Political Hay

Edwards Stinks

Two Americas, two Johns -- and put on a happy face.

By 7.7.04

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It is a testament to the incompetence of the Kerry Campaign that Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack made the short-short list of potential veep nominees, but Indiana Senator Evan Bayh did not. Vilsack would have brought little if any value to the ticket, while Bayh would have thrown the non-battleground state of Indiana into play while also appealing to those undecided voters who are more socially conservative. Perhaps we will someday learn that Bayh wasn't interested in the job. But it doesn't seem like the Kerry Campaign spent much effort pressuring him to change his mind.

Now Kerry has chosen the Senator from North Carolina with nice hair. Although I hate to rain on the current John-Edwards-Is-The-Best-Veep-Choice-Ever media parade, this move is not much better than Bayh's absence from the short list.

Who, exactly, does John Edwards appeal to among the Democratic base? Aside from trial lawyers, no one, and the support of the trial lawyers for Kerry was never in doubt. Edwards does nothing for those Democrats who are less than thrilled about Kerry's vote in favor of the Iraq War, and may even chase a few of them away. After all, Edwards was arguably more pro-war than Kerry. Edwards co-sponsored the Congressional Resolution on Iraq, saying on the Senate Floor that "Saddam Hussein's regime represents a grave threat to America," that Hussein "has chemical and biological weapons," and "is doing everything he can to build nuclear weapons." For those Democrats who are vociferously anti-war, Ralph Nader must look pretty appealing right about now.

Then there is the risk that Edwards will overshadow Kerry. This may be a temporary advantage as Kerry does better in the polls when he is out of the spotlight. However, Kerry can't stay in the background forever; the voters will not pull the lever for someone unless they get to know him better. The real problem is that voters will like Edwards so much and Kerry so little that they end up thinking, "Edwards should be running for president and Kerry for veep." That sort of thinking will probably not translate into a Kerry win.

Kerry has also chosen the one candidate whose primary-campaign stump speech could redound to Bush's benefit. Typical was the speech Edwards gave in Mount Pleasant, Iowa: "The reason America needs change, though, is we live in a country where we still have two different Americas. One for those in positions of privilege and power who get everything they want whenever they need it, and one for everybody else." A GOP wit might quip, "Yes, and millionaires Kerry and Edwards know all about the privileged America." On a more sober note, every time Edwards makes the Two-Americas remark, the Bush Campaign can simply point to the economic performance of the last six months. Giving the Bush Campaign free air time to promote the recovering economy won't help Kerry's chances. Furthermore, such rhetoric doesn't have much appeal beyond the Democratic faithful. The vast majority of Americans probably don't want to think of this nation as some Third World country.

Edwards could try to change the subject, but to what? Perhaps the biggest laugher yesterday was an interview Senator Mary Landrieu gave to FoxNews, extolling Edwards' foreign policy experience. It was amazing that Landrieu could keep a straight face. During the primaries, Edwards rarely mentioned the War on Terrorism or national security issues unless forced to during the debates. He is an absolute foreign policy lightweight.

Undoubtedly, his biggest asset is his charm. But even this might eventually turn into something of a liability. Much of Edwards' charm stems from the fact that he is just sooooo nice. During the primary, he was rarely able to go on the attack against President Bush, let alone his Democratic opponents. That isn't conducive to the traditional V.P. nominee role of attack dog. Indeed, Edwards seems particularly ill-suited to that role (at least outside a courtroom). It's hard to imagine some of the rhetoric about Bush that has become standard Democratic fare this year coming from Edwards' mouth. It would be like the Pillsbury Doughboy trying to sub for Simon Cowell on American Idol.

Which leads to my final thought: Being a lightweight on foreign policy and sooooo nice, how will Edwards do at the vice-presidential debate? On the one hand, his charm and some of the skills he picked up as a trial lawyer might win it for him. On the other hand, I get a picture in my mind of Dick Cheney with a salivating grin on his face muttering "Lunch!"

Right now the media are enthralled with John Edwards. But his weaknesses will show through soon enough. John Edwards brings a happy face to the Kerry Campaign and not much else.

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About the Author

David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.