Now that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has selected North Carolina Sen. John Edwards as his running mate, and rumors that Vice President Dick Cheney would be replaced on the Republican ticket have been quashed, here are some questions I'd like to see both American voters and the political press ask the Republican and Democratic nominees for vice president.

For Sen. John Edwards, Democratic nominee for vice president:

—As is well-known by now, you made your fortune representing plaintiffs in tort cases, mostly in medical malpractice cases. One of the consequences of huge rewards like those you have won has been skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums for doctors and the exodus of doctors from certain medical specialties, such as OB-GYNs, heart surgeons and emergency room attendants. The resultant crisis in health care availability has hit particularly hard in the South, as medical insurers and doctors have abandoned much of the region.  As someone who has presented himself as an advocate for the little guy, how do you reconcile the verdicts you've won with the effects those verdicts had on health care in the South?

—You specialized in seeking judgments for parents in cases of botched childbirth deliveries, which you argued resulted in cases of cerebral palsy.  Two new studies released in 2003 show strong evidence that cerebral palsy is not likely caused by delivery room errors, but by genetics or prenatal infections. If medical science continues to exonerate delivery doctors from cerebral palsy cases, do you think the verdicts against the doctors you successfully sued should be reversed, or that your clients should return the money?

—You oppose a ban on late-term abortions, yet have sued doctors for errors made in delivering premature babies near or at the same age of gestation as a fetus would be during a late-term termination.  Is it inconsistent to sue a doctor for millions of dollars for botching the delivery of a baby, but also vote to keep legal the termination of a fetus the same age?

You said in a campaign speech that we have “One America that pays the taxes, another America that gets the tax breaks,” and that in your administration, we’d have “no more tax breaks for CEOs who give themselves millions in top-hat pensions while giving no pensions at all to ordinary workers.”  Yet, two years before you were elected to the Senate, you established a tax shelter to avoid paying $290,000 in Medicare taxes. Medicare is federally-funded healthcare for the poor. How do you explain your shirking of this duty to the poor you claim other wealthy people should observe?

—You’ve said that Miguel Estrada, the man President Bush nominated for the D.C. District Court of Appeals, was an unqualified candidate who merely “had the right last name.”  Estrada has argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court. He edited the Harvard Law Review, worked with Solicitors General from both parties, and received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association.  Do you believe that blacks and Hispanics with conservative beliefs are inherently unqualified for judicial positions? Can't a black or Hispanic disagree with Democratic Party principles and still retain his/her racial or ethnic bona fides?

For Vice President Cheney:

—During your 2000 vice presidential debate with Joe Lieberman, you stated that you felt gay marriage was a matter best left up to the states.  You’ve now publicly supported the Federal Marriage Amendment, a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. What has caused you  to abandon the principles of federalism as they apply to this issue?

—In 1991, you gave a speech in which you said the first President Bush was correct to leave Saddam Hussein in power, given the ethnic tensions in Iraq.  In fact you said it would be nearly impossible to impose a democracy there, and that “it would have been a mistake for us to get bogged down in the quagmire inside Iraq.”  Granted, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks changed the way we look at the world, but what has changed in Iraq in the last 13 years that now makes you optimistic we can build a liberal society there?

—Last January, 60 Minutes reported that as CEO of Halliburton in the 1990s, you set up a subsidiary of the company in the Cayman Islands to help the country of Iran extract and process oil –- an effort to get around U.S. State Department restrictions on U.S. businesses transacting with countries that sponsor terrorism.  That subsidiary is still operating, and does about $40 million worth of business with Iran each year.  As vice president of the Untied States and former head of the company, will you ask Halliburton to stop doing business with a country President Bush has designated a charter member of the “axis of evil?”

—You’ve accused Sen. John Kerry of repeatedly voting against defense and intelligence spending increases over his career in the U.S. Senate, but as Secretary of Defense, you moved to de-activate two army divisions; in 1991, you called for reducing the military by 200,000 active and reserved duty troops over two years, and 700,000 over five years.  You also cut then, or the Bush administration has cut since, many of the same military programs and projects you’re now chastising Kerry for voting against. How can you attack Kerry for positions that you appear to have at one point supported?

—During the 2000 campaign, you said you looked forward to working with then-Republican nominee George W. Bush to “change the tone in Washington, to restore a spirit of civility and respect and cooperation.” Yet, you have repeatedly refused to apologize for  the profanity you unleashed on Sen. Patrick Leahy on the floor of the U.S. Senate, even saying, days later, that you "felt better" after your rant. Is this not the kind of “coarsening of America” your conservative supporters lament?

Radley Balko publishes a weblog at: www.TheAgitator.com.

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