JACKSON – As we draw to the end of the decade, all varieties of “most” or “best” decennial awards are being announced. So I made up my own list of “most” awards for the decade. It’s the three public figures I once held in high esteem who became big disappointments. Two come from the political world and one from the athletic world.
Needless to say, the athlete inescapably is Tiger Woods, the golf Superman many of us had put on a pedestal, probably for different reasons. The political figures are John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic vice-presidential nominee and former North Carolina Senator; and the other, for reasons I shall explain below, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, the GOP’s 2008 presidential standard-bearer.
An indication of how dismal was the decade, two of my recipients, Tiger Woods and John Edwards, won the “accolade” because of infidelity which hit the news as a surprise thunderbolt from nowhere. Actually, philandering by prominent public figures seemed more common the past few years, but both Woods and Edwards had such squeaky clean public personas that they were not on any suspect list.
None fell faster or further than Tiger Woods whose golf talent was flawless and, it seemed, so was his closely protected private life. Only a quirk of fate – smashing his automobile at the end of the driveway of his Florida home at 2 a.m. – suddenly unlocked a treasure trove in his private life (especially for tabloids and comedians) of his serial infidelities. It was well known he had a beautiful Swedish wife and two young children at home.
Why Woods, an athlete, is such a disappointment is that he was a huge role model for black males as the most straight-laced black figure in the world of professional sports. Imagine also, not many years ago if you saw a black man on a golf course he was a caddy, carrying the golf bag of some cigar-puffing white businessman. Now a trim young black man was hailed as the best golfer in the world.
Regrettably, John Edwards must go on my big disappointment list because his infidelity exposure came at a time his wife’s battle with breast cancer had evoked the nation’s sympathy as she trooped along with her husband’s failed 2008 presidential bid. Besides, Edwards who spoke of the “two Americas” was the only candidate who pledged to narrow the widening gap between the nation’s poor and affluent.
It always stood to reason that such a good-looking man as Edwards, surrounded by a coterie of adoring women would have to be a rare 50ish man not to yield to temptation to slip off the straight and narrow. That, in itself, would not have been so bad, but Edwards brought down justified condemnation on himself when he denied having fathered a child.
John McCain makes the top rung of disappointments because the maverick John McCain I admired in 2000, when he was a nemesis to the Republican establishment, has disappeared. In his place is a knee-jerk GOP party-liner who seems motivated by revenge against anyone who opposed him for president of the United States. He has flip-flopped on nearly every principled stand he took when in 2000 he shaped a moderate image.
Gone is the McCain of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill when he joined hands across the aisle with Democrats in a monumental effort to rid lobbyist-fed big money from controlling Congressional elections. The same Republicans in the Senate who wanted to slit his throat back then are now palsy-walsy with him when he helps them scuttle the same Medicare reforms he proposed in 2008. An old Southern journalist friend in a group I used to meet with in the 1990s disagreed with me when I called McCain one of the last of the GOP moderates. “He’s no moderate,” I remember his admonishment. I guess we’re now seeing the “real” John McCain and, indeed, he ain’t no moderate.
Bill Minor, a nationally honored journalist, has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him at PO Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215-1243, or e-mail at email@example.com.