July 08, 2004,
EDITOR'S NOTE: This editorial appears in the (forthcoming) July 26, 2004, issue of National Review.
With the selection of John Edwards, John Kerry has shown that he is more ambitious than self-indulgent. It would have been natural for Kerry to carry resentments from the primaries. He could reasonably have feared that Edwards's fans in the press would write that Kerry will be upstaged by his running mate. Kerry decided that Edwards would help him win the election, and all merely personal considerations were laid aside.
We are inclined to think that Kerry's calculation was correct: Edwards brings real strengths to the Democratic ticket. He is an attractive figure. Voters seem to respond to youth, energy, and good looks. Edwards may also help Kerry appeal to centrist voters: Americans outside the South have a dated perception of how conservative southern Democrats are. Edwards's campaign speech, though centered on the idea that Americans who are not rich have little hope of making it on their own, somehow comes across as optimistic. So Kerry may find himself competing with Edwards over who can better excite the crowds. The competition may be good for Kerry. Edwards does not much help him win voters concerned about national security but Kerry was always going to have to stand or fall on his own in this area.
Republicans will be tempted to make an issue of Edwards's background as a trial lawyer. They should not overestimate the extent to which the public at large shares their dislike of trial lawyers. They make their money, after all, by telling sympathetic stories that win over ordinary people.
Edwards does, however, have weaknesses. He has a very liberal voting record. Kerry-Edwards is the least ideologically balanced ticket the Democrats have run since 1984. Edwards reinforces the protectionist cast of the ticket, and of the contemporary Democratic party. While many voters worry about jobs going abroad, how well does that worrying comport with the optimism that the campaign wishes to project?
Edwards believes that President Bush, by trying to end the tax code's bias against savings, has sided with "wealth" over "work." Edwards is therefore very nearly making a frontal assault on the new investor class. Millions of Americans want to build wealth in capital markets, and do not believe they should pay taxes for the privilege. A smart Republican campaign should be able to mobilize them.
Like Kerry, Edwards voted to authorize war in Iraq and, like Kerry, voted against funds for the post-war mission. That is a hard position to defend, and suggests unseriousness or worse. Like Kerry, Edwards voted for the Patriot Act, and then spent months claiming that its implementation was a threat to civil liberties. Kerry has switched positions, or at least emphases, again. Presumably Edwards will, too. But voters may want a steadier commitment to fighting terrorism.
Bush and Cheney have shown some lassitude this year. They should get their campaign started. The spur of competition might do them some good, too.