you hear Republicans disparage Sen. John Edwards's
lack of experience, remember the words of Sen.
Orrin Hatch, spoken to George W. Bush at a debate
on Dec. 6, 1999. Released JULY 7, 2004
been a great governor," Hatch declared of his
rival for the Republican presidential nomination.
"My only problem with you, governor, is that you've
only had four and going into your fifth year of
governorship. . . . Frankly, I really believe
that you need more experience before you become
president of the United States. That's why I'm
thinking of you as a vice presidential candidate."
is exactly what Edwards was chosen for yesterday.
were in a foul mood because Kerry's choice of
Edwards as his running mate muddied up all the
story lines they were itching to trot out. To
understand why Edwards was the best choice for
Kerry, consider what the Republicans (and, yes,
the media) would have said if the nod had gone
instead to Rep. Richard Gephardt, the clear runner-up
in the vice presidential stakes.
would have been described as "insecure" at the
prospect of standing next to the "charismatic"
and "populist" Edwards. Fearing being "upstaged"
by the equally ambitious Edwards, Kerry would
have been accused of making the "obvious," "uninspired"
and "comfortable" choice. Gephardt's experience
would have been trotted out to turn him into the
"tired" face of the "old" Democratic Party. It
would also have been said that Kerry, the "elitist
Massachusetts liberal," had "written off" the
South and rural America.
would have been unfair to the decent Dick Gephardt,
Kerry's sentimental favorite. But Kerry's political
advisers knew the price of picking the old warhorse,
which is why they formed an Edwards lobby inside
the campaign. Kerry, who had known Edwards mostly
as a rival, concluded that Edwards would be a
loyal partner -- Edwards's political future now
depends entirely on being a great running mate
-- and the one choice who could expand the campaign's
a Southerner on the ticket was essential. Since
1960 five of the eight Democratic tickets that
included a Southerner have been elected. The tickets
without a Southerner went 0 for 3. Edwards allows
Democrats to contest North Carolina, Florida,
Louisiana, Virginia and Arkansas. Democratic optimists
-- yes, it's a stretch -- think Edwards's native
South Carolina might also be in reach.
the president to compete on terrain he had mostly
considered safe alters the election's dynamics.
And in the primaries, Edwards's appeal seemed
strongest in constituencies that the Democrats
must win over. He ran especially well among rural
voters and appealed simultaneously to blue-collar
whites and upper-middle-class professionals.
key to Edwards's twin appeal -- to upscale voters
and to those trying to climb the ladder or helping
their kids do it -- was explained many years ago
by the great American sociologist Seymour Martin
Lipset. Lipset argued that the two core American
values were "equality" and "achievement." Americans
want a level playing field and don't like people
who put on airs. But they also admire strivers.
Edwards can give his "two Americas" and "dad in
the mill" speech as someone who used the education
system to rise up and get rich. That's the American
but he got rich as one of those "trial lawyers,"
Republicans were quick to say. This fight over
trial lawyers will be one of the campaign's great
sideshows. The Republicans failed with the anti-lawyer
gambit against Edwards when he was first elected
to the Senate in 1998. Here's a bet that when
trial lawyers are paired up against corporations
that abuse their power, Edwards's profession will
have a fighting chance.
grumbled that Edwards was Kerry's "second choice"
after Republican John McCain. Can't blame the
GOP for trying. But it's hard to think voters
will hold it against Kerry that he tried to reach
out to Republicans during a period of rancid partisanship.
yes, and one more point on that experience thing:
"When it comes time to make the decision to send
our young men and women into harm's way, that
decision should be made by a leader who knows
that such decisions have profound consequences.
There comes a time when our nation's leader can
no longer rely on briefing books and talking points."
That was McCain in 1999. He was talking about
the man who became our current president. You
wonder which side will be most eager to cite that
2004 The Washington Post Company
Posted: July 9, 2004