Cheney f-ed?

Forget John McCain. John Edwards only has to be a better vice president than Dick Cheney, and that’s a case he’ll be able to make.

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It was hardly surprising that George Bush’s campaign rapidly responded after John Kerry named John Edwards his running mate early Tuesday morning. But it was a bit of a surprise that the best the Bush team could come up with was labeling the North Carolina senator Kerry’s “second choice” and rolling out a new ad titled “First Choice” featuring John McCain.

Sure, the Kerry/McCain speculation enticed the media for a while, and tested well with voters (though in fairness, Kerry/Edwards also led Bush by a 10-point margin in the same oft-cited poll). And despite his repeated vow not to switch parties, McCain has been vocal in defense of his friend Kerry when the Bush campaign tried undermining his record on defense.

But speculation aside, McCain is not a vice-presidential candidate this election. Ultimately, the only candidate voters have to compare Edwards with is Dick Cheney, and that’s a scary prospect for the administration.

As Tom Curry of MSNBC writes, the upcoming Edwards/Cheney debate will be a study in contrasts:

“Even before Sen. John Kerry announced that Sen. John Edwards would be his running mate, Democrats were savoring what they expect will be a highlight of this fall’s campaign: when Edwards turns his trial lawyer’s cross-examination skills on Vice President Dick Cheney and the Iraq contracts of Halliburton, the firm Cheney once headed.

“The Edwards-Cheney battle is a keen-edged contrast of age (Edwards is 12 years younger than Cheney) and experience (Cheney was serving as President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff when Edwards was a freshman in law school). Not to mention personalities: Cheney’s phlegmatic stump-speaking style amounts at times to almost a radical form of anti-campaigning, a polar opposite from Edwards’s relentlessly peppy populism.”

Edwards’ energetic “two Americas” stump speeches and his story of rising from a mill worker’s son to a self-made millionaire give him a leg up on a vice president often viewed as the ultimate insider – a man who literally picked himself for the job. And Edwards is just more likable. While Cheney consistently draws higher unfavorable ratings than favorable in polls, Edwards does very well among voters who enough about him to form an opinion, according to a new poll by the University of Pennsylvania.

The massive difference between the two is even evident in how their campaigns pitch them to supporters. Here’s how the official Bush/Cheney reelection site describes its vice president:

Richard B. Cheney has had a distinguished career as a businessman and public servant, serving four Presidents [sic] and as an elected official. Throughout his service, Mr. Cheney served with duty, honor, and unwavering leadership, gaining him the respect of the American people during trying military times.

Even the campaign mentions Cheney’s business career first, though the site does feature a rare picture of the veep smiling. Now compare that to this statement from Kerry’s site:

“John Edwards speaks to the heart of America – hope and optimism. He is a lifelong champion for America’s families who has shown courage and conviction standing up for America’s values. In the Senate, he has a record of reaching across party lines and working to reform our intelligence services, combat bioterrorism, and keep our military strong. Together, we will campaign tirelessly across the country – fighting to build an America that is stronger at home and respected in the world.”

Besides the seemingly desperate “second-choice” argument against Edwards, the Republicans are also going after him on the “trial lawyer” front. As Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told the New York Times:

“This is an ominous development for those hoping to improve access to health care, or to keep jobs in America by improving our global competitiveness, or to just provide for basic fairness in what has become a lawsuit lottery. Is it any wonder why common-sense medical liability, class action or asbestos reform has been repeatedly blocked by Democrats in the Senate, when John Kerry picks a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer as his VP candidate?”

Somehow, it’s hard to see that tactic working with voters who are more likely to need a personal injury attorney than a defense against one. And given Halliburton’s no-bid contracts in Iraq, is the conflict-of-interest route one the Republicans really want to head down?

The same goes for attacks against Edwards’ relative inexperience, as Geraldine Sealey of Salon notes:

“That’s an odd criticism coming from people who pretend to abhor Washington insiders, even as they control most of the federal government — but it’s especially strange that Republicans would want to raise the issue of inexperience given who’s on top of their ticket…Edwards has served a term in the Senate, where he sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee and co-sponsored the Patients’ Bill of Rights with John McCain and Ted Kennedy. But, the RNC says, he has only served about six years in the Senate, so he isn’t qualified to be V.P. This is, perhaps, the definition of chutzpah.

“Of course, Bush has quite a bit of experience with “inexperience.” He served about the same amount of time as Texas governor, from 1994-2000, in a state where the executive yields much power to the legislature, and before that was a failed oil executive who used profits from the sale of his Harken Energy stock — sold miraculously right before the stock value plummeted, which was the subject of an SEC insider trading investigation — to buy into the Texas Rangers, a deal that made him a multi-millionaire. If this man is qualified to be president, we’re pretty sure we can trust John Edwards as No. 2.”

Even Ralph Nader supports the pick, having sent Kerry a letter last month urging him to choose Edwards, who the independent candidate described as a voice for citizens against unfair health practices:

“The civil justice system is under severe attack by the corporate supremacists who wish to deny wrongfully injured or defrauded people from having their full day in court or even a partial day in court. Senator Edwards can stand up for the millions of Americans who suffer these harms and costs every year.

Perhaps most telling are the comments of prominent Republicans who’ve worked with Edwards, which paint him nothing like the polarizing Cheney. Even Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told CNN:

“John is a very good senator, and I think will make a very strong vice presidential nominee, and I wish him the best of luck.. John Edwards is a man of high character, strong integrity and will be a very strong vice presidential candidate.”

If Tuesday’s rapid response is the best the Bush campaign can do against the Kerry/Edwards ticket, it could be setting itself up for a long debate season. As Kerry told supporters via e-mail, “I can’t tell you how proud I am to have John Edwards on my team, or how eager I am for the day this fall when he stands up for our vision and goes toe-to-toe with Dick Cheney.”


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