Edwin Edwards: A Breath of Fresh Air? Actually, Yes.

From The PublisherFull disclosure: I am not voting for Edwin Edwards for Congress next month. Let’s get that out of the way right up front.

If you must know, I’m voting for Dan Claitor. He’s an intelligent centrist (at least compared to his GOP opposition) and a bit of a populist. Plus he was pleasant and personable to me years ago when neither an election nor another elector were anywhere in sight.

However, part of me hopes Mensa member and future Nobel laureate Lenar Whitney ends up in a runoff with Edwards just to watch a debate between those two. We could retire the state’s debt by making it a pay-per-view event. I’ve already got a name for it: “The Dry Wit vs. The Dimwit” (trademarked). If nothing else, it’d be interesting to see Edwards debate a woman who looks like she could be one of his ex-wives.

I recently prayed Lenar Whitney would make the runoff. I immediately asked for forgiveness.
I recently prayed Lenar Whitney would make the runoff. I immediately asked for forgiveness.

Yet despite his political, legal, and personal baggage, former four-term governor and convicted felon Edwin Edwards is actually a breath of fresh air in today’s political environment, especially for younger voters. I’ll be the first to admit it sounds totally absurd and counterintuitive to say something like that, but it’s true. Allow me to explain.

Edwards is a living, breathing, walking, talking political time capsule. The 87-year-old is a throwback to a bygone era in which many politicians were bona fide showmen: part pundit, part preacher.

He represents a time when those seeking elected office had to sling mud for themselves while striving to maintain an air of likability, a tricky balancing act that most of today’s politicians have never had to attempt. That’s because today’s breed of candidates is groomed to present an overly polished, polite persona while relying on faceless PACs and super PACs to do all the dirty work of sullying opponents.

I fear Edwards is one of the last of his nearly extinct ilk. He’s a guy who can make you laugh while he’s belittling his competition, even though you wouldn’t vote for Edwards in a million years.

That’s one of the reasons Americans have become increasingly cynical about politics. With the help of Citizens United, campaigns have become more like endless, sickening bouts of “good cop, bad cop,” where we’re the perp.

Edwards and his contemporaries, on the other hand, didn’t have mysterious groups with anonymous donors and millions of dollars to tell you how their opponents were Satan incarnate while they personally stayed above the fray.

That’s why I fear Edwards is one of the last of his nearly extinct ilk. He’s a guy who can make you laugh while he’s belittling his competition, even though you wouldn’t vote for Edwards in a million years. Case in point: In 1983, he said Louisiana’s then-governor “David Treen is so slow, it takes him an hour and a half to watch 60 Minutes.”

Nobody with a realistic chance at winning elected office and without the initials EWE would dare say anything like that today. Sure, some longshot who’s polling too low for a debate invite might say something outrageous by 2014 standards, but it’d just be written off as an act of desperation. It’s a shame that what was once seen as good old-fashioned salesmanship is now viewed as something to be avoided at all costs by so-called “serious” candidates.

No wonder so few of today’s pols have the ability to charm the pants off you — and, in EWE’s case, women half his age. The game is set up in a manner such that they don’t feel they even need to try.

Besides, being charismatic and sharp-witted is hard. It’s a lot easier to let someone else make the opposition seem inhuman while you stick to boring, safe, preapproved talking points.

Think about how many times you’ve seen a political candidate field a question only to be left mentally (or actually) screaming, “You didn’t answer the goddam question!” after he or she parried with some prepackaged, platitudinous pronouncement and pivoted to a talking point. It’s like they’re trained to “stay on message” to the point they seem almost incapable of normal conversation.

So few of today’s pols have the ability to charm the pants off you — and, in EWE’s case, women half his age.

Edwards, on the other hand, will directly answer just about any question posed to him by a reporter, citizen, or another politician. I came to that realization after chatting with his biographer Leo Honeycutt earlier this year. No matter the subject, be it his cancelled reality show, his time in prison, or how he fathered a child in his mid-80s, the self-proclaimed “crook” from the 1991 gubernatorial race will give you an honest answer.

Dan Aykroyd begged us to do just that on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1991.
Dan Aykroyd begged us to do just that on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1991.

That’s because Edwards is about as married to scripts as he is to his ex-wife Candy. I saw firsthand Edwards go completely off-script at the Capitol Correspondents Gridiron Show a couple years ago, and he killed with his ad lib.

In a total surprise to the crowd, which included Gov. Bobby Jindal on the front row, Edwards and his current wife Trina were part of the pre-opening skit, a cameo of sorts. The plan was for the real-life Mr. and Mrs. Edwards to pop through the curtain while performers portraying Mr. and Mrs. Edwards were offering presidential campaign advice to another performer (yours truly) playing the part of Jindal. The script called for the real-life Edwards to deliver a quip I can’t recall to the pretend Jindal (me), laughter would ensue, the curtain would fully open, and the show would begin.

The reason I can’t recall the line is because Edwards didn’t deliver it. He went rogue. I knew he was going off-script as soon as he opened his mouth. The rest of us in the skit began looking at each other like, “Oh shit. WTF is he doing?”

That’s when Edwards said – with Gov. Bobby Jindal, his wife Supriya, and most of Jindal’s staff sitting only a handful of feet in front of him – “The next time Jindal runs for office, he should try campaigning in Louisiana.”

The place erupted in boisterous laughter, much louder than if Edwards had delivered the scripted line, I’m convinced. I didn’t have the heart to look down and see if the Jindals were laughing, too.

My fellow performers and I made eye contact and officially opened the show by somehow managing to follow that in unison with “It’s Gridiron, cher!”

Why don’t we see witty repartee between candidates anymore? The Bible talks about iron sharpening iron, and ain’t nobody sharpening shit in politics today.

That’s Edwin Edwards. He’ll come up with something (seemingly) on the spot that’s ten times better than something that took someone else weeks to write, all at an age when most men have trouble following the plot lines of The Big Bang Theory. I may not have ever voted for the man (that is NOT an admission of voting for David Duke in 1991), but as someone who claims to have a comedic profession, I have nothing but total respect for Edwards’ still-razor-sharp wit.

You want to know why that kind of drollery is practically nonexistent in today’s politics? Why we don’t see witty repartee between candidates anymore? The Bible talks about iron sharpening iron, and ain’t nobody sharpening shit in politics today.

Remember what I said earlier? It’s all about polishing, pivoting, and talking points. The campaign managers and political consultants have all but eradicated healthy spontaneity and witty banter.

The paradigm says there’s too much room for error when a candidate goes off-script. He might say something truly heartfelt and abhorrent, like women don’t get pregnant from “legitimate rape,” or that rape babies are gifts from God. You know, campaign killers.

That’s why some candidates aren’t allowed anywhere near social media, at least not without adult supervision. They might irreparably hobble their political careers in less than 140 characters. They could “butt tweet” themselves into oblivion. Accordingly, most candidates have staffers who handle all their tweeting, Facebooking, and Instagramming for them.

Now I know your candidate that you follow and “interact with” on Twitter does his own tweeting. Exactly, just like that’s not a bot that just started following me on Twitter but an actual, real-life, hot and horny, barely legal, Asian woman who can’t wait to chat with me.

Edwin Edwards may be a lot of things, but one thing he is not is beholden to handlers … except for his wife Trina.

Edwards not only embraces Twitter and other new technology that typically scare people his age into filling their Depends, but his tweets, according to very reliable sources, are 100% his own. He may need someone to type them for him (not because his hands are arthritic and unable to type on a smartphone, but because they are either holding his baby or up a woman’s skirt); however, the content is purely EWE-generated.

And why wouldn’t it be? Edwin Edwards may be a lot of things, but one thing he is not is beholden to handlers … except for his wife Trina, who goes everywhere with him.

So while I’m certainly not endorsing Edwards for Congress, I do suggest getting your popcorn ready for the runoff debate. Whether Edwards faces off against state Sen. Dan Claitor; former Jindal lackey advisor Garret Graves; the grandson and namesake of the legendary LSU coach who’s several years younger than any of Edwards’ wives, Paul Dietzel II; or former dance instructor and current climate expert state Rep. Lenar Whitney, it could very well be the last time we get to see arguably the most entertaining and most clever political figure in Louisiana history putting on his signature charm while cutting down an opponent.

I wouldn’t miss it for the world. It’d be like a Yankees fan missing Derek Jeter’s last game, if Jeter had slept with twice as many women as A-Rod.RedShtick-Top-ColumnStop

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