Fun crept back into politics this week -- at least for Democrats. Not the cynical kind from the Daily Show or Michael Moore but wholesome, silly, fun. A smiling candidate, darling moppets, brothers and sisters acting very brotherly and sisterly. Reserved aloof John Kerry started telling dumb hair jokes and seasoned political reporters were reporting cute kid stories about Oreos. The gray New York Times featured a front page picture of Teresa Heinz Kerry prodding John Atticus Edwards to stop sucking his thumb.
Democrats inside and outside the Kerry campaign breathed a collective sigh of relief that their candidate actually did the smart thing and was big enough (or ambitious enough) to swallow his pride and picked someone who tops him charisma meter.
During the past few months politicians who don't normally weigh into decisions unless they are asked have told me that they made a special effort to tell John Kerry that he had to pick Edwards. "I felt a responsibility to tell him what I was hearing from all over the country," a top Kerry campaign official told me, "that John Edwards was the guy who people are excited about."
Edwards and his friends admitted that they had a tricky situation: how to run a campaign for a job that you were not supposed to campaign for. But it turned out not to be that hard. Edwards was in demand as a speaker at state party events everywhere and the momentum built. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who never had much of a relationship with Edwards, and Ted Kennedy, who did, made sure that Kerry heard their advice that this fellow was his best ticket to getting elected.
And yet those who knew John Kerry best weren't sure he'd do it. His campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill hired a slew of former Edwards staffers and the Kerry high command mapped out a campaign plan that lacked only one thing: John Edwards. Just before Kerry was to tell Cahill and chief vetter Jim Johnson of his decision late Monday night. Johnson asked Cahill 'Do you think we're going to be surprised?' and she said, 'We might be."'
In some ways Kerry surprised everyone by picking the obvious and popular choice, the candidate who, the rumor mill said, Kerry thought of as callow and presumptuous. Kerry guarded the secret to avoid the public embarrassment that he had experienced four years ago when he learned that he had been passed over for Joe Lieberman from the media before he heard it from Gore.
He had gone through the complete vet, including his finances and talks with his ex-wife and he knew this was a tough period. In the end he wasn't able to shield the others but he gets points for trying.
This year's "losers" had a hard time participating in all the Democratic fun this week but they were gracious despite their disappointment. As we watched them up close in the final hours -- looking for tea leaves on who it might be -- the humanity of politics also became evident. The daughter of one of the runner-ups told me how draining this process was on the families and in many cases the families circled the wagons. Gwen Graham drove to Washington to be with her dad to get what she had a hunch would be bad news and Chrissy Gephardt went to see "DeLovely" at the movies with her parents as the clock ticked down. The Gephardts even gave stalking reporters hot dogs from the grill. Tom Vilsack went on his planned vacation thinking about distant Kerry was from him in Iowa on Sunday.
For a few days politics became bright and sunny and human. Then the Democrats went too far, their wholesome fun turned raunchy. At a fundraiser at of all places, Radio City Music Hall, Whoopi Goldberg and a host of Hollywood liberals served up some off-color humor and serious Bush bashing, not particularly in line with their value-based campaign plans. Suddenly the bubble burst and it was the Republicans turn to smile.
By Dotty Lynch