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The Experience of Edwards

Phony Campaign Issue #4

by Barnabas
July 14, 2004

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In making his decision yesterday, Kerry should have kept that criterion of "the best man ready to take over" uppermost in his mind.

In my view, he failed that test. In the choice between the Democrat most ready to be president and the Democrat who would enliven a stalled campaign, Kerry played it safe and chose the political hottie, Edwards. —William Safire, New York Times

President Bush on Wednesday curtly dismissed Democratic Sen. John Edwards’ political skills and experience as a rival to his vice president, telling reporters "Dick Cheney can be president." —MSNBC, July 7

If I were a Republican columnist like Safire, or a Republican incumbent like George Bush, I don’t believe I could speak with a straight face about the qualifications of their Vice-presidential candidates to be President. They began the 20th century with Theodore Roosevelt, which is indeed beginning with a bang; but since then it’s been hard to see what criteria they have used. This is, after all, the party of Harding, Coolidge, Nixon, Agnew, and Quayle and those are just the names we remember. Serious reasons for their vice-presidential nomination may be dredged up by historical scholarship, but none surface in popular memory as things we learned in school. (Though he blew his opportunity, Nixon was qualified, on paper, to be President. But that was in 1969, not in 1953 when he was first elected vice-president.) 
They were not all unmitigated disasters. Some of them were mitigated. I do remember one Democrat remarking, after the election of the Bush-Quayle ticket in 1988, that he would do some earnest praying for the life and health of Bush. 
Experience counts for zilch if you don’t get elected. Since 1960, in both parties, "experienced" candidates have run for vice-president. Some have won. For the Democrats, Humphrey, Mondale, and Gore have won – all of them senior members of the Senate when elected. For the Republicans, among the experienced, Bush the First and Cheney have won. Their other winners were Agnew and Quayle. Of the elected Vice-presidents, two Republicans went on to be elected President on their own. None of the Democrats managed it, though three have tried. 
But I disagree with the President that Dick Cheney can be President. He has certainly demonstrated that he can Run Things, but there is a lot more to the Presidency than that. With satisfaction, therefore, I noted that a sizeable public dissed the President’s one-liner; in the CNN/USA Today poll, a majority of 57 percent said they thought Edwards was qualified to be president. "Edwards also has higher favorability ratings than Cheney, who has become a lightning rod for criticism of the Bush administration in the wake of the Iraq war."
Edward’s experience is a phony campaign issue, and will soon pass away. All reasonable Republicans know that if they had an equivalent candidate, and no incumbent in the White House, he would have a good shot at the nomination for either President or Vice-president. (Unreasonable Republicans would argue that Dan Quayle was more qualified in 1988 than Edwards is now, because to them Republicans Always Make the Right Decisions.) 
Besides, nobody is experienced "enough" to be President. The test of the office is in how quickly, after inauguration, the new President becomes experienced. Edwards appears to be one who can do that, if called upon.
The real issue, it seems to me, is not Edwards’ experience or lack thereof, but Cheney’s vulnerability. If the President wants to win more than anything – which is the usual scenario – he will pressure Cheney into resigning for "health reasons," and open the nomination to one of the Republican superstars. 
Of course, the Republicans could win anyway. Didn’t they win in 2000?

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