The Campaign Spot

Edwards, His Father, and the Infamous Expensive Restaurant

A reader writes in about John Edwards’ anecdote from the debate:

EDWARDS: Many people in the audience and the viewing audience know that my dad worked in textile mills all his life, and I can remember vividly — my dad is here tonight. I was born here in South Carolina. I can remember vividly my dad after church once Sunday, when I was about 10 years old, taking us — it’s our whole family — into a restaurant. I was dressed up.
I was very proud to be there, and we sat, got our menus, looked at the menus, and the waitress came over and my father said, “I’m sorry, we have to leave.” I didn’t understand. “Why? Why do we have to leave?” And I was embarrassed. I found out when we got outside the reason we had to leave is he couldn’t pay the prices that were on the menu.

The reader asks, “don’t most people have an idea of how much a joint costs before they go in?”
I’m less concerned about that, but I would point out that as far as tales-of-woe-from-childhood go, this is pretty mild. Of all the problems facing America’s working poor, having to get up from restaurant tables after looking at the prices on menus has to rank pretty low on the list.
Edwards should try going out with a vegetarian, or someone with allergies — he’ll be getting up from tables after looking at the menus on a regular basis.
I guess I should be glad that this emotionally-scarring incident didn’t lead to Edwards’ introduction of the National Mandatory Reasonable Prices in Restaurants Act…
Of course, some folks have looked at Edwards’ father, and found his background not quite as hardscrabble as Edwards makes it sound. From the Globe’s coverage back in 2003:

By Johnny’s third birthday the family had moved five times across the Carolinas, and up the economic ladder as well. Wallace Edwards spent most of his career with Milliken & Co., which owned a string of textile mills, and he received promotions from floor worker to “time study’’ jobs – monitoring worker productivity – to supervisor. Over time, the family went from living in a public housing project to a ranch-style brick home on a tree-lined street.
Even then, Wallace Edwards believed that his lack of a college degree kept him from advancing at work, which he found both frustrating and embarrassing. “I remember waking up at 5 a.m. and seeing my father watching those little shows on TV to try to learn how to do math problems,’’ John Edwards says. “He thought it would help him at work.’’

The restaurant anecdote was deployed in that earlier campaign, too.

When he was 9 or 10, the family – which by then included younger sister Kathy, with brother Blake soon to come – moved to a house on a dirt road in Thomson, Ga. One Sunday after church, the family settled down to dinner at a restaurant crowded with well-dressed patrons, and had begun looking over the menu when Wallace Edwards cleared his throat.

“We have to leave,’’ he said. “It costs too much.’’

From the L.A. Weekly

“The Edwardses were solidly middle class” when Johnny was growing up, according to a four-part profile of the North Carolina senator in his home state’s most prestigious daily, the Raleigh News and Observer. It’s true that for a few years as a young man Edwards’ father worked on the floor of a Roger Milliken textile mill. But Edwards père (a lifelong Republican, like his reactionary boss) quickly climbed upward, becoming a monitor of worker productivity as a “time-study” man — which any labor organizer in the South will tell you is a polite term for a stoolie who spies on the proletarian mill hands to get them to speed up production for the same low wages. Daddy Edwards’ grassing got him promoted to supervisor, then to plant manager — and he finally resigned to start his own business as a consultant to the textile industry. As a Boston Globe profile of Edwards put it last year, the senator never “notes that his father was part of management . . . ‘John was more middle class than most of us,’” says Bill Garner, a high school friend and college roommate.

UPDATE: Hillary Spot reader Jim writes in, “Now, if Edwards’ father had left a barber shop because he couldn’t afford the price of a haircut …” Man, that’s cold.

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