Democratic Underground

Edwards Provides the Best Balance

July 8, 2004
By Aden Nak

Now, I'm not going to talk about leadership here. I'm not even going to evaluate John Edwards' capacity to perform the duties of the Vice President (a challenging role once filled by Dan Quayle and currently filled by Satan, if you need a reminder of how hard the job is). What I am going to talk about here is the selling of a Presidency. About the marketing of John Kerry. From that standpoint, John Edwards was the only logical choice.

First of all, Kerry needed someone with name recognition. It wasn't even an issue. Bush and Cheney dominate the media right now, with both positive and negative coverage. If you say to the average American "Bush did this" or "Cheney did that" they will know exactly who you are talking about. Most Americans know the name of John Kerry, as well, but it certainly doesn't garner as much attention.

Part of the reason is that BushCo has done everything in its power to stay in the spotlight. Another part of the reason is that this election is as much about people who don't like Bush as it is about people who do like John Kerry. And of course, Bush is up to his eardrums in a political shitstorm. The media knows a good show when it sees one.

But the simple truth is that Kerry could not afford to have a never-ran as his VP candidate. No matter how exemplary or outstanding Governor So-And-So might have been, he'd still be "that Governor guy" to most of the voting population. And he'd likely be drowned out by Dick "Sailor-Mouth" Cheney. So that left Kerry with a short list of Democrats, most of whom ran in the 2004 Democratic Primary.

The next thing that Kerry needed was someone to balance the ticket. Spin it any way that you like, what this really is all about is having a "back up face" to show to people who really don't like John Kerry, but are looking for an excuse not to vote for George W. Bush. In other words, a balancing VP candidate is one that has the same message as John Kerry, but looks, acts and talks nothing like him.

There were two choices for VP candidates that did not run in the 2004 Primary. The first of these was Hillary Clinton. Clinton, however qualified, simply wasn't a viable candidate. It would have been pure cannon fodder for the right wing's media machine. I mean, they can't stop talking about the Clintons as it is, could you imagine a Kerry/Clinton ticket? It'd be conspiracy theory heaven for guys like Rush and O'Reilly. Then you have to add to that the fact that Kerry is already cast as a Northeastern Liberal Elite, whether or not that's the case. Hillary wouldn't balance that image at all. Quite to the contrary, she would tip it more heavily, and that's bad news in the red states.

The second was Al Gore. I doubt this idea was even floated within Kerry's inner circle, and if it was, I would hope that it got promptly demolished. Again, that's nothing against Al Gore. In fact, I still contend to this day that if the 2000 election had featured the feisty, aggressive Al Gore that I have seen in recent months, it would have been too much of a clear victory for any amount of Florida hijinx to swindle away (note to John Kerry: learn from Gore's mistake).

But Gore simply was not an option. Far too many swing voters already have a concept of him as being boring and dull. Kerry himself is being portrayed by the media as being a "dry" candidate, to say the least. Gore's public persona does not match the criteria for what John Kerry needs. He also has the stigma of 2000's highly suspect election victory/defeat, a stigma he will carry with him for the rest of his political career. The public is tired of that story, tired of the propaganda related to that story, and clearly has never wanted to deal with the implications of its resolution. Al Gore also opens the door back up for Clinton Conspiracy Theorists.

In the interest of time, allow me to dispatch the other "minor" contenders that ran in the 2004 Primary. Al Sharpton... just not going to happen. John Kerry is going to have a tough enough fight below the Mason-Dixon. Hey, it's not pretty, but it's true. This nation, as a whole, is not ready for a black man to be President or even Vice President. The racial backlash would be too great. And, of course, there is the fact that he accepted help from known Republican "dirty tricksters" during his 2004 Primary campaign, which put both his motives and his character in question.

Dennis Kucinich, clearly a left-wing favorite, also had no hope of being the VP candidate. He's an "issues candidate" and he shines in the context of an honest, logical dissection of those issues. This campaign isn't going to be about the issues, really. It's going to be about vicious, partisan politics at its worst. It's going to be about fear and oppression. It's going to be about social regression and spilled blood. Kucinich would have been lost in the noise, as would his message. He also would have been sideswiped by Cheney on an almost daily basis.

I'm going to lump Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle together here because most Americans that I talk to (that are not devoted Democrats) aren't sure which is which. They are both fine candidates, don't get me wrong. But they don't have the marketability that's needed to make Cheney stand out as the tragic abomination of unethical repugnance that he is. They also played it far, far too safe during Bush's first term, and agreed with or backed the President through a few too many boneheaded decisions. Now, you may say that many, many Democrats did the same thing. Yes, that's true. But they weren't the public faces of the Democratic party the way that Gephardt and Daschle were. They gambled that being "Bush Lite" in 2004 was the only way to get elected, and they were dead wrong. Sadly, it's too late to turn back from a marketing standpoint.

So who did that really leave us with? Well, the big three Primary Candidates. Dean, Clark and Edwards. All three of these options had the basic, necessary requirements to qualify for the VP slot. They all bring something-or-other to the table that Kerry does not. They all have excellent name recognition, and appeal to voters that would be otherwise turned off by a "Northeastern Liberal" ticket.

I am going to start with Wesley Clark, a clear favorite in many Democratic circles. First off, yes, Wesley Clark is a Four Star General. That is an amazing accomplishment, and an honorable achievement of enormous proportions. I remember thinking to myself that he might just sweep the whole Primary with status like that. How could an AWOL like Bush and a quintuple 4F'er like Cheney say they had a better understanding of military operations than a Four Star General?

Wesley Clark is a clever, honest, principled man, and I hold him in the highest esteem for both his accomplishments as an officer as well as for standing up to the NeoCons' dark vision for America's military. However, of our three remaining candidates, Wesley Clark brings the least new material to the table. He brings a military background to the ticket, which Kerry already has. He has a personally slow and somewhat reserved pace when speaking and presenting, which Kerry already has far, far too much of. He brings a limited amount of familiarity in the Southern and Midwestern red states, but not enough to make up for those points that he cannot balance for Kerry.

Howard Dean. That's a very loaded name, politically. Early on in the 2004 primary, it embodied a very different movement within the Democratic party. Dean was the rallying point for Democrats who had somehow retained their spines through three long years of George W. Bush. Dean knew he had to make himself stand out from presumed frontrunners like Gephardt, and damn but did he ever! He was outspoken, and he tackled issues like Iraq, the War on Terror, and the decimation of our basic Constitutional rights head on.

He proved that a Democrat didn't have to run as "Bush Lite" to be a serious contender. But he did more than just that. He proved that a non-"Bush Lite" candidate could attract votes from those pesky red states. He even courted them. His campaign was as much about disassociating Bush with the Heartland as it was about the issues at hand. It was working, too, or at least it seemed to be. Many in the Dean camp believe that the reason he lost the primaries was that he had too much broad spectrum appeal. He was already campaigning as if he'd won the election. It was the core of the Dean movement, really. The assumption that the only man worth standing up to was Bush, and that the only way to do so was to separate the Myth of Bush with the concept of America. And maybe it could have worked.

What Dean could have brought to the Kerry ticket was some much needed energy. The media portrays Kerry as being very dry, and somewhat drawn out in his presentation. Howard Dean was portrayed as many things, but dry was never one of them. He also had a very good response in the Midwest and Southern states, despite the fact that he himself was the governor of the Northeastern state of Vermont.

The problem with Dean is that he is clearly the star of any stage he is on. Kerry needs a VP candidate that will pump up his campaign, not take it over. Dean would make Kerry look absolutely stoic by comparison, and that might not be the kind of comparison that Kerry wants to face this November. Dean would fare well against Cheney in an open debate, though Cheney is exactly the sort of subcreaturous villain that could send Dean's rhetoric off the deep end.

The final issue is Dean as a media creation. Anyone who was a Dean supporter remembers the just barely tolerable coverage of Dean's "crazy" side. He was portrayed as a loose cannon by the Democrats and the Republicans alike. In truth, both parties share the blame for demonizing him, and for tarnishing his name. He'll forever carry that political burden because the Republicans wanted an easy assaulting point and the Democrats were so afraid of not being "Bush Lite" that they turned on any of their own ranks that broke from the party line. The Democratic party owes Howard Dean an enormous debt for saving them from themselves, in spite of themselves, but that debt should not be repaid with a VP slot in 2004.

So that brings us to John Edwards. The interesting thing about Edwards is that he is even on this list at all, let alone way down here at the end of it. His name recognition multiplied more than perhaps any other 2004 primary candidate. His message was already similar in content to John Kerry's, so there is less to resolve in that department. Yet at the same time, he brings things to the table that John Kerry cannot.

Edwards ran the first part of his campaign on one part exuberance and two parts message. The message itself was simple, and most effective when repeated over and over again (taking notes from Rove, perhaps, but to good effect). His stump speech about the "Two Americas", one in which everything George Bush said as true, and another in which the majority of Americans were in peril, rang true for voters across every demographic. In fact, his basic campaign outline was so successful that it was copied, in one form or another, by the rest of the primary candidates, as well as more than a few political pundits and essayists.

Edwards has a familiar feeling to him that resonates not just with the red states, but with a variety of other niche voting blocks. He tested very well with younger voters, who are generally more inclined to vote Democratic (if they can be rallied to get to the polls in the first place). He tested well throughout the South and the Midwest, where Kerry, as both a Democrat and a Northeastern Liberal, is going to have his weakest showing. He is the consummate Southern Democrat, populist in his policy, familiar in his delivery, careful to always tie himself to the basic tenets of American life. Edwards functions within the Bill Clinton mold without most of Clinton's baggage.

As far as a comparison with Cheney, there quite frankly is none. No amount of scowling or shifty-eyed sneering is going to dig Cheney out of the PR hole that will be the Vice Presidential debate. It will be Cheney, the corrupt, Grinch-esque neocon fanatic standing across from John Edwards, who couldn't be more the antithesis of Dick Cheney if he'd been drawn up from scratch for just that purpose. Edwards is at once the political outsider without being totally inexperienced. He is charismatic, and even optimistic, without being timid. In fact, he was consistently able to take vicious slashes at BushCo without painting a negative picture of himself.

Many left wingers believe that Dick Cheney will turn out to be the ultimate liability for George W. Bush this November. John Edwards just might be the ideal weapon to target that weakness.

Aden Nak is an easily agitatable computer technician and woefully underemployed freelance writer. More of his personal vitriol can be found at


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