Democratic Presidential Candidate Kerry Selects Edwards as Running Mate
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JIM LEHRER: And now how the Edwards choice looks to Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks
Mark, why did Kerry choose Edwards?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, it’s always most revealing to me about choice, about it says about the presidential nominee, and when in 1981, Ronald went Gerald Ford, former president, and asked him to run with him, what it said about Reagan was I’m comfortable with myself; I’m confident; I’m not afraid of being overshadowed; and secondly, I want to win. I think the same could be said today.
John Kerry doesn’t have the pizzazz, doesn’t have the charisma, doesn’t have the connection with voters that John Edwards demonstrated repeatedly in the campaign, in the primary campaign, and — but rather than be concerned about being overshadowed, he said, I’m going to win, and I think there were other choices say would be a better help in governing the country, perhaps starting next January, but in order to do that, you’ve got to win in November.
JIM LEHRER: What would you add to that?
DAVID BROOKS: It’s a great — I think Edwards is the brightest star in the Democratic Party right now. I think he’d be stronger than John Kerry actually as a candidate. I’ve been trying to be negative all day but Edwards is the brightest star.
He brings independence, throughout the primary season when they did polls John Edwards polled better among the independents than anybody else in the field. The other thing is he brings middle class voters and lower middle class voters. We’re going to hear the word “middle class” a lot. And John Kerry demonstrated that he understands what he lacks, which is that innate natural bond with the regular folks in suburban and rural America, which John Edwards has.
JIM LEHRER: You said on this program many times during the primary campaign that John Edwards was the only Democratic candidates who talked about the poor people, too.
DAVID BROOKS: Well, absolutely. That’s another thing he’s done very well. You know, this class sensibility that he has is deep in him. I’ve heard him talk about it before the presidential race. He knows who was born rich and poor. Some of the resentment he had for Howard Dean and John Kerry was born out of the fact they were born affluent. But he has a clear sense there are certain people who have been struggling. He clearly felt he grew up in one of those homes. He wants to represent those people. Not only that, he can talk, he feels, as an equal and sometimes he — he explained this before the primary season that he thought sometimes the Democratic Party was guilty of talking down to those people, and he fiercely resented it and he said that will never be the Democratic Party I represent.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, whenever there is a vice presidential choice, there is always the immediate punditry about, okay, what kind of blocs of voters does the choice bring. Does John Edwards bring anybody with him, except his personality and all that?
MARK SHIELDS: I’m just adding to what David said. The micro choice always is to pick somebody who is going to carry a state — the governor of Iowa –
JIM LEHRER: The Midwest.
MARK SHIELDS: And if he’d picked Bob Graham, the senator from Florida, it certainly would have given Kerry a big lift in Florida. John Edwards — there’s no guarantee that he’ll carry his home state of North Carolina. But I think what he does is he gives — he brings an entirely different spirit to the Democratic message.
JIM LEHRER: Describe that.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, it goes beyond sort of the populism that I think has been ascribed to him. What John Edwards tapped into, and if you want to know how effective John Edwards’ message was, everybody in the race, and on the other party in some cases, tapped into it and expropriated it. I mean, that’s the greatest tribute you can pay.
Everyone was talking about ‘Two Americas, Two Standards’ and all the rest of it after it was Edwards.
But what Edwards really tapped into, Jim, in my judgment, was the sense that what has happened, whether it’s George Bush’s fault, it’s happened in the last four to five years. And that is that the institutions of this country have collapsed, whether you’re talking about the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, whether you’re talking about a great accounting firm, the Red Cross and blood, the United Way, Enron, it goes right through — people have lost confidence in their institutions. Why? Because those–
JIM LEHRER: You could even throw journalism in there.
MARK SHIELDS: Journalism as well, absolutely; The New York Times and many other examples.
DAVID BROOKS: Thanks for that, Mark, thanks.
MARK SHIELDS: Excuse me. I wouldn’t say The Weekly Standard. And the key is because people are playing by different rules. The powerful are playing by different rules than ordinary folks. And that’s what John Edwards has tapped into, and I’ll say, that will resonate across the country quite frankly.
I think what it will especially give him, last week’s Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll showed that he was 3-1 favorable among voters over 65.
JIM LEHRER: Edwards–?
MARK SHIELDS: Edwards. Whereas Kerry was just breaking 50/50 with them. That’s remarkable because you think of him really as sort of a young candidate.
JIM LEHRER: Amidst all this positive things, there are some negatives about this guy. What are they?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, the first thing is he probably would have lost if he ran in North Carolina. That’s certainly a problem.
JIM LEHRER: For the Senate?
DAVID BROOKS: I think most North Carolinians I’ve talked to said he would have lost. Somehow they liked him; they voted for him against Lauch Faircloth, who was a mediocre candidate, I’d say, though well-financed. And somehow he didn’t seem to pay attention to their needs. He was always heading up to the next step in the ladder. So that’s a weakness.
Then the greatest weakness is the obvious one. That ‘Two America’ speech was the fantastic speech. As far as I recall, it didn’t mention the word terrorism or Iraq. This guy may be president if Kerry is elected and something happens to Kerry. Is he ready for that? There will be some doubts in peoples’ minds. Personally, I think they’re a little unfair. I think like a lot of us with pretty faces, he’s considered too much a lightweight. He’s not a lightweight. I think he… you guys are laughing — he, people will look at him and say, can this guy really be president? Can he really handle the post-9/11 world? That will be a little problem.
JIM LEHRER: What about the comparison with Dick Cheney? How is he going to come out on that one?
DAVID BROOKS: Well, that debate is going to be an interesting debate, it’ll be old versus young. Kerry… Edwards is a young 50. Cheney is an old, whatever he is. It seems like there are generations between them, though there isn’t.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. There’s only about, what, ten or twelve years difference.
DAVID BROOKS: But Cheney has had a lifetime in government. And, you know, Edwards is fast study. We’ve all been talking about that. But there is only so far you can get with a fast study. So as glib as he is and as great a communicator as he is, it will be interesting to see those two, sort of age versus youth.
JIM LEHRER: How does– how do you feel?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, he has more experience right now than George W. Bush had when he got elected in 2000. That’s the first thing — the second thing is –
JIM LEHRER: More experience at the national political level of government?
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. I think that if you’re talking about an SAT on public affairs, administered equally, I think Edwards would have done far better today than George Bush would have in 2000. That aside, I think if anything, Democrats look forward to the debate with Cheney because the argument will be used, is he ready from day one? And John Kerry had emphasized that.
I think the case would be that if anything, Dick Cheney did — he went a long way toward discounting experience as a value and virtue, given the record of the administration. I don’t think that experience was– he was ready to take over from day one, and some would argue that he did take over from day one — and the making of policy.
JIM LEHRER: And the Democrats will say that’s what we’re… that’s why these guys should go?
MARK SHIELDS: I think partly. I think also it shows that John Kerry feels that he has the requisite experience and background and knowledge to handle the terrorism, foreign affairs and everything else.
One thing that’s been overlooked so far is that this has been called a class war election. It is. It’s the class of 1966 at Yale against the class of 1969 at Yale. Dick Cheney was at Yale. John Edwards went to North Carolina State University; that’s a land grant school, it’s not to be confused with the University of North Carolina, which is the establishment school. I mean, so he really does come from a different America, and speak — I think David’s absolutely right — speak to and for a different America.
JIM LEHRER: Back to the choice itself. In other words, what Kerry… all this process that was so secret and was supposed to be so different and so wonderful produced what you would call the traditional choice. I mean, Ronald Reagan chose George Herbert Walker Bush because George Herbert Walker Bush, they weren’t close at all. He came in second. John F. Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson because he came in second. I mean, was there an element here beyond just the traditional?
DAVID BROOKS: You know, I don’t think it was… I think they would have like to have done something unexpected because no one likes to choose the guy who seems like the obvious guy. It doesn’t show initiative or creativity.
JIM LEHRER: All the polls said choose Edwards.
DAVID BROOKS: But, listen, if you looked around the field, I think all the others had serious drawbacks. I think Evan Bayh, a senator from Indiana, might have been a good choice. I think Dick Gephardt is a great man, doesn’t generate a lot of spirit. Edwards is a star; he’s the star of it this year. So you pick the guy who is the star. I think it was the right choice.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, that he was just clearly the number-one choice?
MARK SHIELDS: He was the number-one choice certainly among Democrats. No question about it. The people that he talked to, and I think overwhelmingly the evidence is that they were recommending John Edwards, people who were running on the ballot this fall, people who were trying to get Democrats elected in various states were all saying that this guy’s come into our state. He’s come to our state convention, he wowed them, he put them in the aisles. That’s what he had going for them.
DAVID BROOKS: We’re going to see, because of, this we’re going to see a John Edwards-Hillary Clinton face-off one day, and that will be a race to watch.
JIM LEHRER: You mean down the road?
DAVID BROOKS: Somewhere down the road because of this.
JIM LEHRER: Down the road. Unfair question, Mark, but do you, based on your vast experience covering political campaigns, do you know of any election that was decided because of the vice presidential choice?
MARK SHIELDS: I think you could make a tenuous case that 1960, Lyndon Johnson was central to Jack Kennedy’s election.
JIM LEHRER: He picked up some southern states and Texas.
MARK SHIELDS: He picked up some southern states and Texas, but I would add this, that the two worst choice of my lifetime, 1968, Spiro Agnew, and 1988, Dan Quayle.
You recall Dan Quayle’s debate with Lloyd Bentsen that year; if it had been a professional prize fight, the wing position would have been stopped it but they were both on winning tickets. So I don’t think the vice presidential choice is determinant.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think?
DAVID BROOKS: Unless we have an election as close as last time, in which case everything is determinant. He picks up a few votes in central Pennsylvania, that’s it.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you both very much.