Dick Cheney and John Edwards Trade Barbs on the Campaign Trail
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KWAME HOLMAN: Over the past week, John Edwards has been out on the campaign trail on his own, without John Kerry, and drawing enthusiastic crowds.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I love Iowa, and I am so happy to be back here.
KWAME HOLMAN: And since Kerry announced Edwards as his running mate two weeks ago, the number-two on the other major party ticket, Vice President Dick Cheney, also has become more visible on the campaign trail.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Inflation’s down, productivity is up, real disposable income’s up. We’ve got everything headed in the right direction.
KWAME HOLMAN: In Missouri, Arizona Sen. John McCain introduced the vice president with a jibe at the youthful-looking Edwards.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: In short, my friends, Vice President Cheney is not just another pretty face.
KWAME HOLMAN: Cheney followed up on the comparison of vice presidential candidates.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Somebody said to me the other day that Sen. Edwards got picked because he’s sexy, good looking, charming. I said, “How do you think I got this job?”
KWAME HOLMAN: Cheney then took up one of his campaign’s themes, that the two Democrats flip-flop on issues.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: These are not times for leaders who shift with the political winds saying one thing one day, and another the next. And that brings to mind our opponents in this campaign. Sen. Kerry’s position on big issues often depends on when you ask him.
When Congress voted to authorize force against Saddam Hussein, Sen. Kerry voted yes. This year, when it served his political purposes, he described himself as an opponent of the war. When it came time to fund our troops in Iraq, he managed to take both sides of that issue, as well.
Last fall, at the president’s request, Congress considered legislation providing critical funding for our troops– for body armor and other vital support, such as hazard pay, ammunition, jet fuel, vehicles and spare parts. The legislation passed overwhelmingly with a vote in the Senate of 87 to 12, and that small group of 12 senators voting no included Sen. Kerry and Sen. Edwards.
Later, Sen. Kerry gave one of those explanations we’ve all come to expect from him. He said, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.” Well that sure clears things up.
The second time the issue of troop funding came up, senators Kerry and Edwards signaled their own priorities by not even showing up for the vote. Earlier this week, Sen. Kerry told us he is proud that he and Sen. Edwards voted against funding for the troops. Later, he explained that his decision to oppose funding for our military personnel was “complicated.”
Funding American troops in combat should not be a complicated choice. We need a president who will back our troops 100 percent, and that’s exactly the kind of president we have.
KWAME HOLMAN: In the midst of campaigning, however, Cheney also addressed rumors that President Bush was considering asking him to step aside.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: If I thought that were appropriate, I certainly would. But he’s made it very clear that he wants me to run again.
KWAME HOLMAN: Meanwhile, John Edwards has spent recent days promoting John Kerry.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I’ve gotten to know John Kerry very well, as the people in this audience have seen. You know, we served in the Senate together. We were on the campaign trail for a long period of time together. I’ve seen what he’s made of. I know about his fight, his values, his determination, because when he left Vietnam, he didn’t stop.
He went on to become a prosecutor protecting people from crime; a leader in the Senate fighting for jobs, health care, clean air, clean water, all the things that all of us care about; standing up for family farmers, which is so important here in the state of Iowa.
We need a president who will do that. John Kerry will fight to get rid of the greed and the waste in our healthcare system so that we’ll have a healthcare system that actually works for all Americans, bringing down healthcare costs for all Americans, and providing healthcare coverage to the millions of Americans who have no healthcare coverage. That’s what we’ll get when John Kerry is our president.
He will fight for a strong military and also for strong alliances, so that no young American man or woman ever goes to war needlessly because America has decided to go it alone, not when John Kerry is president of the United States. And as I said, John Kerry will fight for a strong military. He’ll also fight for the men and women who serve this country both here and abroad.
And one other thing, he will never forget the millions of Americans who have served with courage. I’m talking now — I’m talking now about our extraordinary veterans who have put their lives on the line for this country. John Kerry is a veteran. He understands their problems. He will stand up for them. He will be their president.
KWAME HOLMAN: But at a California fundraiser last weekend, Edwards did mention the attacks from the other ticket.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I’ll tell you something… you’ve seen over the last three- to-four months since it became clear that John would be the nominee, you’ve seen relentless negative attacks, and I’ll tell you something: You can look forward to, between now and election day, a continuation of the same negative attack. Aren’t you sick of it?
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I want to make a prediction for you. With your help… with your help, between now and November, the American people are going to reject this tired old hateful negative politics of the past.
KWAME HOLMAN: Edwards’ prediction notwithstanding, Vice President Cheney launched another barb yesterday in Ohio.
VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: Sen. Kerry’s running mate is a trial lawyer who is very experienced at suing doctors. And together they are two of the most consistent opponents of medical liability reform in the United States Senate. Based on their record, there is little doubt that a Kerry/Edwards administration would have no interest in liability reform.
Simply stated, when it comes to the legal crisis in American health care, the Kerry/Edwards ticket is on the side of personal injury trial lawyers and the Bush/Cheney ticket is on the side of doctors and their patients.
KWAME HOLMAN: John Edwards later called Cheney’s remarks dead wrong.
JIM LEHRER: Now to two New York Times reporters: Rick Lyman has been covering John Edwards; Dick Stevenson has been tracking Dick Cheney.
Dick Stevenson, how would you describe Vice President Cheney’s overall message, overriding message?
RICHARD W. STEVENSON: Well, his primary function is to go out and talk to the conservative base of the Republican Party. He does so by talking about the economy and the progress that they say they’ve made through tax cuts and about national security and the war in Iraq.
He’s been an unapologetic proponent of the view that Saddam Hussein was a threat and needed to be taken care of. And he’s an unapologetic believer in tax cuts as the biggest form of stimulus for the economy. And he goes out and pounds those messages home day after day after day.
JIM LEHRER: We ran some clips just now that were mostly anti-Kerry anti-Edwards. How is the usual balance between talking about what he and President Bush have accomplished and what… how bad Edwards and Kerry are?
RICHARD W. STEVENSON: Well, they do balance it. I mean a lot of people always assume that vice presidential candidates are the attack dogs. Certainly Cheney and Edwards are playing that role. But, you know, in fairness certainly to Cheney and I assume to John Edwards, they do talk about what they’ve accomplished a lot. And, you know, Cheney, as I said, is a very forceful advocate for Bush. He talks to crowds that are, you know, already sold on the Bush-Cheney ticket. And he gets a very enthusiastic response.
JIM LEHRER: Rick, what about John Edwards? What is his theme, his main message that he’s trying to get over?
RICK LYMAN: I’d say 75 percent of what he talks about is John Kerry. He feels that there are too many voters who still don’t know John Kerry, still don’t understand his life and appreciate him and that he wants to introduce this man to people who don’t know about him. So, at least three quarters of his speeches are about Sen. Kerry. Beyond that, he’s relentlessly upbeat, high energy, optimistic, hopeful — as many kind of positive buttons as he can press is what he tries to do.
JIM LEHRER: What is his message about John Kerry? What is he trying to tell people?
RICK LYMAN: Partly, he’s… partly it’s very personal. He’s speaking for the most part and in recent days to fund-raisers which means he’s speaking to people… strong supporters of the ticket already who have given money to be there or to groups that are already extremely pro-Democratic so he’s speaking to the base just as Vice President Cheney is now.
And he’s in part trying to take some of the positive aura that came from his own presidential campaign and transfer it to Sen. Kerry and to talk about his personal relationship with him and how well he knows him and how much he can personally testify to the positive attributes of Sen. Kerry.
JIM LEHRER: How would you describe what he says about Iraq?
RICK LYMAN: I would say that it isn’t a huge part of his standard stump speech.
JIM LEHRER: Not a huge part.
RICK LYMAN: No. But it’s a part of it. He will say that certainly Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein, certainly the world is better off without Saddam Hussein. But that doesn’t mean that everything is fine. There was no clear plan for… to win the peace is a line that he’ll use frequently. He talks about the need to bring former allies and leaders even in the region back into discussions with the United States who he says have been alienated by the Bush Iraq policies.
So he’ll hit those two points. He’ll also talk about the need to ensure that the elections coming up in Iraq are, you know, as transparent as possible.
JIM LEHRER: Dick, you said the vice president is very unapologetic about anything that’s happened in Iraq. Does he ever bring up the issue of weapons of mass destruction? Is that part of his normal presentation?
RICHARD W. STEVENSON: He doesn’t usually talk about it on the stump directly, although, you know, he will allude to the fact that Saddam certainly had the capability of constituting weapons of mass destruction.
He often uses a line to the effect of it’s not the perception of strength from the United States that draws terrorist attacks, rather it’s a perception of weakness that draws terrorist attacks, which is a way of him trying to make the case that by going to Iraq, we haven’t created more terrorism; we’ve confronted it and taken it on and tried to make the world safer.
You know — but the vice president is taking a higher profile not just in terms of campaign appearances over the last month or so he’s been interviewed a lot. And, in some of those interviews he’s been, you know, quite defiant against some of the criticism about what we know about WMD and what we don’t know, what we know about links between Iraq and al-Qaida and what we don’t know.
And he has not by any means backed off of his pre-war assertions about the immediate threat, the immediate danger from Saddam Hussein, his weapons programs and his ties to terrorist organizations.
JIM LEHRER: Rick, how does Sen. Edwards handle the big rap that’s being put on him by the Republicans with experience? Does he talk about that directly in his stump speech?
RICK LYMAN: He doesn’t talk about it directly. It will often come up in question-and-answer sessions afterwards. You know, he basically shrugs it off. It’s a no-win situation for him. If you’ve had long experience in Washington, you’re criticized as a Washington insider. If you don’t have enough you don’t have enough experience. So he just says my experience is sufficient.
JIM LEHRER: What about the trial lawyer rap?
RICK LYMAN: He’s much more forceful about that. When comments are made about trial lawyers, the attacks about lawyers, he tends to spring forward much more quickly to the defense of trial lawyers.
JIM LEHRER: He makes no apologies for being a trial lawyer.
RICK LYMAN: Quite the opposite. He talks about being very proud of his profession, his background. In the last couple of days traveling with him, there were several times when he could have responded forcefully to things that President Bush and Vice President Cheney had said and he didn’t respond at all.
The one time that he really did was when the– on the previous report, the comment about trial lawyers and about how the two of them had been supportive of trial lawyers. He very quickly came back on that.
JIM LEHRER: Came back on that. Dick, Rick mentioned earlier the tone… Edwards’ tone, upbeat, optimistic. How would you describe the vice president’s in contrast?
RICHARD W. STEVENSON: Well, I mean this is not a guy who is a kind of fist- pumping, you know, crowd- pleasing orator by any means. The contrast between him and Edwards in demeanor and tone and tile is very, very sharp. It’s going to be real interesting I think when they get to the debate in the fall between the two of them.
But, you know, they do their best when Cheney is out campaigning to humanize him. His wife often travels with him. They often have their kids or grandchildren with them. They make sure to tell stories that are kind of funny. Last weekend he was out, there were people holding up signs that said Cheney rocks.
But he often delivers his speech kind of looking down at his text. He only half jokingly a couple of weeks ago said to a crowd that was interrupting him with applause, you know, do you want to hear the speech or not? So he’s not really the most compelling public speaker in the world.
They’ve tried to deal with that to a large extent by making fun of it or turning his demeanor to their advantage by suggesting he’s a real serious guy and that we need now in this day and age is a real serious guy and not by implication a pretty boy John Edwards type.
JIM LEHRER: And by contrast Sen. Edwards never reads from a text does he in these stump speeches?
RICK LYMAN: No, ever. I’ve never seen it.
JIM LEHRER: Does he essentially say the same thing every place he goes?
RICK LYMAN: Essentially. Towards the end of his own presidential campaign it was very almost eerie to go from event to event and to see how he had really honed it to such a perfect shine. He was… he’s very good at… was an extremely skilled orator, the kind of fist pumping that Dick was talking about, I mean he’s very, very good at it.
He knows in his speech where the responses are going to come from the audience. And he has his ready-made ad libs to come back on it. He’s very, very good at it. It’s like watching someone, I mean, the comparison that came to my mind is I did a story once about stand-up comics. He’s extremely good at the rapport with the audience at the illusion of a conversation with the audience that’s not really a conversation.
JIM LEHRER: I see. Okay. Well, Rick, Dick, thank you both very much.