This past month, John Kerry and John Edwards parted ways as Edwards embarked on a campaign swing through the South. The rationale behind this division of forces is that Edwards’s populist message will nullify Kerry’s supposed aloofness while Edwards’ Southern roots will increase the Democratic ticket’s appeal in Dixie.
Political pundits and high-ranking Democrats are generally praising Edwards as a leader and candidate, but I have serious reservations. In fact, I think Senator John F. Kerry’s early-July selection of North Carolina Senator John Edwards to be his running mate may very well prove to be the greatest irony of the 2004 election. Although most Americans will focus on the first item on the ballot this November — the Presidency and Vice Presidency of the United States — Americans in 34 states will also elect a U.S. Senator. The irony of the selection of Edwards is a complex and intricate web involving all three branches of government and a far view into the future.
To be honest, Senator Edwards was far from my first choice to be Senator Kerry’s vice presidential nominee. Governor Bill Richardson was my top choice, but of the “big three” that emerged in late June — Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Representative Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa — Edwards was my third and final choice. When considering the choice pragmatically, Edwards is the least desirable candidate, as he does not guarantee any electoral contribution to the ticket. While Gephardt brings the big electoral prizes of Missouri and perhaps Ohio into the Democratic column and Vilsack at least shores up his home state of Iowa and perhaps other Midwestern battle-ground states like Wisconsin and Minnesota, Edwards makes no certain contributions — not even his home state of North Carolina.
However, Senator Edwards’ populist message and Southern roots do play very well among Southern voters. This could be incredibly influential in Senate campaigns across the South, where five Senate Democrats are retiring. Southern voters, whose values are generally more in line with Republican candidates, are perhaps not comfortable electing a Democrat to the White House but might be tempted to split the ticket and vote for a Democratic senatorial candidate whose message, as developed and emphasized by Edwards, better reflects their plight.
The last two years have illustrated just how influential the Senate is, as the President’s most radical conservative justices, despite a Republican majority, have seen their confirmations blocked by Democratic filibusters. Without the 60 votes required for cloture, Republicans are unable to stop Democrats from thwarting such appointments. Democrats can thus prevent these justices from obtaining life-term appointments to the bench where their interpretations of our existing laws could result in dramatic government infringements on our civil liberties consistent with current right-wing ideology as embodied in the USA PATRIOT Act.
And here we arrive at the great irony of Senator Kerry’s selection. Senator John Edwards’ lack of certain electoral contribution could cause the downfall of the Democrat’s presidential ticket. However, by increasing the turnout of Southern Democrats and appealing to Southern working class voters on domestic issues, Senator Edwards has the ability to increase the likelihood of Democratic victories in Senate races, where voters in these difficult economic times may be more influenced by domestic platforms than by character debates. Edwards’ message may prove to be most effective in the southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida, thereby permitting Democrats to retain some of these seats that might otherwise be lost to Republican candidates more aligned with the socially conservative Southern culture. Victories in these states would maintain a comfortable distance between the Senate’s Republican leadership and its ability to obtain cloture.
Senator John Edwards may very well cost his party the White House; however, by benefiting Democratic senatorial candidates Edwards could single-handedly prevent the stacking of our courts with radical conservative justices. As the polls close on Nov. 2, Edwards’ efforts could save this nation from a Republican super-majority in the Senate and the conservative justices appointed for life that would accompany such a majority.
The selection of Senator John Edwards, despite causing Democrats to lose the presidential prize, might further benefit the American people in the future by indirectly preventing lifetime appointments to the bench that could dramatically change the way our laws are interpreted.
Jonathan Menitove is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.