Post Asks a Real Question, Supplies Real Answers

John Kerry’s selection of John Edwards has generated a veritable cottage industry of “he said/she said” stories about the aspiring veep’s bonafides (or lack of them) for the nation’s second highest office. Republicans have tried to paint Edwards as lacking the necessary experience for the job, and Democrats have responded by arguing that his experience exceeds that of George Bush in 2000. The press has parroted the rhetoric from both sides, but, for the most part, it hasn’t bothered to address the central question: what, exactly, are Edwards’ credentials?

The Washington Post, we’re happy to say, hasn’t been as content as other publications to simply play stenographer. Last Friday, the paper broke with the press’ apathetic coverage of the issue to take a detailed look at Edwards’ past performance. Its basic conclusion: Edwards is not the babe-in-the-woods that you might imagine on foreign affairs. The Post informs us, for example, that Edwards has:

—Proposed linking U.S. foreign aid to progress on human rights and democracy in recipient countries.
—Called for the U.S. to compile a “freedom list” identifying dissidents jailed worldwide for political or religious expression.
—Urged more attention to terrorism and warned of a lack of cooperation between federal and local law enforcement efforts before 9/11. (On that one, he had so little luck pitching his ideas to Op Ed page editors that he ended up publishing them in the weekly Littleton Observer, circulation 2,230).
—Toured Israel, Egypt, Afghanistan, Britain and NATO headquarters, and met variously with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
—Introduced a sweeping bill to tighten seaport security in the week after 9/11, and co-sponsored another bill to improve national preparedness against acts of chemical and biological terror.
—Introduced another bill to create a domestic intelligence agency, like Britain’s MI5, with law enforcement duties assigned to a separate agency (an idea that may be included in the 9/11 commission report due out this month).

This isn’t to say Edwards has the overseas experience that Dick Cheney does. And, ultimately, it’s up to the voters to decide if he’s qualified to do the job. But it’s safe to say that Edwards has been far more engaged in foreign policy than one would expect from a freshman senator. And that he has some redoubtable old hands at foreign policy (most notably Richard C. Holbrooke, former ambassador to the United Nations and peace broker in Bosnia and Kosovo) in his camp. And that some of his foreign policy proposals (see above) are, as the Post notes, bolder than either Bush’s or Kerry’s.

But you wouldn’t know that if you missed that July 9 Post story. Instead, you’ve been fed an endless diet of stories about whether Edwards will “overshadow” Kerry, contradictory polls about what impact Edwards has had on the Democratic ticket, dry recitations of the substance-free back and forth concerning Edwards’ history as a trial lawyer, banal tales concerning his sunny optimism, and even assessments of the quality of his hair.

In other words, nothing to help a voter make an informed decision. This is not heavy lifting, folks. It’s as easy for the mainstream press to investigate and share with readers a candidate’s record as it is for it to focus on who is spinning what today.

Too bad, in this case, that few outlets other than the Washington Post have bothered.

Brian Montopoli

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Brian Montopoli is a writer at CJR Daily.