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Can two Johns re-create a Jack?
by Joan Vennochi
The Boston Globe
July 13, 2004

IT TOOK more than 40 years, but the Democratic Party finally found itself another John F. Kennedy.

The modern twist: in 2004, it takes two men, not one, to play the prince of Camelot.

John Kerry has the right resume but lacks the Kennedy charisma. John Edwards has charisma but lacks the Kennedy portfolio. Like pieces of a puzzle, the two Johns might just make one Jack. That is the party bet.

Kerry, the presidential candidate, brings naval war hero status and a privileged upbringing, just like the fallen president. Kerry also brings Senate experience, a good head of hair, and the JFK initials.

Edwards, Kerry's pick for vice president, offers youth, vigor, and adorable young children. He is at ease with himself and the press. He can banter one minute and the next minute launch his elegant riff about "two Americas." During the primary season, he withstood insulting questions about his "Breck girl" hair with charm and a pleasant drawl.

John Forbes Kerry may do or say whatever it takes to win the White House, but he cannot become the John Fitzgerald Kennedy voters of a certain age recall from news clips. Like his confusing statements on war, gay marriage, and now abortion, Kerry's charm deficit cannot be willed away. Edwards and family look and sound more like the old news clips, but he cannot enhance the heft deficit in his political resume between now and November. On their own, neither measures up to the original JFK.

Those deficits may matter less to voters than the truth-telling deficit in the Oval Office regarding war with Iraq. Still, they represent the Republicans' best chance for victory. If voters fall so much in love with the handsome picture of a Kerry-Edwards ticket they decline to deconstruct it, George W. Bush will not be reelected.

Attacking Edwards on grounds of political lightness is unlikely to greatly help the GOP cause. George H.W. Bush picked Dan Quayle to be his running mate, and it doesn't get lighter than that. Even so, Dukakis-Bentsen failed to derail Bush-Quayle in 1988 despite Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen's debate crusher: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you are no Jack Kennedy." Edwards is smoother, more cerebral, and much more articulate than the Indiana senator who ended up as vice president. It's hard to imagine Dick Cheney taking him down in similar fashion, although Cheney did better than expected against Joe Lieberman in 2000.

The voters' ultimate comfort level with Kerry is another matter. Edwards is the sunshine on the ticket, and it remains to be seen how long the presidential candidate enjoys basking in his running mate's glow. Choosing Edwards demonstrates a humility not usually associated with the Massachusetts senator. Accepting the media's unqualified love affair with Edwards up until Election Day requires more of the same.

In the meantime, Kerry continues to give voters reason to question his core convictions. The candidate's recent statements regarding abortion are a prime example. "I oppose abortion, personally. I don't like abortion. I believe life begins at conception," he told an Iowa newspaper. If that is his belief, why the long voting record favoring abortion rights? Do voters want a president who is for and against abortion, just as he was for the $87 billion for Iraq before he was against it?

Raising such questions about Kerry brings a burst of brutish criticism from liberals, who argue that these are small matters compared with the Bush administration's false premise for war with Iraq. The argument from the anyone-but-Bush crowd does not lack merit. But if a candidate who wants to be all things to all people turns into a president with the same goal, where, exactly, does he plan to lead the country? Voters have a right to know. Leadership requires choices, not obfuscation. Bush made his choices and will live or lose with them on Election Day. Kerry still has a lot of explaining to do.

The question is, will anyone make him explain much of anything between now and Election Day?

Camelot calls. It is a place flooded with fond, fuzzy memories. The pictures running through the mind's eye are beautiful -- a smiling handsome president leading us to the New Frontier, beautiful, young children, and a demure, gracious wife.

But wait a minute, which John is the new JFK? Kerry or Edwards? It gets a bit confusing. Maybe two Johns do equal a Jack. Or maybe they don't.

Posted: July 13, 2004


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