"Il n'y a pas de grand homme pour son valet-de-chambre.''
(No man is a hero to his valet.)
Mme. A.M. Bigot de Cornuel
At least he's still got good hair.
Otherwise, it may be over for John Edwards, thanks to a resurrected video of him primping, too lovingly, his hair.
The video, set to the song "I Feel Pretty,'' has been airing on television, posted on YouTube and circulating on the Internet the past few days with potentially devastating effect for the man unflatteringly referred to as the "Breck Girl.'' It also illustrates the enormous power of YouTube in politics forevermore.
For a while, it seemed Edwards might shake the Breck brand. Recently, while responding to Ann Coulter's remark referring to him with a word we're not allowed to use, Edwards sported a studiously short-cropped, un-boyish do. His face was so frozen in gravitas that Dick Cheney sent him a bottle of champagne and a joy buzzer.
Now, thanks to the omnipresent and unforgiving YouTube and the incessant linkage of Web sites John Edwards isn't just associated with hair. He is hair.
He's also a stand-in for Narcissus, mesmerized by his own beauty reflected in the small mirror he holds up to appraise himself. I feel pretty, oh so pretty. I feel pretty and witty and ... oh never mind.
Anyone who has had a photograph taken or appeared on camera understands that primping precedes picture. We've all done it. Combed the hair, worn the makeup, considered the surgery.
But not all of us are running for president of the United States. Didn't Edwards know they were filming? Didn't the doo-wop dude of the Blogosphere know that the Internet crouches in wait for anyone who dares pretend to the throne?
The captured moment shows Edwards not just fixing his hair, but taking it very, very seriously. After he sweeps his bangs aside for about the tenth time and after the makeup artist has finished muting his shine Edwards takes the small powder compact from her for a final review.
Another brush of the bangs. Another. Another. He is not just interested in how he looks. He is riveted, his laser gaze so intense, you wonder: What's he looking for?
Many times lately, I've defended Edwards in private conversations, saying it's not his fault he's so cute. He was born that way. It's not his fault he looks young for his age. Lucky people do. It's not his fault that he's rich. At least it's not un-American, even if his populist "Two Americas'' message rings a little faux as he builds a 28,000-square-foot monument to Ego. I mean, a house.
But vanity: Whose fault is that? Vanity belongs to one and only one the Self. How absorbed does a self need to be to miss the fact that a camera that motor-driven, soul-snatching valet to man's vanity is watching?
Americans are pretty forgiving of most sins. Gluttony, lust, greed. We forgive them because we're all guilty by degrees. But vanity is of another order, especially and perhaps unfairly when it comes to men.
Women get a pass for indulging their vanity, mostly because men appreciate the effort and applaud the result.
But we want men to be unaware of their attractiveness. Fairly or not, vanity is deemed unmanly.
Don't look at me. I didn't write the rules. But I do know them. Women don't trust men who spend more time in the bathroom than they do. And men don't trust men who primp.
The YouTube phenomenon has changed forever the nature and tenor of politics. What used to be inadmissible in a civil society is now forever on display. Fair play is obsolete and privacy is a memory. Whether YouTube is the ruin or salvation of democracy remains to be seen, but it's unlikely Edwards will be able to survive the tyranny of his bangs.
Or his lips. The video that couldn't get any worse got worse. At the end of the two-minute segment, Edwards licks his lips several times, moistening them, no doubt, so that he can speak freely. But the effect is disastrously reptilian. When you're running for president, evoking the image of a snake that quintessential merchant of vanities and biblical trickster of mortals is not helpful.
Symbolically, Edwards has suffered more than a bad hair day.