Wednesday, October 06, 2004

VP debate reaction

For more in-depth analysis, see Hugh Hewitt, Powerline, and Captain's Quarters.

As to my personal take: I take a contrary view to all the folks' impressions above. They resoundingly score last night's debate for Cheney. I do not. (However, scroll to the bottom for my personal take on the "big picture")

Maybe I'm bogged down again by my "expectations"--that Cheney would mercilessly attack not just John Kerry's record, but also the substance of their platform. He did the former in spades--about time!--but was somewhat lacking on the second. Details:

-- Good shots at Kerry's and Edwards' records. Cheney shed light on Kerry's stances on defense as far back as 1984, and hit highlights every decade thereafter. Referenced a North Carolina paper that called Edwards "Senator Gone"; vicious shot at how Cheney had never met Edwards despite the fact that Cheney spends almost every Tuesday in the Senate chamber.

-- Beautiful attack/rebuttal by Cheney on the $200 Billion/90% "line" used at will by Kerry the other night and repeated by Edwards. Summary: a) the cost in Iraq has been $120 billion; b) that's NOT including the almost $95 billion in debt relief and other programs that we have secured for the Iraqis from other countries; and c) that 90% of resources and soldier deaths line DOES NOT account for our biggest ally in the coalition: the Iraqi people. Necessary tie-in to the disgraceful shots Kerry took at Allawi last week, basically outlining the obsurdity of Kerry's claim that he'll do anything to strengthen the coalition in Iraq because his comments serve to weaken the credibility of our strongest ally in that coalition, who is PM Allawi.

-- Foreign policy, as a whole, was okay for Cheney. But one major disappointment--and he even had a set-up with the final question--was the lack of pointing out the Kedwards' idea of giving nuclear material to Iran. Given the recent report that Iran has developed a missile that can put ordnance on Israel, the idea of "giving" the mullahs the materials necessary to become a nuclear power in the name of "finding out if they mean to be good or bad" deserves serious scrutiny. This should be one of the biggest focus points of the campaign from here on in, and Cheney mentioned it exactly zero times.

-- Halliburton was brought up, and I found it interesting that it actually worked in Edwards' favor rather than vice-versa. Cheney should have slammed the door on the Halliburton associations with "eeeevil", but he didn't. I believe it was Hugh who called it a "necessary" response--but to me it was lacking. (Personally, I also think the whole topic is superfluous--but that could be me looking at things through the eyes of a partisan. I don't know how all this stuff plays on the "undecideds" stage) I thought Edwards' trial lawyer background showed through well here.

-- On domestic issues, I thought Edwards won the night. Aside from the fact that I see no way of their platform getting paid for by simply raising taxes on the top 2% of taxpayers (which should have been raised by Cheney. How about some studies about the Dem platform to expose it as a fiscally draining exercise in big government, people!), Edwards sounded convincing and concerned. Cheney didn't even answer the first question posed by Ifill, which was about the 31% unemployment rate in Cleveland. He didn't even talk about jobs at all during this question. Later, he touted the "new jobs" numbers, but didn't mention the low unemployment numbers or the strong numbers gleamed from economic data. If the heart of the Bush message is in ownership, why didn't Cheney mention that home and auto ownership numbers are at all-time records? Cheney did score points for attacking the "rolling back" of tax cuts for the wealthiest in the context that it will be a huge burden on small businesses, responsible for 70% of new jobs (that number is staggering!), but that was about it. Edwards had his strongest moments at this time: 1) in stressing, at the very end, that Kerry/Edwards will stand WITH the American people, as opposed to the evil corporate interests; and 2) at the very start, when Edwards looked at Cheney and said something to the effect of "I don't think this country can take 4 more years of you guys". It was classic lawyering (at least in terms of my experience, which is pretty much limited to watching Law and Order): he "framed" the debate his way ("with the American people or with the interests of the insurance companies"), and used his most effective stuff when there was no opportunity for a retort.

As for the "future sound bites" issue (the most important category, in my opinion): a flat-out draw. Two good points for Cheney (the "wilting under the pressure of Dean" line and the continuous disparaging of our allies line), and two good points for Edwards. That Cheney's points deal with foreign policy and leadership traits while Edwards are both about domestic issues I find compelling, but not unexpected.

THE GOOD NEWS: To me, the VP debates are a chance to get to know the people who would actually guide this country through the remainder of a term IF the President were to lose the capacity to serve. To that end, IF this was to see what kinds of worldly knowledge and experience these two men would put a heartbeat away from the most powerful job in the free world, Edwards failed. He even whiffed on a question specifically designed for him to answer allegations about his inexperience and how it might play/be used on a world stage. He talked about what he has learned about John Kerry--but nothing about what he has learned anywhere else, or even about himself. He's a smart man, but he still came off as far too immature for the office of President. Edwards, I assume based on performance rather than anything he said, believes his job as VP is to be a mouthpiece for Kerry. And while I like the idea of a VP who can work as a public face for the administration, what I REALLY want from a VP is the security of knowing that the country doesn't get any weaker if something happens to the President. With Cheney, we know that to be the case--even Kerry has joked about how "involved" Cheney is with the decisions of the Bush administration. I have yet to see anything from Edwards that makes me think that he could assume the office of President tomorrow. Granted, he got away from his one-trick horse mentality that I accused him of back at the DNC--but he still doesn't show any big thoughts or even the ability to have serious thoughts.

To me, the night was a tactical win for Kerry/Edwards, but a strategic loss. That's the same scorecard as the debate last week. My biggest question: can the President's team suffer any more tactical losses before it affects the overall strategic goals?

All I know is this: today's speech and Friday's debate are very very important. Far more important than I could've possibly imagined anything being a week ago.

And THAT represents a strategic win for Kerry.


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