TCS Daily


The Unbearable Lightness of Being John Edwards

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - July 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Most of the speculation that surrounds a Vice Presidential pick in an election year has to do with whether the number two candidate might help the ticket pick up some votes. This speculation is generally unwarranted -- not since Lyndon Johnson's presence on the 1960 Democratic Presidential ticket helped John F. Kennedy win Texas (by means fair or foul) has a Vice Presidential candidate exercised significant electoral influence to help win an election for his/her ticket.

But this doesn't mean that speculation and interest surrounding a Vice Presidential pick isn't justified. On the contrary, it is one of the most important events in the course of any Presidential race. A Vice Presidential pick gives the electorate a unique chance to see a non-incumbent Presidential candidate make an important Presidential choice. The most important factor in that choice must be whether the Vice Presidential pick will be able to succeed to the Presidency on a moment's notice, and do the job effectively.

By that standard, the selection of John Edwards as John Kerry's running mate has to be considered a poor Presidential pick on Kerry's part. Edwards is not without his gifts -- he has good looks, excellent oratorical skills, and an ability to connect with people. But he is rightly derided as one of the more non-substantive people in national politics today. John Edwards has held precisely one electoral office and he is not even finished with his first term in that office, and yet John Kerry proposes to place Edwards a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Edwards brings a lackadaisical approach to policy and substantive discussions that is most disturbing. The national decision on how to further reform our law enforcement response to home-grown terrorism will be a central issue facing either a second Bush Administration, or a Kerry Administration. And yet, Edwards appears to be genuinely clueless as to the issues involved. The issue of outsourcing and the changing face of American labor are key points of debate in the current Presidential campaign, and yet, Edwards's past comments on the issue of outsourcing have been completely debunked, and Edwards appears to be a newcomer to the issue of international trade in general. Edwards showed just how serious he was on the issue of reconstructing Iraq when he decided to vote against an $87 billion aid package needed to both aid in the reconstruction and to provide material assistance to U.S. troops. This stance only served to politicize an issue that should have united both Democrats and Republicans -- the reconstruction of Iraq. It was fundamentally unbecoming for any future Vice President (and Presidential aspirant) to so brazenly push the best interests of the nation aside in a matter of such seriousness.

Beyond being wrong on the issues, Edwards just seems to be out of his depth, as even fellow Democrats attest:

"He has all the ingredients you're looking for," said Senator John B. Breaux, a Louisiana Democrat. "But what is missing is a great deal of seasoning or experience in the business of government. I don't think it's just 9/11. You're talking about North Korea. You're talking about Afghanistan. You're talking about Iraq."

While it might be that Edwards was something of a late bloomer when it came to politics and government, it appears that his interest in politics and political issues has been superficial at best:

Will Americans really want a candidate who was so disengaged from government that he voted in only 7 of the 13 elections before his own race? Who has so little regard for his own political history that he cannot recall whom he supported for the nomination in 1992? ("My guess would be Kerrey," Mr. Edwards said of former Senator Bob Kerrey. "But I don't remember.")

Because of Edwards's relative lack of experience, it should come as no surprise that even Kerry family members were skittish about him being chosen as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. Indeed, it should come as no surprise that Kerry himself expressed concerns about Edwards's qualifications during the Democratic primaries -- concerns that Republicans are all too happy to throw back against the Kerry-Edwards campaign. And why shouldn't they? From discussing how we must deal with Iraq to discussing the issue of gay marriage, Edwards has been consistently found wanting in his knowledge of policy issues.

Edwards won national attention and acclaim thanks to his stump speech about "Two Americas" and thanks to his image as a former trial lawyer who is a champion for the average American. Of course, as a lawyer myself, I certainly don't begrudge Edwards his decision to follow a career in the law, and certainly, plaintiffs' attorneys are needed to keep excesses in check. But that does not justify Edwards's contribution to the propagation of unsound medical care thanks to his work in one particular trial. Edwards's "Two Americas" speech is similarly off-base. Indeed, if it is the case that the economy will grow faster this year than it has in the past two decades, Edwards's pessimistic speech and populist arguments will seem especially hollow.

America's first ever Vice President, John Adams, once remarked that "Today I am nothing, but tomorrow I may be everything." In an age where we are fighting a war against terrorists whose last attack in the United States sought to destroy major government buildings and kill government leaders, Adams's words serve emphasize the importance of selecting a Vice President who is knowledgeable about the issues. Instead, John Kerry has wasted his first Presidential choice by selecting a charming man who at best does not care, and at worst is genuinely confused about the policy issues of the day. Democrats will inevitably counter that George W. Bush was/is clueless as well, and if that is what they think, then they can cast their votes accordingly. But apart from this being nothing more than a fallacious tu quoque reply, it begs the following question: If Democrats are so repulsed by the caricature of an out-of-his-depth George W. Bush, then why did they agree so willingly with the choice of a Vice Presidential candidate who fits that caricature in so many ways?


Categories:
|

TCS Daily Archives