Last week Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, on a pair of cable network news programs, sharply criticized President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Liberal pundits and rank-and-file Democrats have recently complained that Edwards hasn’t embraced the traditional “attack dog” role that vice presidential candidates usually assume, and that the “fresh-faced” North Carolina senator has maintained too low a profile in the race. Many feared that he planned to continue the “positive” campaign that he promoted as his mantra during the Democratic presidential primary season.
Edwards has been consistently critical of the president and vice president, but he has not been seen as much in the media because the Kerry campaign has sent him to mostly smaller towns. Last week Edwards broadened his media exposure, and he used the opportunities to amplify his criticism of Bush and Cheney.
“I take very personally what George Bush has done to my country,” Edwards told Larry King on CNN Sept. 22. “I take personally, Larry, what he’s done to the kind of people I grew up with in that small town in North Carolina, the kind of people who worked in the mill with my father, the kind of people that I went to Friday night football games with.
“I think he has made life almost impossible for them. He has crushed the American Dream in the period of four short years.”
Edwards told King that he was campaigning “in the parts of America that George Bush has done so much damage to, the places he’s messed up the worst.”
King asked, without a challenge from Edwards, why the war in Iraq is the central issue in the campaign, and why he and Kerry are trailing in voter polls. Edwards said that the polls would go back-and-forth, and that he expected a close election.
“We see what’s happening on the ground in Iraq, Iran and North Korea have moved forward with their nuclear weapons program,” Edwards said. “Everybody knows they’re worse off than four years ago….
“We have a plan to make this better…It’s a serious plan. It’s a plan we will begin to put in place as soon as John Kerry is put into the White House.”
But King, challenging one of Kerry’s primary contentions on the president’s Iraq policy, asked how they would get nations such as France and Germany to participate in the war effort.
“If these nations are morally opposed, politically opposed, why should they join you in getting involved in Iraq, if they won’t join Bush?” King asked.
“I believe they will change when John Kerry is our president, because he will make a serious effort to get them involved,” Edwards said.
That theory was dealt a blow over the weekend, when the Financial Times of London reported that French and German officials said they would not get more involved in Iraq, even if Kerry is elected in November.
King also asked how Edwards, who has never participated in a one-on-one debate, was preparing for his upcoming debate with Cheney. In his response, Edwards couldn’t resist invoking the name of Cheney’s former employer.
“The vice president has been in a number of these one-on-one debates,” Edwards said. “He’s been in the Washington bureaucracy for 30 to 40 years except for the time that he was running Halliburton. And the truth is I expect him to be a very effective debater.”
Two nights later, on MSNBC’s “Hardball: The Horserace,” correspondent Ron Allen also asked Edwards about debate preparation and negotiations.
“There was a debate about sitting or standing,” Allen said. “You wanted to sit, or you wanted to stand?”
“I wanted to stand,” Edwards said. “We are going to be sitting. He got everything he wanted, basically, in the negotiation.”
Asked by Allen why Kerry’s message isn’t resonating, Edwards said “because George Bush and Dick Cheney have been in the public eye for over four years now. In fact, they largely have been on the stage by themselves for four years.”
Edwards also sharpened his criticism of Bush and Cheney on “Hardball.”
“What I’m doing is make sure this administration is going to be held accountable for what they’ve done,” Edwards said. “The choices they have made have been devastating for this country.”
On “Larry King Live” Edwards said, after the host asked whether the Kerry campaign was involved in the CBS forged documents-Bush National Guard imbroglio, that the president should be accountable for his military service record.
“Our campaign had nothing to do with these problems,” Edwards said. “I do believe that the issue of what happened with George Bush, his National Guard service, his disappearance or at least alleged disappearance for some period of time in Alabama, those are serious questions and legitimate questions.
“They ought to be asked. The White House ought to respond to them.”
Paul Chesser is associate editor of Carolina Journal. Contact him at [email protected]