic. What if the story is a finely-honed parody of the "scandal comeback" genre? With Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert we know it's satire -- at least most of us do -- but here we're too close to the thin line between parody and self-parody. It's like thatSimpsons episode in which two kids are watching Homer appear as a performance artist in a touring music festival:
Teen 1: Oh, here comes that cannonball guy. He's cool.
Teen 2: Are you being sarcastic, dude?
Teen 1 (beginning to cry): I don't even know anymore.
If Edwards truly seeks redemption, he ought to spend the rest of his days making amends to those he's hurt and doing good works without aiming for public validation in the service of a political renaissance.
Am I serious? I don't even know anymore.
That scenario seems doubtful at best, but in any case, it would be nice if the comeback stories would go away and never come back.