"We know what's going on in the country better than they do," is the rallying cry of the new Kerry-Edwards ticket, and you know something? I think they may be right.
Let's face it, the Edwards pick for vice president is the best that Kerry could have done. The New York Post's fantastic announcing of Gephardt as the candidate was just that -- a conservative pipe dream. Gephardt would have been a perfect foil -- a stolid, colorless liberal who would bring along the votes of twelve labor leaders. Kerry would have proven he was afraid of Edwards' charisma and the Republicans could coast through November.
But this is different. For all the GOP sneers about Edwards' inexperience, this guy has exactly what the Republican ticket lacks -- youth, charisma, sex appeal. If Republicans go back into their shell and complain about press coverage, this whole campaign is going to go up in smoke. (Remember, Bush has yet to win the popular vote.)
All of a sudden it's starting to feel like 1992 again. The administration has done an absolutely terrific job -- even better than Bush, Sr.'s winning the Gulf War. W. has responded heroically to September 11th. He has embarked on a daring expedition into Iraq that looks like it might pay off big-time. He's done a magnificent job of pulling the economy out of a major slump. You couldn't ask anything more.
Yet the Administration is still in danger of blowing this election because it can't communicate. It has a tin ear. The day after the Edwards is nominated you pick up the paper and find that Bush has just turned down an invitation to speak at the NAACP's annual convention. What is the matter with these people? Why not just kick a dog on the street and call in CNN to videotape the whole event? I'm sure there's some obscure rationale about how the NAACP did something to Bush somewhere and this is just payback, but who cares? The important thing is 200 million Americans will get the message, "Bush doesn't like African Americans." African Americans don't care -- they're going to vote 90 percent Democratic anyway. It's all those good-hearted people in the middle who don't really care one way or the other but just want to see people play fair -- they're the ones who will be affected. Bush doesn't like black people. That's not nice. I think I'll vote Democratic.
Even Maureen Dowd is starting to feel sorry for Bush. In a marvelous column Thursday where she finally started getting sick of Teresa Heinz's European snobbery, Dowd was forlornly offering Bush advice:
Steve Holland of Reuters noted that Senator Edwards was being described "as charming, engaging, a nimble campaigner, a populist and even sexy. How does he stack up against Dick Cheney?" President Bush should have knocked that question out of the park. But he whiffed. W. should have given a sly smile and drawled, "You mean you don't find the Vice President sexy?" Instead, he looked irritated and spit out his answer: "Dick Cheney can be president."
This is the way it's going to be until November. Nobody on the Bush team has the slightest capability of dealing with the press. Edwards gets 91 percent favorable coverage from reporters -- the highest figure ever and it will probably get better. Kerry and Edwards are beginning to key into that great Entertainment Central. Rock 'n' roll concerts in Radio City, Michael Moore, the Howard Stern stuff -- Republicans may turn up their noses at all this, but it will add up. This is just what doomed George Bush, Sr. Bill Clinton played his saxophone on MTV while President George Bush had trouble comprehending a scanner in a checkout line. Clinton and Gore managed to cast themselves as a couple of hip new guys with something interesting to say. It wasn't true but it worked. Now Kerry and Edwards are doing the same thing.
So here's the deal. Let's take Al D'Amato's advice and relieve Dick Cheney of his responsibilities, putting John McCain on the ticket in his place. Oh, I know Republicans are supposed to be loyal and not screw their buddies, but this is hardball. Jack Welsh didn't make GE into the greatest company in the world by sticking with failing executives for sentimental reasons. Party insiders will say we're panicking and this will only make things worse, but that's what they said in 1992 about replacing Dan Quayle -- who was always a drag on the ticket -- and look what happened.
SO HERE ARE HALF a dozen good reasons for replacing Cheney:
1) Cheney's standard expression is the crooked smile of a bank president telling you that, even though he's known you for 40 years, he's not going to lend you any money. People may respect him but they don't like him. His negative ratings are now above 40 percent, probably the worst of any vice president in history.
2) "Cheney is qualified to be President." So what? So are a lot of people. And Cheney isn't that qualified. His main strength is in sound advice and the ability to maneuver behind the scenes. That isn't what a President does. Thrust into office, he'd probably lose the public in five days. He's much better qualified to be secretary of defense. Why not move him into that position if it's necessary to keep his councils?
3) Cheney isn't really that fit to be President. How many heart attacks has he had? And what about his disposition? Dowd reports: "When he was stopped by applause at a campaign stop in Altoona, Pa., on Sunday, he asked, 'You guys want to hear this speech or not?'" And this guy is a politician?
4) Cheney bears the entire burden of the Halliburton smear.
5) Cheney used the F-word on the floor of the Senate.
6) Cheney's "other priorities" excuse for avoiding the military during Vietnam is a time bomb waiting to go off.
And so forth. Putting McCain on the ticket would immediately neuter Edwards' impact for the rest of the campaign. Edwards is going to jab-jab-jab at Cheney in the debate while the Vice President responds with sarcastic smiles that mean absolutely nothing to anyone. Against McCain, Edwards voice will sound about three octaves higher. He will be revealed for exactly what he is -- an incredibly lucky bozo who happened to come along just when trial lawyers were becoming billionaires.
Also, John Kerry's four months on a riverboat and couple of medals won't look very impressive next to McCain's Silver Star, Bronze Star, Legion of Merit, Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, and six years as a POW.
So what are we waiting for? The Democratic faithful virtually forced Edwards on Kerry through their grassroots enthusiasm. Why can't Republicans do the same? Does Cheney have a constituency? Is Wyoming that important? Are we afraid social conservatives will bolt the party and vote Democratic? (Cheney's use of the F-word has hardly burnished his image there, either.)
The biggest mistake is to think of the two terms as one continuous administration. Nobody wants "Four More Years" when -- despite all we've done to prevent it -- the past four years are perceived as horrible. Cheney added gravitas to the ticket the first time around, but this is an entirely different election. The GOP needs a fresh start. People are ready for something new. So let's give it to them.
Besides, there's nothing wrong with changing vice presidents. FDR did it three times and won every election.
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