The Green Papers
The Green Papers

Kerry's choice of Edwards as his No. 2 man
provides answers but still leaves questions

by Richard E. Berg-Andersson Staff
Tue 6 Jul 2004

It was, in the end, the expected choice. Certainly it was a safe choice; and, with many among ordinary rank-and-file Democrats seemingly clamoring for it (judging from the polling data over the last several weeks), it was the easy choice.

But was it the right choice?

The United States of America, after all, is not a Parliamentary Democracy. Here there are no "shadow ministers of government" seated amongst the Front-Benchers within a "Loyal Opposition" Party or coalition of Parties in Parliament or a National Assembly or a Realm's Diet ready to take over merely moments after the trends seen within the raw returns of an election have been discerned and it becomes quite clear that the Government Party or Coalition has been removed from power by the collective will of the electorate.

On the contrary, we Americans have absolutely no idea- and, indeed, will continue to have no idea right through Election Day itself- exactly whom a future President John Kerry might appoint as his Secretary of State or his Secretary of Defense or his Attorney General, etc. (Of course, to be fair, we also have absolutely no idea if a re-elected President George W. Bush will be keeping Colin Powell as his Secretary of State or John Ashcroft as his Attorney General into a next Bush II Administration.) Thus, we perhaps too much overly focus on a Major Party presidential nominee's choice as his running mate because that very choice represents the only pre-Election chance we have to see just how one who wishes to occupy the White House might later go about choosing those who will end up as part of the uppermost echelons of his Administration should he emerge victorious in the Fall.

So it is with Senator Kerry's choice of outgoing, after just one six-year term in office, North Carolina Senator John Edwards to be his Vice President.

Pro: Senator Edwards is a bona fide son of the South, a 51-year-old native of South Carolina raised in North Carolina in a working class home, a self-made man of significant wealth and no little political clout who is yet young enough to have not at all forgotten his earlier, poorer roots. Edwards is, therefore, a good complement to the patrician Kerry- whose father was a diplomat and whose mother attaches to the Forbes genealogy; the North Carolinian also well offsets that nagging "D-Massachusetts" that always follows Kerry's name in the Senate Directory and which seems to carry an all too liberal stain when noted in much of the "Flyover Country" that is the Nation's heartland.

If nothing else, Edwards is a sure sign that the Kerry campaign intends to fight Bush/Cheney for at least the fringes of a South that is otherwise solid Bush Country- an obvious attempt to try and pick off Bill Clinton's native Arkansas and an Al Gore's Tennessee that Clinton's Vice President himself could not seem to win, to reclaim ordinarily reliably Democratic West Virginia and perhaps even a Louisiana that seems to have been the only Deep South State which elected a Democratic Governor and re-elected a Democratic U.S. Senator lately.

Con: Edwards' alleged cachet in his native South seems more than a bit, if not altogether vastly, overrated. After winning the Presidential Primary (a Party-run affair) in his native South Carolina, Edwards subsequently lost Primaries in Tennessee and Virginia and- come 'Super Tuesday', 2 March- pretty much split the Georgia delegation with Kerry, leaving Kerry with a handful more Peach State delegates than Edwards. The North Carolinian, therefore, could not convincingly demonstrate that he might be politically more viable in the South than Kerry himself: I fail to see what might have changed over the past four months to alter this impression!

another Pro: As an experienced trial lawyer who, despite never having held any other political office, has brought the skills of the determined advocate to the floor and into the committee rooms of the United States Senate, Edwards is generally regarded- by political ally and foe alike- as a superb debater. It is even said that an aphorism of the Republican Senate majority is "Never yield the floor to John Edwards".

Thus, it is highly unlikely we will see a repeat- in this year's Vice-Presidential Debate- of Senator Joe Lieberman's infamous recounting of what the Connecticut lawmaker referred to as an "exciting" tax deduction, only to get so lost in numbers-crunching that he ran out of time, allowing Dick Cheney a Lloyd Bentsen-like "You're no Jack Kennedy" moment when the future current Vice President could immediately, and most dryly, retort "See what we're talking about? You'd have to be a CPA to understand what he just said". Edwards is likely to be far better than Lieberman in the parry and thrust of any such similar confrontation with Cheney.

a big Con: The very source of Edwards' success and ability as advocate and debater- the fact that the North Carolinian is, after all, a trial lawyer- is a potentially negative issue. Americans generally disdain trial lawyers (that is, until they actually need one- and especially if their lawyer wins their case for them!) and politicians- mostly attorneys themselves, mind you!- have been blaming trial lawyers for all sorts of ills in our modern society: higher health care costs, ever larger insurance premiums, more business bankruptcies and the like. Watch the Bush/Cheney campaign exploit this as we get into the Fall Campaign.

an even bigger Con: I actually touched on this way back in my 6 March Commentary entitled WHO'S NUMBER TWO? but it bears repeating here now that we know exactly who Number Two is going to be. Four months ago to this very day, in fact, I wrote:

Mr. Edwards, like Mr. Kerry, is a Senator and, as I myself pointed out in a Commentary on this very website more than four years ago, while we Americans seem to like United States Senators as presidential candidates, we tend to more elect Governors as our Presidents! Therefore it would seem that Senator Kerry (whose only previous experience in executive elective office was a mere two years as Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, an officer who didn't even preside over the Senate of ye olde Commonwealth!-- an office for whom Woodrow Wilson's description of the Vice-Presidency of 1885 might actually prove a bit more apt) would be much better served by choosing a Governor, present or former- or, at the very least, a Senator with previous Gubernatorial experience- for the second spot on the 2004 Democratic national ticket.

Yes, 'tis true that a sitting Senator/sitting Senator national ticket such as was revealed earlier today- one headed by another Democratic Senator from Massachusetts with the intials J F K- did, in fact, once win a Presidential Election; however, the most recent sitting Senator/sitting Senator Major Party ticket prior to this one [McGovern/Eagleton '72] so soon after the Convention proved still-born. The risks inherent in having no significant executive experience on this year's Democratic national ticket may not, in the end, be seen at all in the course of this Fall's campaign-- but that risk is ever there!

But does it matter at all in any event? Of course, nobody going to the polls in the quadrennial November General Election ever really votes for Vice-President! For, if such were the case, thus Lloyd Bentsen's famous 1988 VP Debate comment having been at all telling against Dan Quayle, we might nowadays have been able to read about a "President Dukakis" in our History books... of course, we don't!... I rest my case.

A GOP confusing Action with Accomplishment. Yet we have the rather silly spectacle of a targeted ad campaign on the part of Bush/Cheney- called "First Choice"- in which Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), President Bush's pre-nomination nemesis four years ago, is seen on stage actively campaigning for Bush/Cheney. The premise behind this ad is the oft-reported story that Senator Kerry seriously considered a fusion ticket of Kerry/McCain- two genuine U.S. Navy heroes of the Vietnam Conflict from two different Parties on one national ticket (Greetings across the vales of Time and History to 1864: "Lincoln and Johnson: Huzzah, boys! Huzzah!"). The Republicans are evidently making much- truth be told, too much!- of this, claiming that Edwards is therefore merely second choice "filler" and not at all the real "meat" Kerry was originally seeking.

Of course, if Kerry and McCain ever discussed such a ticket- even if it be only halfheartedly over drinks and a light repast at some semi-darkened D.C. bistro one recent cold winter evening- it makes sense that Kerry would talk about this possibility before beginning the serious search for a running mate among those in his own Party. It would make absolutely no sense (and certainly would have entailed much more political risk) for Kerry to be talking about such a thing after having considered all the viable Democratic Party possibilities! Therefore, if McCain were Kerry's "First Choice"...

so what?!

But the Bush/Cheney team seems to honestly think they have touched some kind of nerve here when all they are really doing is preaching to the same ol' Republican choir. This is certainly not a gambit that is all that likely to attract many potential Kerry voters over to the Bush column and is one that, if the Bush/Cheney people are smart, will soon disappear from the political radar.

For this is, once again, merely confusing Action with Accomplishment. We can question whether Edwards as a running mate helps Kerry; we can certainly know that "First Choice" does very little, if anything, for Bush...

now, if Dick Cheney were actually to be replaced on the GOP ticket by John McCain-- hmmmmm-- that might be altogether quite different! ;-)

Modified .