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Carol Platt Liebau - Columnist

Carol Platt Liebau is editorial director and a senior member of the editorial board. She is an attorney, political analyst and commentator based in San Marino, CA, and has appeared on the Fox News Channel, MSNBC, CNN, Orange County News Channel, Cox Cable and a variety of radio programs throughout the United States. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Carol Platt Liebau also served as the first female managing editor of the Harvard Law Review. [go to Liebau index]

The Charisma Choice
Is Edwards really a good pick for Kerry?
[Carol Platt Liebau] 7/6//04

It's textbook that a presidential candidate selects a vice president to provide balance -- whether in terms of geography, experience, or area of expertise. By selecting John Edwards as his running mate, John Kerry has decided to balance his ticket for likability.

Edwards undoubtedly brings a spark of youthful enthusiasm to a presidential candidate who often seems pretentious, self-regarding and tiresome. He seems young, attractive and affable.

As for geographical balance, he is, of course, from the South, but Edwards declined to run for a second senatorial term in large part because it seemed clear that he could not win reelection. Nor is the ticket balanced ideologically -- though Edwards has enjoyed a reputation as a "moderate," upon closer scrutiny, his voting record for the most part is reliably liberal.

His experience in the Senate has been minimal -- contradicting Kerry's oft-stated assertion that, in choosing a vice president, his chief criterion would be the nominee's preparedness to assume office immediately in an emergency. During the primary, Kerry himself criticized Edwards' lack of experience. And in fact, Edwards' record in elective office is significantly weaker than that of the oft-maligned Dan Quayle -- who had served two terms in the House of Representatives and then seven years in the Senate (where he had defeated Indiana institution Sen. Birch Bayh). Where Quayle had enjoyed a reputation as someone with significant knowledge about defense issues (at least before the national press got through with him!) and worked with Senator Edward Kennedy to pass the Jobs Training Partnership Act while in the Senate, Edwards has not become associated with any important piece of legislation or policy.

Nor does Edwards bring any background in the executive branch of government to the ticket. So neither Edwards nor Kerry has any experience in making the tough decisions that leading as an executive (like a governor) -- rather than as one of 100 senators -- often requires.

But there's no denying that Edwards was the hands-down choice of the Democratic party faithful. It has been reported that Kerry lacks the personal chemistry with Edwards that he enjoys with Dick Gephardt, for example. One must wonder whether Kerry's choice of Edwards actually betokens a lack of confidence in his ability to reconcile his own followers to another choice -- an example, in short, of a "leader" actually being led by his constituents.

Finally, there is a decided downside for Kerry in the Edwards pick -- one that may not be immediately apparent but which will become so, over time. That is Edwards' history as a trial lawyer, which will almost certainly galvanize big business and pro-business institutions to -- quietly but firmly -- support Bush-Cheney with much more fervor than they might otherwise have demonstrated. In fact, the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated back in February that the Chamber would become involved in presidential politics for the first time -- to endorse President Bush -- if Edwards appeared on the Democratic ticket. Business' antipathy to trial lawyers generally may also impact both parties' fundraising -- providing a boost to Bush and presenting some problems for Kerry. And it will once again play into fears that Kerry, deemed the most liberal member of the Senate, is merely a throwback to pre-Clinton Democrats with a knee-jerk hostility to business generally.

It seems likely that Kerry-Edwards will receive a bump in the polls at least initially from this pick. Whether it will wear well over time is a different story -- my sense is that Edwards may have more political enemies (even among his fellow senators, jealous of his easy, immediate success) than the Kerry campaign has currently counted on.

Who would have been a better choice? Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana. He would have provided a Midwestern flavor to the ticket; has served as both a governor and a senator; has good relationships with the business community; might well have brought Indiana (generally a reliably Republican state) into the Democratic column and -- above all -- would have given the Kerry ticket a real leg up in the vital neighboring state of Ohio. Like Edwards, Evan Bayh would have come across as a moderate, young, articulate, attractive and experienced candidate.

But Edwards is the choice -- and time alone will tell whether it was inspired or mistaken. CRO

Columnist Carol Platt Liebau is a political analyst, commentator and editorial director based in San Marino, CA.

copyright 2004


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