Kerry Vows To Restore 'Truth' to Presidency
"Don't get suckered into the how many years you've been in one job or this job" debate, Kerry said. "You've got people in [Washington] who have been in one job [for] 30 years of what you call experience, and they have done nothing, they don't stand for anything and they don't know how to fight."
The measure of a leader, he said, is a "person's character, a person's values, a person's abilities and political skills and ability to work with other people and bring people to a cause." Kerry called this the "character of toughness."
Yet it was Kerry himself who challenged Edwards's readiness during the Democratic primary elections, saying it's not a time for "on-the-job training." He mocked Edwards's youthfulness -- the vice presidential candidate is 51 -- and later asked aides what made Edwards think he was ready for the presidency.
"I challenged my level of experience against his, as I will challenge my level of experience against George Bush's and Dick Cheney's," Kerry said. "That was a fair challenge . . . in the context of the primaries. But that doesn't mean [Edwards] isn't qualified against George Bush."
Kerry added, "Does [Edwards] have as much experience as me? No. But I am running for president; he's running for vice president."
Edwards, a first-term senator from North Carolina, who has served on the intelligence committee for more than five years but who has rarely been in Washington since launching his presidential bid in 2003, said his work on national security matters and terrorism qualifies him for the role of commander in chief.
"I'm ready today," he said.
During the Democratic primaries, Edwards did not make national security a central focus of his campaign. "I believe I had during that time very creative ideas about what needs to be done to protect America's role in the world," including championing efforts to fight terrorism and thwart weapons proliferation, he said.
Edwards noted, however, that he will do everything he can to reassure people of his capacity to handle the job. "I have an obligation to the American people to work 18 hours a day . . . to make sure that every day I know more than I did the day before," he said. "I feel that responsibility [and] take it very, very seriously."
Edwards's chief focus will be the messages of values and economic disparity. Kerry's advisers said Edwards will be dispatched to towns and rural communities in the Midwest and South, probably starting in Iowa, to target voters Democrats often overlook in presidential campaigns.
Asked whether he will play the traditional role of a vice presidential nominee and lead the Democratic attack on Bush and Cheney, Edwards said, "I will fulfill my responsibility to make sure people know what we will do, how we will govern, and what the differences are between us and this administration."
The two plan to frame the debates over issues from war to welfare as a choice of American values. In their words, it is a stark choice between Bush, who they say favors unilateralism abroad and the rich back home, against a Democratic ticket that believes in working closely with allies overseas and taking tax cuts away from the wealthy to help everyone else.
The new twist in this populist approach is the heavy focus on values for a Democratic ticket. "It's the heart of our campaign," Kerry said. "It's the center of what matters in America, it's why we are running."
Kerry added, "The battles of this administration do not represent the values of America -- with the sole exception, which we all share, of our determination to defeat terrorism and to stand up after 9/11 to that attack."
Edwards suggested Bush's career is not reflective of American values, either.
"George Bush and others can say whatever they want now about what their values are, but what have they spent their life doing? Have they shown in their life experience, not just in the time they've been in politics, but in their life experience, that they have the values that Americans looked up to and respected?" Edwards asked. "It's just difficult for me to imagine anybody in my little home town in rural North Carolina looking up to and respecting someone more than John Kerry."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company