Skip to comments.Andrew Sullivan: Skywalker Edwards v Darth Vader Cheney
Posted on 07/10/2004 4:29:53 PM PDT by MadIvan
As soon as John Kerry announced his choice of John Edwards as his running mate last week, the contrast was unavoidable. This autumn, Edwards, a telegenic, bubbly lawyer who looks 40, will go up against Big Daddy Cheney, the bald, dour, snarling vice-president whose most recent public pronouncement was to tell a leading Democratic senator to go f*** yourself.
Edwards is a Southerner from a modest background, but he is also a member of the new class a multi-millionaire trial lawyer with a fiercely independent career woman for a wife. Cheney is from Wyoming, one of the most beautiful of American heartland states. He is a man who laid railway tracks in his youth and made a name for himself in politics as defender of conservative values and defence hawkishness. He married his high school sweetheart.
And last week the cultural contrasts were even more pronounced. The scenes of the two Democratic candidates in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania were picture perfect. Small children added to the JFK tableau. The rhetoric was warm, populist and broad-grinned. Kerry and Edwards were very touchy-feely, clasping each other, always close, almost the definition of the new men of the boomer era. You simply couldnt imagine Bush and Cheney having such a physical rapport.
When asked what he thought of the John Edwards pick last week, President Bush replied tartly: Dick Cheney can be president. That kind of gruff, no-nonsense language couldnt be more distant from the blathery uplift heard from Kerry in his announcement speech. But beneath the cultural surface there is also a simple truth about these two vice-presidential candidates. They represent the bases of their respective parties.
In a polity that is as polarised as ever, the Republicans and the Democrats have become far more insular. The people who make it to the top are no longer those that can forge compromises but those who can rally the faithful.
This is what Edwards represents. He is an extremely liberal senator, even though he is from the South. Congressional score cards put his voting record as the fourth most left-wing senator in the latest session (Kerry is the most left-wing of any in the Democratic caucus). The Republicans swiftly put out an attack sheet on Edwardss legislative past and, for all its partisan edge, it makes for interesting reading.
He voted to keep the abortion of late-term babies legal and hes an avowed trade protectionist, opposing Nafta and almost every other free-trade accord. He has voted against every tax cut Bush has proposed. But he voted in favour of the Patriot Act, which grants authorities greater police power to curtail civil liberties in the war on terror, and he voted in favour of war against Saddam, although, like Kerry, he voted against the $87 billion (about £47 billion) required to finance the liberation.
Just as important, Edwards also represents a critical Democratic fundraising constituency trial lawyers. They sue corporations or governments mainly for personal injuries that affect individuals.
If you are as smart and as rhetorically gifted as Edwards, you can win millions in damages and take a huge proportion in fees. This, of course, ratchets up the price of malpractice insurance for a whole swathe of industries, especially healthcare, and has contributed to higher prices for a range of goods and services.
Business groups want to change this system, and Republicans generally favour tort reform. So the trial lawyers have become a very influential group financing the Democratic partys campaign. A huge proportion of Edwardss campaign money comes from the trial lawyers. And they have helped make the Kerry campaign the best financed challenge in US history. Edwards is a sop to that constituency. He is one of them.
Now take a look at Dick Cheneys old congressional record. He was the sole representative from Wyoming for several years in the 1980s and his voting record was easily one of the most arch-conservative in Congress. He voted against sanctions on South Africa and Aids research. He voted against every measure to control gun sales. He also opposed a bill to let government employees donate their holidays or sick leave to other workers with an illness or family emergency. There wasnt a defence programme he didnt like or a tax cut he didnt vote for.
True, he is not a born-again Christian Bush nails down that part of the coalition. Instead, Cheney is the old-style, tough-as-nails conservative.
So in Cheney and Edwards you have in some ways a microcosm of how divided and polarised America now is. To be sure, they do have some rounded edges.
Cheney was always a federalist and has a libertarian, western streak in him. In the 2000 campaign he opposed the idea of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, arguing that the states should retain the ability to decide for themselves. His daughter Mary is openly lesbian and a critical member of his campaign staff.
Equally, with Edwards there are few signs that he shares the gut hostility to American power now endemic on the left. His populist pitch about reuniting the two Americas of the haves and have-nots is not a bitter tirade. Its a unifying and uplifting message of the Clintonian variety.
His vote for war against Saddam completes the astonishing conclusion of the Democrats primary season: their Iraq policy is now identical to the presidents. And in the polls, Edwards does well with independents and Republicans far better than Kerry. Its hard not to like him.
With Cheney, alas, the opposite has become the case. Over the past few years he has almost delighted in keeping out of sight, in cultivating a Dr Evil persona and lashing out at opponents. During the Abu Ghraib catastrophe, Cheneys instinct was not to apologise or rethink, but to tell reporters, with respect to Donald Rumsfeld, to get off his case.
It would be safe to say that he has persuaded almost nobody in three years to vote Republican who wasnt already signed up. In a recent survey, he registered an alarmingly low 22% favourability rating, with 31% viewing him unfavourably. That is triple what it was two years ago.
Why not dump him? Ive long hoped Bush would replace him with Condi Rice a cultural and political coup that could transform the race. But Bush wont. He never fires anyone. And, for most of the campaign, the Cheney-Edwards comparison wont matter much anyway. Americans vote for presidents, not vice-presidents.
The first polls after the Edwards announcement showed only a modest bounce for Kerry, suggesting that in this deeply polarised electorate, big shifts are unlikely. But both Edwards and Cheney will be directed to firing up their respective bases and attacking the opposition. In this Cheney, oddly enough, may have an advantage. He is good at attacking, while Edwards has built his career on a positive message.
The same paradox may well be true about their scheduled debate. Edwards is perhaps the best orator from his party for many years. Expect him to raise the roof at the Democrats convention in Boston.
Cheney is terrible on the stump. He doesnt even like applause. At a recent speech, when cheers forced him to repeat a sentence, he growled: You guys want to hear this speech or not? Edwards, by comparison, targets every member of the audience with charm and persuasion, just as he did so brilliantly with dozens of juries.
And just because its a sideshow dont imagine that it wont be drama. Think Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader and the boyish charms of the 1990s versus the cold fear of the new millennium. It will be not so much a vote as a taking of the American temperature.
In any event, my sympathy is with this fellow:
"I find your lack of faith disturbing."
And... welcome back, Ivan! You've been missed!
Does this mean Dick Cheney is John Edwards's father?
Gotta feel sorry for him, next week will be a tough one for him.
People who think this way about Cheney have spent more time listening to the media describe him than they have actually listening to Cheney. Ever since Gulf War One I have thought he is exceptionally intelligent and well spoken.
When it comes to the debate between Cheney and Edwards, Cheney will make mincemeat of pretty-boy. The first time I heard Dick Cheney speak,which was many years ago, I turned to my husband and told him I had never heard anyone speak so well, off the cuff. If he had notes you would never have known it. I was thoroughly impressed and followed his career from then on. There is no way Edwards will have a grasp of world affairs, or anything else for that matter, the way Cheney will.
The liberal media knows Cheney is formidable. That is why they keep propogating this notion that he is a negative for Bush and should be dropped from the ticket. They have been pushing that crap almost from the beginning.
I BEG to differ! The comparison could not be more wrong.
Luke Skywalker kicked a--. He didn't try to understand the Empire, he blasted the hell out of them.
Bush is closer to the more direct, the sh-- stops here Skywalker than this wussy Edwards.
I am OFFENDED!
It's a very funny analogy, but if Cheney is Darth Vader, Edwards is the cloned bounty hunter, not Luke.
"Apology accepted.. captain edwards.."
Edwards is so Princess Leia.
Let's see....the long face is a match....
His tribute to Reagan in the Rotunda was first rate. Cheney also ripped Lieberman to shreds in their debates.
These "anybody but Bush" people are BIGOTS.
This is bigotry: obstinate and unreasoning attachment to one's own opinion and beliefs, with intolerance of opinions opposed to them. A bigot is obstinately and irrationally, often intolerantly, devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion - a hypocrite, especially a superstitious one.
Call them what they are.
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