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July 23, 2004 | Page 9
ELIZABETH SCHULTE looks at John Kerry's choice for a vice presidential running mate.
THE MEDIA portrayed the weeks before John Kerry announced his running mate as a real nail-biter. Rumors circulated about secret midnight meetings with a range of contenders, and Kerry campaign officials painted the process as the most serious of decisions.
But in the end, the choice of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was about as "mysterious" and "serious" as a beautiful baby contest. In Edwards, the Democrats found the most obvious possible middle-of-the-road choice for their uninspiring campaign to defeat George W. Bush.
Edwards is the perfect expression of the whole phony idea of "what the public wants" in a political candidate--boyish good looks, "down-home" appeal, salt-of-the-earth beginnings, and father of two photogenic young children. But this isn't where the Edwards "appeal" ends.
Kerry has found his twin on any number of policy issues--and like Kerry himself, Edwards is hard to distinguish from Bush. Edwards also voted to give congressional authority for Bush to go to war on Iraq.
The month before the vote, Edwards showed his enthusiasm in a column titled "Message to Saddam," which appears on his Web site. "Iraq's destructive capacity has the potential to throw the entire Middle East into chaos, and poses a mortal threat to our vital ally, Israel," he wrote. "America must act, and Congress must make clear to Saddam that he faces a united nation."
Later, Edwards and Kerry both denounced Bush for misleading them. This, even though Edwards was serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee--a committee whose chair, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), voted against the invasion, calling the CIA estimates of Iraq's military threat unreliable.
If they take the White House, the John-John team is prepared to use the fear of terrorism just as cynically as the Bush administration to rationalize military intervention abroad and a crackdown on civil liberties at home. "Today, we face a terrorist movement that has no interest in bargaining, only in killing," Edwards said in December. "If Al Qaeda had possessed a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon on September 11th, there is no doubt in my mind they would have tried to use it.
"That is why to win the global war on terror, America does not need a new doctrine of pre-emption; we need a new strategy of prevention." For Edwards, this means more troops in Afghanistan and around the world--and even greater power for the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies.
In June 2003, Edwards declared, "We cannot in the name of the war on terrorism and the need for homeland security let people like John Ashcroft take away our lives, our liberties, our freedoms." To hear this, you wouldn't know that Edwards voted for the civil rights-shredding USA PATRIOT Act--like his newfound friend Kerry.
Edwards is for creating a completely new federal agency to track down domestic terrorists--something on the order of Britain's notorious MI5, the "Homeland Intelligence Agency." He wants $10 billion more for homeland security and an increase in immigration and Border Patrol officials.
Kerry and the Democrats hope that Edwards' beginnings as the son of a North Carolina textile worker will protect the campaign from the image of Kerry's New England billionaire background. And they count on Edwards--who comes from a "swing" state that hasn't voted Democrat since 1976--to win over conservative Southern voters who have defected to the Republican Party.
But Edwards has come a long way from his hometown of Robbins, N.C.--a town that Kerry touts as "a place where people had big smiles and big heart and people went to church on Sunday." After law school, Edwards worked for the law firm of Tennessee's former Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander.
In 1981, he returned to North Carolina and worked for the law firm of Wade Smith, a former Democratic Party state chair. Edwards won his first multimillion-dollar verdict in 1984. Starting his own firm with David Kirby in 1993, Edwards tried at least 63 major cases during the 1990s, brought in more than $152 million for his clients, almost all of them victims of medical malpractice--and millions for himself as well.
In 1998, the wealthy young lawyer set his sights on a Senate seat held by Republican Lauch Faircloth. After spending $6 million of his own fortune, he narrowly won with 51.2 percent of the vote.
Like Kerry, Edwards has no trouble making ends meet--or finding powerful friends to fill his campaign coffers. Much of the money for his presidential campaign came from other wealthy trial lawyers. In the first quarter of fundraising, Edwards led the pack.
Corporate America won't have to worry about Edwards' rhetoric about "two Americas--one for the privileged and one for everybody else" translating into biting the corporate hand that feeds him. In fact, at one of his many fundraising stops last week, Edwards had a little fun at the expense of his carefully coiffed "populist image." Edwards grinned at the 400 people who had paid at least $1,000 each to attend the event at a fancy resort and proclaimed, "This is the other America."
Edwards never veers too far left of center on social issues--and usually steers more to the right. He says that he would uphold women's legal right to abortion, but also says, "I think partial-birth abortions should be banned...These are terribly gruesome procedures."
He supports the death penalty. He opposes gay marriage, but says it should be for individual states to decide. He also proposes scholarships to students who serve in "homeland security professions" for at least five years after graduation. For all these reasons, the Democratic Party establishment found the vice president that it wants in Edwards.
As the conservative, pro-business Democratic Leadership Council's Web newsletter, the New Dem Daily, said, "Like the Clinton-Gore ticket in 1992, the Kerry-Edwards ticket sends the same strong, unmistakable signal about 2004: The New Democrat message can compete anywhere, from the South to the West, from suburbs to small towns...Both are 'Blair Democrats' who supported the use of force in Iraq and advocate a tough-minded internationalism in foreign relations. Both have strong centrist records of support for fiscal discipline, middle-class tax cuts and work-based welfare reform."
That leaves anyone who not only wants to see Bush and Cheney kicked out of office, but an end to the policies they promoted with very little choice at all.