In 2008, Eliot Spitzer was the politician making headlines because of a sex scandal.
That same year, author and CNN Commentator Jeffrey Toobin spoke to the Kentucky Bar Association about my fellow Kentuckian, Ed Prichard.
“Prich,” as his friends called him, was one of the brightest stars of his generation at Harvard Law School. He was part of a group of young stars who rose to power as Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal hit Washington.
Then it all fell apart for Ed. In 1948, Prichard was caught up in a silly ballot-stuffing stunt that caused him to serve time in prison (he was later pardoned), and ended his political career.
Prichard’s story is best told in David Halberstam’s bestseller, The Powers That Be, and in Prichard’s excellent biography by Tracy Campbell, Short of the Glory.
Toobin related an additional detail to the Prichard story. In an interview with Donald Edward Graham, longtime publisher of The Washington Post, Toobin learned that Graham’s middle name was in honor of Pritch.
Ed’s best friend was Phillip Graham, Donald’s father. The elder Graham took over The Washington Post when it was the number two newspaper in its city, and began its journey to becoming one of the most influential media outlets in the world.
Toobin had been a law school classmate of Spitzer at Harvard and said he sent a copy of Short of the Glory to Spitzer.
I hope someone sends a copy to John Edwards, too. The John Edwards scandal has been a real dilemma for me.
I knew John Edwards and really wanted him to be president. I helped to sponsor a couple of fundraising events for him in 2003, and, like most of my family, made the maximum donation to his campaign. I had lunch with him. We spent most of the time talking about our families and our affinity for a band popular with infant children, called the “Wiggles.” He seemed like a stand-up guy.
I really thought he was on track in 2008. His message of two Americas and his focus on poverty was more in tune with Main Street than what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were saying. People wondered why I gravitated to Mike Huckabee and Edwards since they differed dramatically on social issues. But both seemed to have a populist spirit, and neither seemed to be controlled by Wall Street.
As the economy crashed later that year, I felt either Edwards or Huckabee would have had an ear to Main Street, closer and better than anyone else that was running.
Then, like Pritchard, John Edwards stupidly threw away his political future.
At age 59, Edwards must be wondering what to do next. He “won” a trial that never should have taken place, but was not seen as victorious in the public eye. Everyone despises him.
I met Ed Prichard when he was roughly the same age that Edwards is now. I was a college student who had allegedly run a stop sign in Frankfort, Ky. My lead foot was going to cause me to lose my driver’s license.
Ed got my ticket amended and I kept my license. But doing traffic court work was well below Ed’s Harvard training.
Prich wasn’t making a lot of money but he devoted himself to public service. Quietly, and then as time went on, more and more publicly, he devoted himself to education reform in Kentucky.
In 1980, he put together an education reform group that became known as the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. That group had, and continues to have, an incredible impact on education in the state.
Although Prichard died in 1984, he has received most of the credit for the ground-breaking Kentucky Education Reform Act that became law in 1990.
I grew up in Northern Kentucky, where many people at the time moved across the river to Cincinnati, because the schools were better there. Now it frequently works the other way. You have to give Ed Prichard his due for that kind of impact on society.
The late Robert Sexton, who was a longtime director of the Prichard Committee, said “There were, of course, two Ed Prichards. One was a genuine prodigy – charming, compelling, brash, arrogant, irresponsible. The other, familiar to us years later, was older, still brilliant, but also mellowed, chastened, and remade; a far different man from the younger Prichard.”
I hope someday, years in the future, people say there were two John Edwards. That the one who was irresponsible, charming, arrogant and a liar, was replaced by one whose tremendous fall from grace chastened and remade him into a man who truly made an impact on the plight of “the other America.”
Edwards needs to get Prichard’s biography. It’s a good starting point on redemption and channeling great talents in a productive manner.
Don McNay, who lives in Richmond, Ky., is an award-winning financial columnist for Huffington Post Contributor. You can learn more about him at www.donmcnay.com.