I'm not a betting man. In fact, I'm prejudiced against gambling. Sure, I've bought lotto tickets, and lost all my pocket change in poker once or twice, but I think placing bets is a weird way to occupy time. It's the one outlawed vice that somehow wasn't incredibly attractive to me in Bible-belt North Carolina, where in each of the 790 square miles of the county in which I scampered about during my formative years, alcohol was prohibited, and if you mowed your lawn on a Sunday–the Lord's day after all–a neighbor would come out of his house and ask you to stop, and as he walked back to his screen door, he'd offer to finish the mowing himself before work Monday morning.
It's good I've never enjoyed gambling, as I suck at it. I recall predicting eight years of Al Gore at the onset of the 2000 election. I was certain Bush would lose in 2004, as I had faith Americans didn't imagine themselves as thugs. I also mistakenly thought Gantt would beat Helms in 1990, because in 1990 I lived in a small city with sidewalks and everything, and I never met one person who voted for Jesse Helms.
In the dollar-bet NCAA tournament pools at my old office, I'd feel compelled to submit my picks, so yearly, in March, I'd gamble and lose one dollar. I picked Wake Forest to win the NCAA basketball tourney–always–unless they weren't in it. My method was Wake always won, followed by any team from North Carolina, then any ACC team, then after that, I'd pick schools I liked the name of. Gonzaga usually did well. I somehow never won the pool, as strong a conference as the ACC is. An all-ACC Final Four, with Gonzaga, Pepperdine, Edgar Asslove College and Oral Roberts University rounding out the Big Eight every year? Nope.
As distasteful and unlucky as gambling is for me, politics is a province of the absurd. I'm probably garbling Mark Twain, but I recall hearing anyone who seeks public office is either a power hungry jackal or a dim-witted fool, but in recent years we've had both.
However, when I first heard John Edwards speak, I recognized something entirely familiar about him. Understandably, as he grew up just down the road from me. Yet it registered as visceral, something in the intonation, the physical cues. Here was a genuine guy, an enigmatic speaker, self-made, an old-fashioned populist, educated at the state universities, like me. Bingo. A guy who'd load up his truck with water and food, a chain saw, and a shovel, and drive to the scene of a natural disaster. He wanted to help. He understood the importance of education–that it's a silver bullet. The child of a mill hand. And me, the grandson of a woman who sat on a textile assembly line for twenty-five years and a man who died with his lungs caked in granite dust from the quarry; and I wish I was the kind of guy who'd load up his pickup truck with water and generators and drive off to help without a word. I wanted to see my better nature. Not that Edwards didn't have merit, but what happened was I saw past the dull and ugly shroud of politics and recognized the person, because finally I had something in common with a politician.
Still, I think if the Democratic Party had selected the guy who could have won, rather than who was next in line, John Edwards would be up for re-election. I think he would have risen in form and stature after the nomination, measured against Bush in the series of debates, he'd have looked far better than he did against Cheney. He would have swayed people, and won Ohio. The Dems could have run a bag of hammers and won the coastal blue states in 2004; they needed Ohio.
So here, I'm predicting an alternative past.
In 2008, who the hell knows? Edwards is different now, and he won't be the son of a mill worker running against the son of a President, grandson of a Wall Street executive turned senator, and great grandson of a railroad tycoon, a swaggering prep-school and Ivy League alum who somehow convinced people he was just like them, and when they looked at him, watched him speak, shook his hand, saw their better selves. God help us. At least in 2008 it won't be that guy again.