After much speculation, Sen. John Kerry has selected Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to be his vice presidential running mate. We speak with The Nation correspondent John Nichols about the selection. [includes rush transcript]
Sen. John Kerry has selected Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina to be his vice presidential running mate. Earlier today Kerry informed Edwards of the decision in a brief telephone call.
Kerry is expected to make a public announcement at a rally in downtown Pittsburgh later this morning. The two will campaign together later today and this week.
An email to Kerry’s website read: “John [Edwards] understands and defends the values of America. He has shown courage and conviction as a champion for middle class Americans and those struggling to reach the middle class. In the Senate, he worked to reform our intelligence, to combat bioterrorism, and keep our military strong. John reaches across party lines and speaks to the heart of America — hope and optimism.”
- John Nichols, correspondent for The Nation.
AMY GOODMAN: We are joined on the line right now by John Nichols. He writes for The Nation magazine, as well as being its editor, one of the editors of The Madison Capital Times. Welcome to Democracy Now!, John.
JOHN NICHOLS: It’s great to be with you, Amy. It’s great to be on following that success story.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, today the New York Post did a full front page story that says Kerry picks Gephardt. All of the other reports, we broadcast 8:00 to 9:00, Eastern Standard time, so it’s before official announcement all of the official reports, A.P., Washington Post, CNN, are saying that, in fact John Kerry has chosen John Edwards, a fellow senator for this position to be his vice presidential running mate. Can you comment on and give us a background of John Edwards?
JOHN NICHOLS: First of all, I will tell that you unless John Edwards stumbles badly between now and 9:00 a.m. Pittsburgh time, he will be the choice. They have — they have quietly flown him in to Pittsburgh, so he’s there. The other potential contenders are not. A lot of people got this wrong. Largely it’s because John Kerry played it very close to the vest. He has proven that he is probably better than the Bush folks at keeping a secret, which is maybe counts for something, I don’t know. Most of us journalists should probably be mad about that, but the truth is that John Edwards is a cautious choice for Kerry. He doesn’t like Edwards that much. That’s been pretty well established. It wasn’t that he hated him. They just didn’t have a good chemistry. He saw Edwards as an interloper, somebody who jumped in very late in the game, both the politics in general and to the presidential race in particular. But Edwards’s strong showing in the later primaries made him someone that everyone saw as the logical, quote, unquote, pick, and because Kerry didn’t get far enough ahead in the polls, in fact, really he was basically tied in most polls at this point, he was forced to skip over choices he might have liked more, and to go for the person that insiders in the party see as bringing the most to the ticket. That’s why you end up with John Edwards.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about his record. John Edwards’ record. You have a piece, “Angry About the War Candidate?”.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Not to be confused with the anti-war candidate.
JOHN NICHOLS: That’s exactly right. I mean, one thing to understand about John Edwards is most of what progressives would object to John Kerry about, they would also object to John Edwards about. John Edwards voted in favor of the October, 2002, resolution authorizing the president to go to war in Iraq. He also voted in favor of the Patriot Act. He has a decent record on trade. Much better than Kerry’s, but not a great record on those issues. He has a good record on labor issues. Probably a little better than Kerry’s on environment. He’s a little weaker than Kerry on rural and farm issues. He’s a little weaker than Kerry. So he’s a mix, but he’s certainly not a more progressive contender. The one thing that made him stand out in the primaries was that he was able to present an angry or passionate stance about a lot of these issues that appeal to democrats who thought Kerry were was too weak. For instance on the war, he was and is a supporter of the invasion and occupation. And yet, he delivered a lot of speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire and other places in which he passionately denounced war profiteering. And that may be his strongest suit. It’s not just war profiteering that he is a very big critic of. He is more willing to criticize corporations than Kerry has been. In addition, he is much blunter and actually quite good on talking about the need to close the yawning gap between rich and poor in this country, to try it did more for poor Americans. So, I think he appealed to the — a lot of liberal and progressive Democrats who weren’t necessarily — who knew his flaws, but liked his rhetoric. And I think you will see him playing somewhat of a similar role as he joins the Kerry ticket.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about John Edwards as trial lawyer, which people like Newt Gingrich have made a very dirty word, trial lawyer. Can you talk about exactly what his record was, who he represented?
JOHN NICHOLS: Sure. He was a very good trial lawyer, in fact, one of the best in the country. Remember, he grew up in — he wasn’t as poor as he likes to tell folks, but he did grow up relatively working class, lower middle class. He went to law school, came out and quickly became a trial lawyer. He became very, very rich doing that. And the reason he was good at it. He took on a lot of really tough cases involving children who were harmed by different drugs and different surgical procedures. He represented a lot of working class folks who’re harmed in industrial accidents, different incidents involved at work. And he usually won. He likes to say that he saw his trial work as taking on big corporations in the way that the government usually doesn’t. And there’s some evidence to say that that is true. The interesting thing about John Edwards, in regards to his trial lawyer back background is that, yes over the last 15 or 20 years, the Republican right and really a lot of Democrats, even people, you know, in the Democratic leadership coalition have tried to make trial lawyer a dirty word and have tried to support tort reform, et cetera, et cetera. Edwards when he first ran for the senate in 1998 turned that around and in his campaign where he beat a Republican incumbent, he made the fact that he was a trial lawyer his best selling point. It was the evidence that he really was in touch with the working folks who were not represented otherwise, and that’s the one thing that I think is really fascinating about Edwards. He is able to write his own story line, not to allow himself to be defined into a corner by other folks. And he did that best with the trial lawyer stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: NAFTA.
JOHN NICHOLS: NAFTA. He says he is against it.
AMY GOODMAN: Though, he wasn’t in the senate, actually vote on it at the time. 1998, and John Kerry a big corporate free trader.
JOHN NICHOLS: John Kerry has an unbelievable awful record on trade. John Edwards says he would have voted against NAFTA. As a member of Senate he has a mixed record on trade. He voted for some trade deals and voted against some others. But he definitely has a better record than Kerry. What’s fascinating is that in the primaries, again Edwards, as I said before, he writes his own story; even when it goes against his own record sometimes. In the primaries, he sees — he seized on trade as an issue, especially in Wisconsin and later on and did very, very well on that issue. In the — the interesting thing is, he has already had a huge influence on Kerry, because Edwards talked about trade so much that he forced Kerry to say some specific things about what he would do, ie. Revisit old agreements and look to put labor and environmental standards into new agreements. I still have a lot of dubiousness about Kerry on the issue, but I will tell that you Edwards — I was with him a lot. I interviewed him a lot. And I think he actually came to recognize the danger of corporate free trade, largely from his own experience in North Carolina, on South Carolina where he was born, because he has seen the textile towns just dry up as a result of bad trade policies.
AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, I want to ask you about the effect on Ralph Nader’s campaign. In fact, Nader I believe recommended that John Kerry choose John Edwards. John Edwards’ critique of corporations and courts holding them accountable is similar to that of Ralph Nader.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah. Ralph Nader went out of his way to say that John Edwards should be the party’s pick. He has always — in every time I have talked to Ralph about these things, he has always had good words about Edwards. It isn’t that he loves him or think he is perfect, but Ralph Nader likes trial lawyers, of course, and the other thing is that he really did have a great deal of respect for Edwards’s rhetoric on the issues. And finally, and this is an important subtlety, in the Senate, Edwards was willing to stand up on a number of anti-corporate issues more so than most Democrats. It’s the reason that not just Ralph Nader her kind words for him but also people like Ted Kennedy and remembers, internally within the Kerry campaign, Ted Kennedy was advocating for Edwards. Because he saw Edwards as a gutsy guy who is willing to take on some bigger issues and to do some rough stuff with it. I think that’s where the appeal is, to a lot of the older Democrats and even non-Democrats who see Edwards as a relatively young guy with a little bit of spark.
AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols, I want to thank you for being with us. John Nichols.
JOHN NICHOLS: A pleasure, Amy.