Was Edwards the best choice after all?

A convinging dissent from a reader.

A reader who is a major-league national-security wonk disagrees with my comment below regretting the choice of Edwards over Clark, Graham, or Nunn:

Re your reaction to the Edwards choice–

You have such a policy wonk’s approach to politics!

Seriously, I understand the appeal in theory of a Sourthern grey hair with national security credentials, but each of the ones you mention has real defects. Nunn is probably more conservative than McCain and the Repubs would have a field day contrasting his voting and issue positions (gays in the military? abortion? All those votes on weapon systems…) with Kerry’s. Clark has his virtues but he does have lots of detractors within the military, who would come out in force. Graham comes off as a flake about as much as he does a serious guy, and the distinction between his length of service on the intelligence committee and Edwards is inside baseball.

But more to the point—the VP selection is first and foremost about winning, and that means campaigning (and debating) as well as positioning. And here Edwards is the only star in the crowd. Nunn puts people to sleep (like President John Glenn). Clark is still a neophyte politically—he could easily produce a gaffe that would put the campaign off message for a week. Graham could attack the administration’s Iraq and counterrorism record with a little more authority than Edwards, but I think I’d rather see Edwards than Graham actually debate Cheney even on national security. Moreover, the national security slant is mostly about swing voters and it’s just as important to bring out marginal voters who need to feel like someone is speaking to them—and these are the economically disenfranchised. Edwards does a better job of this than anyone around. I don’t think Graham would have made that much of a difference in Florida (at least one poll suggested this about a month ago), and Edwards would make a much bigger difference in places like Ohio and West Virginia and Arkansas than Graham.

Also, none of the others are any help to the future democratic party, while Edwards on the ticket (and even better in the WH) is huge for building the party for tomorrow. (Sorry Hillary).

I find that analysis pretty convincing.

Edwards’s youth (and thus eligibility to succeed Kerry eight years from now) may be more a bug than than a feature, since it will tend to de-mobilize the supporters of those Edwards would displace.

But overall I think my reader may be right. I’m still hoping that all of the grown-ups in the country will decide, come November, that Bush Will Not Do, leading to a 1980-style blowout. I don’t think Edwards helps with that as much as the other three would have. But Edwards may do more than the others to increase the probability of winning.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com