Does anybody remember the name of Sen. John F. Kerry’s running mate? Ah, yes: that nice young-looking man from the South who did well in the primaries. While I am probably exaggerating — most Americans probably remember Sen. John Edwards as the vice-presidential nominee on the Democratic ticket — his lack of appearances in the headlines has been most disappointing. Sen. Edwards is simply not doing his job as John Kerry’s partner in their pursuit of the White House.
In presidential campaigns, the vice-presidential nominee is supposed to serve as the attack dog. Presidential candidates are able to remain above the fray and to keep their public comments untarnished by negative remarks, while their running mates can use their accompanying media entourage to level attacks and to score political points. The Republican ticket has illustrated the success of this strategy over the last few months, constantly employing Vice President Cheney to deliver the controversial sound bites that are then played and replayed on voters’ television sets. Cheney’s latest remark concluded that if Sen. Kerry were elected president, a terrorist attack against the United States would be more likely. Though unfounded and idiotic, the comment was the subject of great media attention, and perhaps affected voter opinion of Sen. Kerry and his ability to fight the war on terror.
Sen. Edwards, unlike Vice President Cheney, has shirked his role as the Democratic campaign’s attack dog. The only negative comments emerging from Edwards’s lips, it would seem, are those criticizing Cheney for his remarks against Kerry. On the stump, Edwards ineptly attempts to criticize the immoral Republican exploitation of Sept. 11 and to claim the Democratic ticket is strong on terrorism — in a recent comment made in a speech in Maine, he asserted “we will crush the terrorists” — but none of his comments makes the front page of the newspaper or the lead story on the nightly news. They simply aren’t mean enough.
Sen. Edwards has yet to launch an attack on the president that has stuck as well as the ones Cheney has let fly in the visceral barrage that is his stump speech. Last July it was speculated that the Edwards-Cheney match-up would be an asset to the Democratic ticket. Today, it seems Cheney is walloping his Democratic counterpart — not in terms of public opinion polls, but in fulfilling the vice-presidential nominee’s duty of injuring the opposing side’s presidential candidate.
I have made it no secret that Sen. Edwards was not my first choice to be John Kerry’s running mate. I have argued before that he contributes not a single electoral vote to the ticket, as the “solid South,” including Sen. Edwards’s home state of North Carolina, will vote Republican this November. Supporters of Kerry’s selection have stated that Edwards’s strong showing in primary states with large numbers of independent voters, such as Wisconsin, shows him to have great appeal among independents. Today, however, the Kerry-Edwards ticket is either trailing or tied in these states with large numbers of independents, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. Supporters of Edwards have also claimed that his sunny, optimistic message would balance out the potential aloofness and cold nature of Sen. Kerry.
Ironically, it is this sunny optimism that is preventing Sen. Edwards from doing his job. Edwards can no longer afford to play the nice, no-negative-campaigning role he occupied during the Democratic primaries. His job is to attack, to be visceral, to lambaste the Bush administration and force it to answer his charges rather than continue to launch its own. With fewer than 33 days until the election and with Sen. Kerry lagging in the polls by four to five points nationally and behind in a majority of the battleground states, this is no time for Sen. Edwards to shy away from his duty to the ticket and to the Democratic Party. If Sen. Edwards wants to be president someday — and the ambitious 51-year-old has made no secret of these intentions — he must realize that his political future is tied to the success or failure of this cycle’s ticket. National parties hate nominating a loser.
Unfortunately, there are no signs of Edwards stepping up to the plate. I still maintain my belief that the selection of Sen. Edwards as the vice-presidential nominee was a mistake. I still fondly hope that the Democratic ticket will succeed this November, but I am forced to acknowledge that if John Kerry does win, it will be despite John Edwards, not because of him.
Jonathan Menitove is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles College.