Edwards hit the ‘Quayle’ mark

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 7, 2004

Commentary by Dick Morris

In the debate, John Edwards went from seeming to be like JFK to emulating Dan Quayle in the space of 90 minutes. Confronted with Dick Cheney’s obvious competence, incisive parries to his charges and devastating rebuttal of his phony statistics, Edwards looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights.

Normally, vice presidential debates are not significant. But this confrontation should serve President Bush well. With Edwards parroting Sen. John Kerry’s line in last week’s presidential debate, Cheney gave the answers Bush should have offered but failed to articulate.

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If the first presidential debate was a contrast of Bush’s substance and Kerry’s style, the vice-presidential debate gave Cheney a chance to emphasize the president’s positions and Kerry’s contradictions without tripping over his own words.

Cheney looked like a man and Edwards looked like a boy.

On the attack, the North Carolina senator to this observer seemed, surprisingly, to be a shallow lightweight, almost transparent in his absence of heft and gravitas. Cheney looked like the authority, the wise one, the arbiter of facts and statistics.

If Edwards acted like a lawyer, Cheney acted like a judge. The Democrat proposed, but the vice president disposed. There was no doubt as to who was in charge.

The highlight of the debate came when Cheney said that he had presided over the Senate as vice president on almost every Tuesday and noted that the first time he met John Edwards was last night.

And when the vice president zeroed in on Edwards’ poor Senate attendance record, the Democrat couldn’t parry that he only missed the votes because he was running for president. Why? Because virtually all he has done in the Senate has been to run for president. Having served only 51/2 years in the Senate, Edwards has been seeking the presidency – and missing votes – for half of his tenure in office.

The Al Gore vice presidential candidacy of 1992 was the beginning of a process of choosing a VP who will provide a metaphor to help us grasp the essence of the presidential candidate. Whereas formerly one sought balance in the ticket by naming a person who was one’s opposite, Bill Clinton chose Gore to emphasize the generational aspect of his candidacy and to stress its moderate mid-south roots.

Cheney is not a metaphor for Bush. He’s older, wiser and more articulate. But Edwards served as a poor metaphor for Kerry. His lack of substance and glib inexperience made one wonder about John Kerry. Edwards’ inability to go beyond his talking points – the same ones Kerry had already used – illustrated his limitations and, by inference, suggested that Kerry suffered from similar problems.

Even when the debate swung to domestic issues, Edwards found himself trying to climb out of questions on gay marriage and trial lawyers.

It was only when he could lapse into biographical stories and trial-lawyer hokum that Edwards showed himself to advantage. His canned stories and rehearsed closing statement stood in contrast to his plasticized rendition of his talking points for the balance of the debate.

Dick Cheney helped Bush get well from a poor performance. John Edwards made it look like the Democratic ticket was out classed and out gunned.

Dick Morris was an adviser to Bill Clinton for 20 years.

E-mail for Dick Morris is dmredding@aol.com