Sunday, 25 July 2004
Too cute to be Vice President? - THE COMMENTARY
By Joseph Planta
VANCOUVER - The emergence of the Kerry-Edwards ticket on the Democratic side gives many wags much to discuss as the campaign gets a bump in prominence in the run-up to this week's Democratic Convention, when both John's will be formally nominated. There was a point, it was probably after the CNN/Los Angeles Times debate where it looked impossible that Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts would tap the youthful Senator from North Carolina to be his running mate. After all, after Howard Dean's implosion, the race to head the Democratic ticket was between these two.
At one point, the Kerry campaign noted John Edwards's relative youth and lack of experience, saying it did not lend itself well for a prospective commander-in-chief. At 51, he looks at least 35, and has a youthful vigour that the craggy-faced Kerry was lacking. Edwards had what Kerry lacked. First of all, Edwards, besides looking like a smart real estate salesman, had a stump speech on the campaign trail. His idea of "two Americas" really hit the nail on the head, and resonated with the American public. It was a hopeful message that was unlike the Howard Dean message which was rather angry, and deeply anti-Bush. The Edwards message was less offensive than any I-have-a-scream speeches that the former Vermont governor could muster, or the toneless drones that John Kerry still presents. Now as a team, Kerry and Edwards appear youthful and dynamic. Though Senator Edwards's foreign policy experience is a bit short, not to mention that he's barely finishing his first term in the Senate, with no prior political experience, John Kerry is steeped in Washingtonian politics, a Senator for eons not to mention a Vietnam vet. If there is a lesson in the decline of Howard Dean despite a raucous entry into American politics, and its amazing reinvention of the political campaign, it's that Democrats ought not to expect to succeed only by vilifying the current administration. The sins of the Bush administration, and articulating those over and over again, will not be enough for the Democrats to win. Clearly specifying an alternative against Bush and the Republicans and selling that to the American public will elect Kerry-Edwards in November. And the kind of message they sell will be of essence. I keep going back to the example of Ronald Reagan, for it was he who realised that the public was more receptive to hope, rather than long-term pain. Politicians need to eschew the politics of fear, and find a hopeful message from which to banter about.
This week's convention could be a terrific opportunity for the Democrats. It has the opportunity of putting the Democrats front and centre of the political consciousness, what with all the media descending on Boston for live hits and continuing coverage. Political conventions have run their course, as precious little politics is done in determining who the nominee is, as well as debating what policy planks are to be included in the campaign platform. Conventions serve to only provide the political apparatus with free commercial time on network television. Networks blithely proffer the speeches by major party stalwarts in prime time. Most Americans aren't watching, but suppose they do, this will only be of benefit to the Democrats. Cynical as they are, voters aren't watching Dan, Peter and Tom anymore, or even FOX News, CNN or MSNBC for news. Rather they're getting their news from Jon Stewart or Dave Letterman or Jay Leno's monologues, thus if the convention hits the comic radar screen then it's conceivable that the conventions will offer a bump in polls.
The convention this week will be critical for Kerry and Edwards. The acceptance speech of a candidate provides the general public their first taste of the candidate and the ideals that he believes in. George W. Bush's speech in Philadelphia in 2000 provided the world with an idea of who Bush was, though it's since lost most of its context. John Kerry's speech will define his presidency. If he does well, Kerry will be stumping around the country throughout the next hundred days, with that message. If he fails, then from now to November 1st he'll be amending what he has to say, and hem and haw further, giving credence to the flip-flop stigma already attached to him. For Edwards, this will be his time to shine, and his time to help engage voters. Americans don't usually care who the vice presidential candidate is. George H.W. Bush succeeded with Dan Quayle on the ticket, don't forget. It looks as if Edwards won't be of much help to Kerry in southern states, where it was hoped he would. However there are about a hundred days left before voting day and it's possible that should the Democratic ticket trump, perhaps it'll be because of Edwards criss-crossing the country presenting a more receptive message than that of John Kerry, who often alienates voters. The idea that Kerry is a Massachusetts liberal does not bode well throughout the heartland of America. That's why Edwards, despite his Georgetown address and millions made as a trial lawyer, will refer to himself as a son of a mill worker, so as to connect with middle America. That's what Edwards brings to the ticket.
Kerry's problem is that stigma of being a flip-flopper, but also that of being an elitist liberal. Being from the northeast doesn't help either. And with his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry at his side, it's also proved to be a roulette wheel as to whether she helps or detracts support from him. Hillary Clinton she is not, rather she's more unpredictable and perhaps less phoney. That's good for those of us who abhor phoniness, but it could hurt John Kerry, what with her egregious body language, and her rather inane expressions on the campaign trail. Sure John Edwards is an appealing man, if not too cute to be president, as his wife Elizabeth once said of him, but does Mrs. Heinz Kerry have to say he's "very beautiful." And does she have to say that her husband was "smart" to see that in him, thus give him co-ownership of the ticket? Not to mention, this is the woman who extolled, very vocally, the virtues of Botox, and who admitted to using it. And who told a magazine that she would not kill, but maim her husband, should he be messing around with another woman. Senator Kerry's called her sexy; she described herself as saucy. It is a safe bet that most will be watching what she has to say with bated breath. And no more will that be evident, then within the Kerry campaign itself.
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An archive of Joseph Planta's previous columns can be found by clicking HERE .