Tuesday, October 05, 2004

I Want To Hold Your Hand

Now we know why George Bush insisted on Dick Cheney being present when he appeared before the 9/11 Commission. Cheney clearly has a better command of events, facts (although he plays fast and loose with them) and policies than Bush, and the difference is obvious when you compare the debates.

You see, Bush was so terrible that it made Cheney's performance look that much better. The left might have gotten a little spoiled watching Kerry trounce Bush on Thursday, and this might have led some to believe that all debates would be that easy. They won't be.

That being said, I bet you if the Bush team could have the decision all over again, they would rather two presidential and two vice presidential debates, instead of the current agreement for three presidential and one vice presidential debate. What were they thinking? Did they start believing their own hype about Bush being a commanding leader?

Despite our somewhat unreal expectations following Kerry's exemplary performance on Thursday, Edwards was very impressive tonight. He stood toe to toe with the older more experienced Cheney and exchanged big blows. He returned fire with fire, and never retreated. He was aggressive to match Cheney, and Cheney was left without a response on more than one occasion. He dismissed the inexperience charge with a cogent argument that the past four years has proven that experience does not guarantee sound judgment. In essence, Edwards did enough to carry the night, or at the very least fight the formidable Cheney to a stalemate which is all his team needed.

He did a fine job hammering away at the themes of the Bush administration's credibility gap and incompetence in the prosecution of the Iraq war effort, building on the narrative that John Kerry so eloquently gave life to last Thursday. Independents and moderates will stay focused on these issues, and pursue the matter further, which is exactly what Kerry/Edwards wanted from tonight's events. Stay on message.

He was also very effective connecting to everyday Americans with the two Americas-esque populist appeals. The skilled trial lawyer in him came out when he reduced many problems and issues to a question of easy to understand economic priorities, with the Bush administration favoring big business and big wealth over the middle class and ordinary Americans. His delivery was occasionally over-enthusiastic, but he presented a warmer rendition of Kerry that will reach a different demographic.

Cheney did what he wanted to in many ways too. He landed some shots, trotted out some old disinformation (Iraq/al-Qaeda again?) and leaned heavily on the fear factor - which is the Bush administration's most potent weapon. Cheney may have appeared more presidential than Edwards to some but he was also clearly more presidential than Bush himself, which only reinforces the popular critique of the inverted dynamic within the administration. On delivery, he had an authoritative tone at his strongest, but he tended to drone on and trail off on non-sequitur tangents at other times which probably lost a lot of less wonkish people who might have tuned him out from boredom.

Unfortunately for Bush/Cheney, though, Cheney is only the vice president, and the country will see two more one-on-ones between Bush and Kerry for the top spot. The bad news is, George will have to appear without Dick by his side - again.

[Update: Since I tracked the post-debate response of Rupert Murdoch's New York Post in my summary of the first presidential debate (which unanimously gave the night to Kerry), I thought I would check in on how the Post covered the post-vice presidential debate spin. It was interesting to see that the title of the lead story was almost exactly the same as the prior debate's lead story. Whereas the first caption read "Kerry Comes Out Swinging," today's line was "Cheney Comes Out Swinging." Still, the conclusion of the analysis was that it was more or less a draw. Of the four person panel of experts assembled to critique the performance, one gave Cheney the edge, two called it a draw and one called it a draw - but leaning toward Edwards. Again, I am struck by the fact that the Post could not call either debate a clear win for their candidates. This only confirms in my mind that Edwards did a superb job of holding his own.]

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