Having investigated why former Gov. Buddy Roemer seems ready to consummate a presidential campaign, why not also try to figure out why Prisoner #28213-034 talks of doing the same? But, most fascinatingly, why is there all the semi-nostalgia for the man who defeated both in the 1991 governor’s contest, Prisoner #03128-095?
As previously noted, Roemer’s dalliance with the presidency stems from a yearning for relevance when, over two decades ago, Roemer was talked of as one of the two rising Southern figures that could return Democrats to the White House (the other one ended up there). The electorate’s multiple rejections of him since has left a bad taste in his mouth and reduced him to nothingness in terms of influence, and for some people they will not rest until they think they have rectified that condition, no matter how improbable their return to power seems.
For former state Rep. David Duke, let’s face it, campaigning always has been money-maker for him.
He’s never made a real living, always relying on donations from others in one form or another (for two years, from Louisiana taxpayers and another from federal taxpayers) and the many campaigns he has conducted historically have been most lucrative fund-raising schemes for him. And no doubt like Roemer he has a little wistfulness for the days that people actually clamored to meet him and solicit his opinions on matters.
Perhaps among these three, former Gov. Edwin Edwards has the biggest ego of all and in a way floating the idea of a reality series matches the others in intensity of desire for relevance, because what can an 83-year-old ex-con barred from political activity do? However, in a way the very idea that observers might take seriously this idea of broadcasting his post-incarceration, personal life with a woman born after he already had been term-limited out of office answers the question of keen interest in Edwards.
As governor, Edwards’ flops far outweighed his achievements. Probably his most significant accomplishment was leading the effort to create the 1973 (and current) Constitution. Yet when counterbalanced against making the state almost the most indebted per capita in the nation (only recently being reasonable unwound but still very much out of control when it comes to pensions), allowing spending to go out of control to make for one of the highest per capita spending states that includes having among the highest total state employee/population ratios (still among the highest nationally), creating a high per capita state taxation level to support that (only now starting to drift downwards), making no changes in the bottom-scraping educational and wealth creation rankings of the state so to this day it remains among the least-educated and poorest of states, and interjecting stifling regulation in an atmosphere of corruption demonstrate why Edwards and his agenda were blights on the state.
Still, this disastrous record brought him four terms in office, and did so because he appealed so thoroughly to the political culture then that only recently has begun to evolve away from its populist tendencies. In a nutshell, he could make people feel good about and validate acceptance of their own failings. Instead of calling on people to take more responsibility for their actions that led to lack of achievement, he could manufacture villains, such as high achievers, corporations, and interests outside the state, that purportedly explained why you shouldn’t be expected to work, or work as hard, or why you had to depend on government and allow it to get bigger and more powerful. He preached that people’s own actions and attitudes weren’t to blame for their stations in life, and only government could protect them from those villains through controlling them and transferring more of their resources to the state for redistribution. Abdication of independence to government run by like-minded benevolent satraps such as him, he pontificated, was the only way people could improve their lives.
In many ways, Edwards’ personal and political life personified this Fromm-like escape from freedom for his supporters. He appeared as a kind of lovable rogue, with weaknesses and failings according to traditional virtues that, rather than hide or exert enough effort to reduce or eliminate them, instead of them he countenanced if not celebrated their presences. To supporters he provided an example that, rather than striving for better encouraged by not having government impede that, one should redefine failure into indulgence and accommodation to weakness, because that weakness was compelled upon oneself by forces, they were told, beyond their control and only could be ameliorated by government intervention. He was weak, like he told them they were, yet he redeemed himself by using his strengths to aid them to overcome the helplessness he said they endured.
Regrettably, this worked for far too long as most of the rest of the nation, and almost all of it outside major metropolitan areas, woke up from the false, wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing promises of, more generally, liberalism even as Louisiana waddled in them for a time longer. But, reality finally did catch up and the state has gotten on, haltingly, with removing the black mold of Edwards-era governing and policy. His reinforcement of this aspect of Louisiana political culture, more than any single thing, impedes still the state from fostering a cultural and political environment that encourages achievement, responsibility for choices made, and confidence in reliance on self rather than in taking from others to rectify an imagined oppression.
That Edwards still excites at this time verifies that this virulent defect remains potent in Louisiana culture. It will be a sign that Louisiana has grown into full political maturity when he or those like him not longer do.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:45