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Edwards, not Kerry, will depose Bush

Roque Strew | Sunday, February 1, 2004

Governor Howard Dean’s barbaric yawp, in one fell swoop, derailed his campaign. The conservative strategists, aiming to paint Dean as an angry liberal, found in The Scream the fullest expression of the erstwhile frontrunner’s lunatic fury. Luckily for the GOP, the press promptly turned The Scream into an Event, and that, more or less, is the story of the doctor’s self-administered coup de grâce.But how lucky was the GOP? Many believed, after all, that Dean was less electable, or more liberal, than Sen. John Kerry or Sen. John Edwards. In fact, the right-wing National Review had its fingers crossed for months, praying Dean would keep ahead of the other candidates. In other words, with Dean now (I think) out of the picture, the right now faces a few more formidable challengers.Let’s examine the big two, Kerry and Edwards. Where some sense gravitas, I find in Kerry an affected solemnity. None of his rhetoric rings true to me, especially in light of his voting record. His flip-flopping runs the gamut, which bespeaks either plainjane opportunism or ideological incoherence, perhaps a mix of the two.After his wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, “The New Republic” subjected Kerry to closer scrutiny. What they found was a man attacked in the past as a “soft-on-crime, soft-on-welfare, crazed-on-taxes paleoliberal.” Rove will mine that quarry happily – and more aggressively – but it’ll be an uphill battle to gainfully weigh Kerry’s “early years as a warrior, protester, prosecutor and legislator” against “Bush’s early years as a drinker.” However, it’s the later years where Kerry falters.As much as Kerry’s recent legislative hijinks worry me, so does his campaign. If you look at every campaign excepting Edwards’, Dean’s and Kerry’s especially, you’ll encounter the inevitable exchange of criticisms, some even verging on smear. But Edwards has, from the outset, run a positive campaign. Even conservatives have applauded Edwards’ serenity.Add to that his biography. What Edwards shares with Clark is an authentically plebeian, not patrician, background – he’s not another affluent Bulldog churned out by Yale, like Dean, Kerry, Lieberman and Bush. (In fact, Bush and Kerry were even members of the same infamous “secret society” of elites at Yale, Skull and Bones.) Edwards, on the other hand, went to North Carolina State. Unlike Bush, he didn’t attend an exclusive prep school. And he doesn’t hail from a political dynasty or oil money. On the contrary, his father worked in a textile mill. Which, then, can better relate to Middle America?Notre Dame’s own College Democrats, a predominantly female group, share a strong balance of optimism and outrage. Bush won’t serve another term – not on their watch. But my handful of experiences with them also suggest to me something else: a collective hope that, after each successful debate, Edwards will, Mia Hamm-style, tear off his oxford shirt and bare his sculpted pectorals in all their Hellenistic majesty. Looks matter – I think we have a consensus here. America simply would rather not have an unsightly commander-in-chief. The GOP barely passes muster here. Not so the Democrats. The tradition of handsome, youthful Democratic candidates begins, of course, with JFK. (William F. Buckley, Jr., goes so far as to say that JFK’s real legacy was his beauty.) Then Gary Hart in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1992. And now Edwards – deemed by People magazine a few years ago the “Sexiest Man Alive” in the politician category.Back to Edwards’ debating skill. He’s an astonishingly successful attorney, first off; argument is his profession and he’s proved to have mastered it. Some believe that if Edwards ended up as the Democratic nominee, Bush would simply refuse to debate him. The soothing drawl, the warm smile, the swift intellect – it’d be over before it started.Bush, let’s be honest, couldn’t debate his way out of a wet paper bag. (Maybe he could cheer his way out of one.) Top-dollar schooling evidently failed him in that department. So the prospect of our beloved incumbent locking rhetorical horns with Edwards – on national television, no less – must have Karl Rove shaking in his imported loafers. At that same prospect, people like me are all but salivating, gleefully imagining the sound thrashing Edwards would deliver. Let’s backpedal and revisit the morning after The Scream. Because the media focused nearly all its attentions on Dean’s antics, the more substantial story was buried: Edwards’ second-place finish. Kerry was instead lavished with attention, which undoubtedly helped in New Hampshire. So the media, in reality, dealt both Dean and Edwards a solid blow. The former’s done with, but the latter, as the GOP knows and fears, is still fighting the good fight. With us behind him, Edwards, not Kerry, will depose Bush.

Roque Strew is a junior political science major who vehemently denies having a so-called man-crush on Sen. Edwards. His column appears every other Monday. He can be contacted at wstrew@nd.edu.The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.