Date registered: Sep 2004
Vehicle: 83 Astral Silver 280 SL
Location: Planet Houston
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RE: What exactly does this mean, Mr. Cheney?
Edwards and Cheney were careful not to repeat the mistakes of last week's debate. But there were still enough blunders to keep the blogosphere buzzing
By Rebecca Sinderbrand
Updated: 4:20 p.m. ET Oct. 6, 2004Oct. 6 - The night was like a duel right from the start. After an initial handshake, Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic challenger Sen. John Edwards sat silently onstage for a tense five-minute pre-debate period without acknowledging each other. And from the opening question, the pair went on the offensive, sparring in ways that matched their personal styles.
For Cheney, the task was to dominate the debate and single-handedly deflect attention from the presidentĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s widely panned performance against challenger Sen. John Kerry last Thursday. Not only did the vice president have to fight Senator Edwards for the countryĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s attentionĂ˘â‚¬â€ťhe had to battle to win viewers over from the New York Yankees-Minnesota Twins match-up on the first night of the baseball playoffs.
Edwards had a daunting assignment of his own: to sustain the Kerry campaignĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s momentum by out-dueling one of the masters of the art of the verbal shiv. And to do it in a format the North Carolina senator notoriously had yet to masterĂ˘â‚¬â€ťthe roundtable style that had seemed to stall his progress during the primary season, stifling his courtroom-honed dramatic skills.
Cheney delivered sharp but seemingly dispassionate jabs at the Kerry-Edwards ticket in the monotone manner thatĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s long been his signature campaign style. The Democrat matched him criticism for criticism, tryingĂ˘â‚¬â€ťat times uneasilyĂ˘â‚¬â€ťto adapt his folksy, animated mannerisms to the roundtable format the Democratic team had agreed to in exchange for a third Bush-Kerry face-off.
Both men were clearly aware of the ways their opponentĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s strengths highlighted their own shortcomings. Even the vice presidentĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s staunchest supporters admitted that he came into the evening with a charisma deficit, confronting a candidate with the highest likeability numbers in the race. So Cheney offered measured, detailed attacksĂ˘â‚¬â€ťboth personal and politicalĂ˘â‚¬â€ťdesigned to highlight their experience gap. Edwards, a first-term senator with a limited foreign-policy background, knew heĂ˘â‚¬â„˘d be facing a man with an intimidating resume loaded with three decades worth of solid Washington credentials. He tried to turn that experience into a liability, reciting a laundry list of administration policy critiques before delivering the punch line: Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“Mr. Vice President, I don't think the country can take four more years of this kind of experience.Ă˘â‚¬?
Both drew from the lesson of last weekĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Bush-Kerry matchup: make sure the debate revolves around your opponentĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s policies, not your own. Repeatedly, Edwards sliced at the administrationĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s decisions in Iraq; just as often, Cheney parried, steering the conversation back to John KerryĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Senate votes and plans for that country. Unlike the president, Cheney seemed unsurprised by and ready for a debate dominated by sharp questions about the administrationĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Iraq policy. The 90-minute session covered a host of issues, but returned overseas again and again: the word Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“IraqĂ˘â‚¬? was mentioned onstage twice as often as Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“jobs.Ă˘â‚¬? (And reflecting the personal nature of much of the onstage combat, Halliburton was mentioned almost as often as health care.)
Typically, vice presidential debates havenĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t had much impact on the presidential race, but this isnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t a typical year, and certainly not a typical vice president. Both campaigns had anticipated that the closeness of the race and CheneyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s unusually prominent role would change the dynamics of the debate, and clearly the vice presidentĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s record provided a tempting target. On the other hand, both sides freely admit that voters tend not to make their final decisions based on the bottom half of the ticket; the candidatesĂ˘â‚¬â„˘ main function last night was to act as surrogates for their bosses. Edwards seemed almost too eager on that score, working John KerryĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s name into nearly every answer, even when explicitly prohibited by moderator Gwen Ifill. Cheney didnĂ˘â‚¬â„˘t need that directive: his references to the president were considerably sparser.
There were a few missteps on both sides. Edwards stumbled verbally several times, at one point repeating a presidential mistake from the last debate: citing Saddam HusseinĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s name instead of the intended reference, Al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden. For his part, CheneyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s main gaffes, while less obvious onstage, were of the variety the blogosphere revels in. A zinger aimed at EdwardsĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Senate attendance record (Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“The first time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonightĂ˘â‚¬?) that drew Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“oohsĂ˘â‚¬? from journalists watching the debate from the nearby Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“spin alleyĂ˘â‚¬? viewing area was soon neutralized by gleeful left-wing bloggers who circulated screengrabs of the two side by side at a February 2001 prayer breakfast. Meanwhile, an incorrect Internet address mentioned by Cheney led to an unexpected opportunity for the administrationĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s opponents. Intending to cite factcheck.org, a nonpartisan campaign resource administered by the University of PennsylvaniaĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s Annenberg School of Communications, the vice president instead mistakenly directed viewers to factcheck.comĂ˘â‚¬â€ťan unclaimed URL that by the end of the evening was snapped up by webmeisters unknown. Post-debate visitors who visited the site were automatically redirected to GeorgeSoros.com, the Web site of the pro-Kerry billionaire who blasts the presidentĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s policies and calls for his defeat.
In the end, the two men battled to an uneasy draw unlikely to significantly shift the campaign dynamic heading into FridayĂ˘â‚¬â„˘s presidential debate. They ended the night much as theyĂ˘â‚¬â„˘d spent the previous 90 minutes, by providing viewers with a sharp contrast drawn from their respective stump speeches. John Edwards cited boyhood memories in a pitch on how the Democratic ticket would preserve Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“the bright light of America.Ă˘â‚¬? Dick Cheney used his closing time to stress that the Bush administration had pursued the Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“only viable option for winning the war on terrorismĂ˘â‚¬?Ă˘â‚¬â€ťand that the final outcome of that fight hinged on the Ă˘â‚¬Ĺ“strong leadership of the president.Ă˘â‚¬? As duels went, neither candidate may have struck a fatal blowĂ˘â‚¬â€ťbut there was plenty to delight the bloodthirsty.