Big hair, big smile, big personality
— the attributes that supposedly drove John Kerry to select a
senator with six years experience as his running mate. Edwards, the
first-term junior senator from North Carolina, burst unexpectedly
onto the national political scene during last year’s
Democratic primaries. Running a campaign filled with optimism and
charisma, he captured enough attention to earn him a vice
presidential nomination, solidifying his position as a rising star
amongst the Democratic ranks. Political pundits everywhere are
hailing his boyish good looks and exuberance to match as a
refreshing addition to the otherwise dull Kerry campaign. However,
these superficial comments, which reduce Edwards to a pretty face,
do a disservice to the ticket: John Edwards strengthens the Kerry
candidacy by bringing his political skill and uplifting vision for
America, not merely his sexual appeal.

Janna Hutz

The choice of Edwards as the vice presidential nominee was a
politically smart venture for the Kerry campaign. He brings with
him a renewed optimism and energy to a ticket that lacked both
personality and excitement. Edwards is a populist whose streamlined
rhetoric is able to connect with middle America and perhaps more
effectively communicate the dry, policy-oriented Kerry message.
While Kerry, at first glance, is the archetypical socially elite
New England “snob,” Edwards is a self-made man with the
“southern charm” so important in today’s
television-driven electoral process. In many ways, Edwards is able
to smooth over Kerry’s fine lines and wrinkles, giving the
ticket a more attractive, accessible, down-to-earth appearance.

But most importantly, John Edwards has given a face-lift to
Kerry’s message as well. During his campaign, Edwards spoke
of “two Americas,” highlighting that the separation
between rich and poor grew during the 1990’s boom. Taking
cues from Edwards, Kerry has started to talk about the great
socio-economic divides that separate the citizens of this country.
While this strategy — which points out the unfortunate and
often unspoken injustices of a post-industrial economy — has
been labeled “class warfare,” it is nonetheless a
crucial critique of America’s social condition. “Class
warfare” is an issue that involves the fundamental issues of
health insurance and substandard salaries of service-industry
workers. It is not rhetoric about class envy, but rather the
inability of lower income citizens to procure secure employment,
safe housing and adequate health coverage. Especially in Michigan
and the “Rust Belt” at large, these concerns are
paramount; it is refreshing to actually hear major candidates
discuss it openly.

Edwards, however, does bring his own imperfections to the
ticket. Republicans have already attempted to exploit these
blemishes, but have overwhelmingly come across as desperate. The
charge that Edwards lacks experience is weak — George W. Bush
had less national security experience when he took office in 2001.
Additionally, assaults on Edwards’ background as a trial
lawyer fail to mention that he mainly sued negligent corporations
and insurance companies. Indeed, Edwards’ major flaw is of
concern only to social libertarians already alienated with the
President. While in the Senate, Edwards did not merely vote for the
USA PATRIOT Act, he helped author it. If the Kerry team is serious
about attacking Bush on the invasive and arguably unconstitutional
provisions of the bill, it will have a hard time maneuvering around
Edwards’ critical role in drafting and approving the
legislation.

Metaphorically, John Edwards has done for John Kerry what Botox
has done for Teresa Heinz Kerry’s cheeks — he has
injected a new sense of vitality into a ticket suffering from signs
of fatigue and simple dullness. Even while Kerry campaign was
clearly performing well, it lacked the spark and wit needed to
capture the hearts and minds of voters. With the addition of John
Edwards, Kerry might have finally found what his campaign has been
missing.

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