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EWE unchanged motives diverge from changed culture

No, Prisoner #03128-095 is not running for redemption and, barring a series of unlikely events, he’s not running to win. He’s running because that’s what he wants to do and what he is, and serves as a marker to the changing Louisiana political culture.

Months ago, when the former Gov. Edwin Edwards, after being a guest of the federal government for 102 months, launched his campaign for Congress, already noted then were his general reasons for running: as an attempt to make people’s last memory of him as a campaigner and politician that invites recounting of his past triumphs instead of as a pathetic felon; to assist Sen. Mary Landrieu’s reelection efforts by boosting turnout for her among his yellow-dog supporters (in theory; possibly this could backfire as those who feel acrimoniously about him may come to vote to levy a form of punishment and also vote disproportionately against her); and to boost his ego by providing another opportunity to treat (as many politicians do) every vote he receives as a sign of adulation for him as a human being. Redemption isn’t relevant; he has neither the wisdom nor self-awareness to accept what he did that got him put away in the slammer was wrong.

Nor should he, his campaign palaver aside, expect to win absent fantastic occurrences, such as making the runoff (probably the most likely do so as the only quality Democrat in the contest) and then having a Republican opponent get caught with a live boy or dead girl. He may whistle into the wind about raising more than a million dollars for the effort, but the only reason might come close is as an indirect means for others to give beyond limits to Landrieu.

Few people watched the ratings-impaired reality television show featuring him as second banana to this third wife, so that factors in to his decision to go for the Sixth District seat not so much as him wanting to erase that impression out of people’s minds as it does as a form of spousal payback. He graciously allowed her to feed her ego by cooperating with that TV pursuit; now it’s time for her to return the favor, which she appears to be doing enthusiastically.

Yet there’s a larger message emanating from this quixotic venture. Note that the reasons for running primarily are about him and what he wants, and that is not unexpected given the state’s political culture. Edwards proved himself as one of the best exploiters of the populism infested in that culture – the belief in a war of all against all, of politics as a zero-sum game, and that political enemies are so evil that power must be obtained to punish them in order to reward the good that are by definition friends and allies. Deep down, it is a rejection of the idea that politics should serve as an instrument to allow empowering the individual through removing the temptation posed by power concentrated in the state. It makes the politician the revered giver of laws and largesse because of the aggrandizing of self-conception of him that this permits, an understanding few of them allow themselves to realize about which most cloak with a mythology that they fight for “the people” against illusory bogeyman alleged to usurp excessive political and economic power.

Self-interest and ego boosting of officials echo the Faustian bargain aspect to the promise of representative democracy’s translation of informed public preferences into policy. In bringing superior policy to the people, the individuals perhaps best equipped to get that accomplished are those who see those kinds of intrinsic awards as important, and how to get them to produce beneficial policy instead of craven self-gratification has been on the mind of democratic theorists since philosopher-Pres. James Madison. While individuals of any political stripe therefore may succumb to fulfilling their own wants first and foremost to reject this balancing, the very Manichean nature of populism creates additional disincentives to serve the public good.

Simply, populism is less likely to produce superior public policy because to a greater degree those officials wedded to it put their needs ahead of those of all of the people. That typified Louisiana’s political culture and policy for decades – a tradition in which Edwards expresses pride. However, it is a tradition eroding as people become smarter and more informed about politics, where they realize they don’t need saviors and/or mountebanks dispensing goodies to them when government that lightens its touch will permit them to do for themselves and better without deprivation of their basic liberties.

There always will be those who lack confidence in themselves, who are too lazy to control of their lives, or who see as their strengths ability to manipulate and feel a sense of born superiority over others that will gravitate towards liberal populism. But that proportion of the population continues to erode from better education gained and information made available that has typified the public in the realm of politics over recent years, perhaps intensified in Louisiana comparatively. Which leads to a declining base of supporters for the likes of Edwards. For that reason, his motivation for running for office remains the same as it did 60 years ago, but, given his past typical success in winning, the result in 2014 will turn out vastly different.

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