Both in a radio interview and through a campaign spokeswoman, John Kerry has denied having had Botox injections. Given his history of unalloyed honesty, we can only assume that he was able to unfurl his creepy, artificially smooth forehead through magic, probably involving forest gnomes and pixie dust.
But with the selection of John Edwards as his running mate, Kerry has proved that he does indeed appreciate a strategic injection of fresh-faced youth. What Edwards brings to the Democratic ticket is the salesmanship to make even a fundamentally downbeat message — like the “Two Americas” theme from the primary — sound cheerful and optimistic.
Kerry is just the opposite: dour, dull, politically tone-deaf. Exhibit A was his speech celebrating the Edwards pick. Kerry talked about his South African-born wife (estimated net worth: $1 billion, care of her late husband’s estate) as if she were a hard-working Nigerian immigrant, played up the need to restore international alliances over the need to shore up American security, and made a reference to prison funding that seemed to backtrack on the winning tough-on-crime Clinton formula. The saving grace, if you can call it that, was that after Kerry talked about Edwards, most of the audience had tuned out.
Kerry needs all the help he can get from a decent speaker like Edwards. In a February debate, Edwards zinged Kerry for “the longest answer [he’d] ever heard to a yes or no question.” The veep-to-be added, “The answer to your question is yes, of course.” It was a moment that gets to the heart of the difference between the two men, and gets at part of the reason Kerry would make such a terrible president. His non-answers suggest a lack of clarity to his thought process. President Bush’s verbal gaffes are much different: When he misspeaks, you always know what he’s trying to say.
Democrats are mostly happy with the Edwards decision, and they’re right to be. Edwards was the best choice of an extremely unimpressive group of contenders. When rumors went flying late Monday and early Tuesday that Kerry had chosen the chronically dull Dick Gephardt, the mood on liberal message boards was practically suicidal, and not just because Gephardt was more pro-war.
Republican strategist Matthew Dowd has suggested, based on historical trends, that Kerry could be polling ahead by as much as 15 points after the combination of the running-mate announcement and the convention. Dowd has an interest in raising expectations for Kerry, of course, and the electorate has not been this paralyzed historically; the polls in the past few months have stayed stubbornly close to tied. But even DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe has suggested that Kerry will be up 8 to 12 points after the convention.
I’ll be watching the polls closely in the next few weeks to measure the size and durability of the Edwards bounce. This announcement has come earlier, relative to the convention, than previous veep announcements. Just as Botox wears off before too long, any enthusiasm generated by the Edwards pick could fade by the time of the convention on the 26th of this month. If that happens, Kerry may well be such a turkey of a candidate that he’s beyond help.