Lesser than two evils

Hugh Hewitt contends that, in selecting John Edwards, “Kerry botche[d] his first big decision by putting the major need –competence if disaster strikes– in a lower priority than political needs.” Hugh also questions whether Edwards ultimately will serve Kerry’s political needs, inasmuch as he won only one primary and was carved up by Tim Russert last summer. Hugh thinks that Kerry selected Edwards mostly to close his “popularity gap,” but suggests that Edwards is mostly popular with “the scribblers and talking heads.”
There’s a lot of merit in these assessments, I think. The real question with respect to the Edwards selection is his popularity among true independents. Edwards’ mediocre overall showing in Democratic primaries doesn’t tell us much about this question, since “independents” represented a small share of voters in these primaries. On the other hand, Edwards’ relative success with those independents who did vote in these primaries doesn’t tell us much either. True independents tend not to vote in Democratic primaries and, to the extent that such independents may have preferred Edwards to the likes of Dean and Kerry, this doesn’t mean that Edwards’ presence on the ticket will induce them to vote for Kerry in the fall.
Hugh’s point regarding Edwards’ lack of experience when it comes to our national security is also well taken. Here, the contrast between Edwards and Cheney could not be clearer. Yet I still believe that Edwards was a better than average choice among the Democratic contenders in this regard. Why? Because the Democratic party is so diseased that experience with foreign policy and national security issues is generally a dangerous thing (think Joe Biden). For Democrats, sophistication in these areas usually manifests itself in doubts about the U.S. as a force for good in the world and distrust of the exercise of U.S. power (think John Kerry). Hence, the preference for foreign interventions that seem to have little to do with American interests and, if our interests are at stake, the imperative of approval by international organizations.
I get the impression that Edwards, precisely because he hadn’t paid much attention to these matters until quite recently, missed this indoctrination. He was too busy becoming rich to develop the appropriate level of skepticism about our country. This naivety hurt him during the primary season, but should be a slight asset to Kerry during the campaign. More importantly, it will be a real asset if Edwards becomes president. After all, the Bush presidency reminds us that, when push comes to shove, instinct is more important than experience. Of course, one gets much more experience and far healthier instincts with both halves of the Bush-Cheney ticket than with both halves of its Democratic opposition. If there’s any consolation in having Edwards on the ticket, it’s only because Kerry could easily have done much worse.
HINDROCKET concurs: One of the few revealing moments of the Democratic primary season, I thought, was the debate in which John Kerry said that the danger of terrorism had been exaggerated by the Bush administration. The moderator asked John Edwards what he thought of Kerry’s claim, and Edwards, a little nonplussed, answered to the effect that, “I don’t see how you can say the threat of terrorism is exaggerated after Sept. 11.” It was the response of a sane man, which put him, momentarily at least, at odds with Kerry. That said, I think the number of votes that Edwards’ selection will sway in the general election is approximately zero.

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