The Times-Picayune's J.R. Ball wants to know why Louisiana is so in love with Edwin W. Edwards, the ex-con ex-governor who, in his long public life, hasn't exactly covered the state in glory.
No doubt, that streak of ignominy -- more like a skid mark, actually -- won't be broken by his and his grandchild bride's new A&E "reality" show, The Governor's Wife. But the man's popularity persisted through thick and the federal pen, and no doubt it will continue to go up as he continues to drag the state's reputation down.
This mystifies the New Orleans paper's Baton Rouge editor and columnist. I don't know why, but it does:
Between pops of an adult beverage, my newfound friend informed me that Edwards, with a personality second-to-none, was the greatest governor to ever grace this state. My mention of Edwards' decade-long stay at a federal penitentiary brought, without hesitation, the explanation that "the governor" was simply robbing from those who could afford to be fleeced to help fulfill his larger, nobler quest to help the "little man" in Louisiana.
This bit of information prompted an epiphany: I need some new friends.
Before going our separate ways, my soon-to-be, newfound ex-friend dropped this nugget of wisdom: "Edwin Edwards would easily beat Bobby Jindal if he could run against him. Hell, there's not a politician in the state right now who could beat Edwards."
This was hardly my first exposure to this state's perverse love affair with Edwards. Most times, I adopt the learned Deep South behavior of smiling politely and simply walking away, silently stunned by the ignorance of such misguided opinions. As usual, I walked away without confrontation, but this time there was no incredulous internal laughter. Maybe it was latent hostility from having my television hijacked earlier that morning by a steady stream of commercials for "The Governor's Wife," a new reality show devoted to Edwards' ginormous ego. Maybe it was the ego of Edwards' attention-seeking trophy wife, using the show to introduce herself to a national cable audience. But this time I was angry. Or maybe it was just the increasing tempo of the "mist."
Regardless, can someone please explain this state's ongoing -- and seemingly never-ending -- fascination with one Edwin Washington Edwards?
SOMEONE doesn't need to explain it. I think Ball already knows; he's been around the Louisiana block more than a few times during his decades in the Gret Stet. As a journalist there, he's written about more stupidity, skullduggery, sleaze and stealing by those who run the state on citizens' behalf than most journalists from most other states would in three lifetimes.
You know and I know that in his heart of hearts, J.R. Ball knows.
The hard part is the admitting. And the accepting. And then acting upon what one has admitted and accepted. Yeah, that's the hard part. The longer one can prolong the "mystery," alas, the longer one delays some painful admissions and tough decisions.
In my opinion -- as someone born and raised in Louisiana, and as someone who lived there through more than half of Edwards' four terms as governor -- there are a few reasons you could be fascinated by the Silver Zipper. (Guess how Edwin got that nickname.)
One is that he's so foreign to you and your experience, you are fascinated by how exotic he is. That one's a non-starter in Louisiana. It just is.
Another is the Jerry Springer syndrome, otherwise known as "Look at the freaks!" and "Golly, I'm not as f***ed up as I thought!" But you don't elect your average Springero Erectus governor four times.
OR, IT JUST might be that you think, on some level, that Edwin Washington Edwards is just like you -- or perhaps a better, smarter and more powerful you. Massive corruption is OK, just as long as I can get some crumbs from his larcenous feast at the public's table.
J.R.'s game-day pal said as much.
Generally, states, like individuals, get what they tolerate, and they tolerate what they find tolerable. There lies the key to the riddle of Louisiana and its taste for crooks in high places.
To paraphrase what one colorful son of south Louisiana once famously proclaimed, "It's the culture, stupid!" Which just might be why "reformers" there spend all their time spinning their wheels, yet getting nowhere.
What was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.