If John Edwards is such a smart lawyer, how come one of the first questions he asked in his big speech was, “And by the way, how great was Teresa Heinz Kerry last night?” Unless someone was playing with the mute button on my TV, I didn’t detect much of a response. I think I heard more groans than anything else.
Hah, I thought. So much for Edwards the clever trial lawyer. But then I remembered he’d flashed his killer smile as he asked about Teresa. He knew exactly what he was doing. The yokels — and Edwards talks down to most everyone as if that’s what they were — would think, oh, what a nice young man to say something sweet about Mrs. Kerry. As for the sophisticated rest, they’d know Edwards was already paying John Kerry back for the numerous indignities he has already suffered at his hands as his running mate. Why not remind this world of the Teresa fiasco? Note how he worded the question: “how great was Teresa…?” — not, “wasn’t she great?” He was noncommittal, in short, merely asking for information, sticking the knife in.
The rest of the speech never rose to greater heights. True, his marvelous Carolinian accent was a pleasant reminder that the South is the last place that still produces politicians who sound like politicians. (Think anyone will be more listenable at the GOP convention than Zell Miller?) Edwards’ pronunciation of “woohnded” (apropos Kerry’s wounds) was by itself worth the price of admission.
Beforehand word was that Edwards would be positive and not say anything mean about Bush & Co. Yes, and Edwards got filthy rich by helping the poor without ever playing the viper. So without naming it by name (that wouldn’t be cowardly) he prefaced his message of hope by attacking the Bush campaign for its “relentless negative attacks against John,” predicting more such (“aren’t you [yokels] sick of it?”) and concluding, “They are doing all they can to take the campaign for the highest office in the land down the lowest possible road.”
From there the path was clear for the boy scout’s “Hope is on the way” routine — the slogan itself a cheap retort to Dick Cheney’s “Help is on the way” promise during Campaign 2000. Nonetheless, reprising the “two Americas” talk that made Edwards famous with the press during the primaries made no sense at all. Most glaringly, it clashed with the themes laid out by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who insisted on one America and blamed divisive talk on Republicans. Adding to the incoherence, Edwards proceeded to apply the Hope slogan precisely the same way Cheney had — as a promise to our military that it would be honored and enhanced. Before the night was through Edwards was uttering the most hawkish talk Fox’s Bill Kristol had heard from a top Democrat in eons. Edwards wasn’t through lifting from Republicans, as he echoed the post-9/11 President Bush by promising “Al Qaeda and these terrorists: You cannot run. You cannot hide. We will destroy you.” At this rate, Kerry tonight will rediscover the Axis of Evil.
How the delegates who packed the Fleet Center last night reacted wasn’t clear. Hawkishness wasn’t supposed to be on the program. It was too late to consult with Howard Dean. And before anyone could break out into discussion groups, a deafening collection of rap rockers took the stage. Call it Democratic-style crowd and mind control. In a flash, the image of the dangerous-sounding Edwards was erased from everyone’s memory. Party leaders were confident the yokels wouldn’t mind.