When the candidate finally chose his running mate the wise men and women of the media focused on the running mate's wealth, his boyish good looks, and his gift of gab - but some of them remarked tartly that he seemed a little light on substance. Nevertheless, the pundits agreed unanimously that his charm and looks would play well with the ladies.
John Edwards in 2004, right?
Guess again: Dan Quayle, the man for 1988.
As it happens, Dan Quayle had considerably more experience in politics, more heft in foreign policy than John Edwards has, but the press savaged him mercilessly. I recall a famous correspondent for a major Washington newspaper - not mine - remarking confidently to a crowded elevator that "the media will bounce Dan Quayle off the ticket before the delegates leave New Orleans." The early reviews of John Edwards are somewhat kinder.
Roger Ailes, the Bush team's media maven shrewdly observed that the media is interested in three things: gaffes, attacks, and good visuals. He offered an "orchestra pit" theory of politics. "If you have two guys on stage," he said, "and one of the guys says 'I finally have a solution to the Middle East problem,' and the other guy falls into the orchestra pit, who do you think is going to be on the evening news?"
Unfortunately, the media treated Dan Quayle as if he were forever falling into the orchestra pit. It wasn't fair, but he was fair game. As it turned out he didn't fall into the orchestra pit as often as the man at the top of the Democratic ticket, and the Bush team won anyway.
With its clearly liberal tilt, the ladies and gents of the press wouldn't notice John Edwards in the orchestra pit if he slept among the tubas, but he is nevertheless a cynical choice at a time when the nation - and the world, for that matter - demands gravitas of all four men on the ticket. For all their sins and shortcomings, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were serious and seasoned. The most telling criticism of Dick Cheney four years ago was that with his experience and Washington savvy he might overpower the presidential candidate. No one doubted his competence.
A mother I know of new twins complains that one of them is a good eater and the other is a good sleeper. If they were bundled into one baby, "she would be terrific." Separately they make life difficult. So it is with the big-haired Democratic twins. If they were bundled into one person, the dull seriousness of Kerry combined with the exuberant charm of Edwards might work, but they're two people with complementary weaknesses. New York Times columnist Bill Safire puts it bluntly: "There's no such thing as a charisma transplant."