Recently Sen. John Kerry announced Sen. John Edwards as his vice-presidential running mate for the 2004 election. As is normal under such circumstances, Kerry has received much positive press and has opened up a temporary lead in the polls. Trying to blunt the "Edwards bounce," many Republicans attacked Edwards, either for being "too liberal" or suggesting that he does not have enough experience for the position. You can't win an election just by labeling someone a liberal without defining the issues, the ideas and the votes that give substance to that label. Otherwise, such attacks will just ring hollow with voters.
Another ridiculous idea has been floated by members of the press and one Republican, Alfonse D'Amato, suggesting that Vice President Dick Cheney must go if Bush is to win re-election. That is absurd. Dumping Cheney is not an option. What the Bush-Cheney campaign needs is not a face-lift but a big idea. A decision to abandon Cheney would be disastrous for the GOP and President Bush.
In the 2000 campaign and over the last few years as vice-president, contrary to media stereotypes, Cheney has been controlled, professional and one of the president's most trusted advisers. Up close, he is not ideologically rigid at all. Moreover, he is affable, thoughtful and almost entirely lacking pretense. Cheney is a good man and a faithful public servant. These qualities were evident when he debated Joe Lieberman in 2000 and will be manifest when he debates Edwards.
Democrats want Bush to dump Cheney not because he has close ties to the oil industry, but because he's effective. Cheney is an original supply-sider who helped push through the 2003 tax cuts that are largely responsible for the turnaround in the economy in the last year. He is also well-known for his expertise and clout on national security issues. I have no doubt that Cheney helped President Bush in the 2000 campaign, that he has been one of the most effective vice presidents in our nation's history and that he will be even more effective in the next four years. Cheney must stay.
The Kerry-Edwards ticket, on the other hand, is devoid of ideas. Yes, Kerry and Edwards are both liberal, but not in the sense of its Latin root "liber," which means open, generous and free. Rather, they are liberal in a political sense, which today manifests itself in reactionary policies, such as wealth redistribution, anti-entrepreneur laws and regulations, protectionism and refusing to fundamentally reform Social Security for the 21st century, which is imperative.
As Zell Miller, the Democrat senator from Georgia, has said, Kerry and Edwards have combined the foreign policy of George McGovern with the tax-increase policy of Walter Mondale and the tariff policies of Herbert Hoover. It is also particularly interesting that in 2004, with national headlines reporting on Iraq on a daily basis, that Kerry's closest advisers - and Kerry himself - appear incapable of defining their policy position on the future of Iraq.
Kerry-Edwards believe the answers to most of the problems facing our country reside in new or existing government programs, whether the issue is jobs, health care or retirement security. In fact, Kerry claims he's going to "create" 10 million new jobs with tax increases, which will result in slower growth; protectionism, which will result in less trade; nationalizing health care, which will only make the current situation worse; and by doing nothing with regard to Social Security, which will consign near and future retirees to less retirement savings and continued dependence on the government. They are wrong on all counts.
Besides, President Bush has a good record to run on - the strongest economic recovery in 20 years, no terror attacks on our soil since 9/11 and a vision of the future recognizing the importance of national security including the reconstruction of Iraq and the need to complete the transformation to an ownership society at home.
That said, the GOP has got to have a big idea in 2004 such as Ronald Reagan had in 1980. I think personal retirement accounts could be for George W. Bush what the Kemp-Roth tax-rate reductions were for Reagan, if not bigger. That time is ripe, but we desperately need presidential leadership if real reform is to happen.
Meanwhile, the Kerry-Edwards ticket is embracing Al Gore's "the people versus the powerful" slogan by co-opting the Edwards mantra of "two Americas." The GOP should go out and campaign on a vision that is optimistic, forward-looking and inclusive of the entire nation. In the process, they should engage Edwards to defend his version of class warfare, envy and political division.
Republicans can do this by pursuing a growth agenda and embracing personal retirement accounts as a means of reforming Social Security for the 21st century, by making permanent the 2001-2003 tax-rate reductions and reforming the alternative minimum tax, by aggressively advocating free trade, by embracing an urban-renewal agenda such as Enterprise Zones of Choice, and by advancing a region-wide Marshall Plan for Central Asia and the Middle East.
These are big ideas that can rally a nation to aim higher and achieve great things.