The 2004 Vice Presidential Debate

Wow, who knew! The VP candidates are a lot more interesting than the presidential ones!

From early in last night’s event, Vice President Dick Cheney (R) and Senator John Edwards (D-NC) lobbed every attack—personal or policy—they could at one another, making for quite the compelling debate (complete with exaggerations and dramatic hyperbole).

While the first presidential debate was clearly a victory for Senator Kerry, the VP candidates seemed much more evenly matched. Both presented articulate, oft’ biting, arguments for their particular platform. Cheney is a master at this kind of thing, and Edwards is energetic and intelligent (and I’ve said since the primaries that he should’ve been at the top of his party’s ticket).

Cheney seized numerous opportunities to point out distortions in Edwards’ arguments—such as the exaggerated figures about the U.S. share of casualties and cost in Iraq—and Edwards did not act so decisively to correct similar exaggerations on the opposite side. In fact, through much of the debate Edwards seemed to be on the defensive and afraid to go for the jugular when it would’ve served him well.

The Vice president did not hold back, and he managed to get Edwards so angry with him that the Senator actually interrupted him . . . twice! Now, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Cheney had indeed said something blatantly wrong and/or offensive; even so, Edwards should’ve waited his turn. Statesmen should not interrupt while a colleague is speaking. (Again, I’m not even going to argue over whether Cheney had said anything objectionable. Edwards had rebuttal time to make his counterpoint; he should not have tried to jump the gun.)

In fact, Edwards seemed somewhat angry through much of the debate (perhaps because Cheney jumped into a strong, no-holds-barred offensive right off the bat). The anger was only obvious if you were watching the C-SPAN split screen—when the network cameras were on the Senator, he was all smiles! Cheney, on the other hand, always looks a little mad and we’re used to that. ;-)

Vice President Cheney was poorly mic’ed, so he often sounded muffled. It almost sounded like he was mumbling under his breath when, in fact, he was speaking clearly. Those of us who recognized this as a technical problem didn’t let it effect our opinions, but there are a lot of people who wouldn’t have recognized this glitch for what it was. Cheney’s elbows-on-the-table manner didn’t help things either.

I was disappointed with some of the totally off-base personal attacks. The Halliburton gibberish has been fully debunked, and Edwards should not have sullied a good debate by bringing it up. Likewise, Cheney’s constant jibes about Edward’s attendance record in the Senate were unnecessary and somewhat unfair. Bringing it up once or twice would’ve been fine (there’s a record to back it up, and it does reflect somewhat on Edwards’ character), but the candidates should stay focused on what’s really important.

Cheney’s idiotic comment about having never met Edwards was a great sound byte, but it’s not true! Spouting falsehoods, no matter how trivial, is a good way to ruin your credibility.

Edwards, unfortunately, is hampered by having to follow the Kerry campaign’s party-line on Iraq. The idea that John Kerry has been consistent about the war in Iraq and has never changed his mind about it is simply ludicrous, and it sounds no more convincing coming from John Edwards’ mouth than it does from Kerry’s. To repeat myself: “Spouting falsehoods . . . is a good way to ruin your credibility.”

Throughout most of the debate, Cheney seemed prepared, on top of things, and knowledgeable. He snapped back at shaky assertions calmly and with confidence. Edwards appeared slightly flustered, though he held his own and made a lot of really good points. All around, this was just a good debate (especially in comparison to last week’s) and—from the position of disinterested apolitical observer—very close. I believe that Cheney won, but not by a long shot.

One final gripe: The candidates were asked to explain how they were different from their opponent without using the names of the presidential candidates. Cheney answered clearly and concisely, made a lot of good points, and never mentioned President Bush’s name. Edwards, however, started spouting what seemed to be a memorized answer to a different question—in which he used Kerry’s name twice. It was, by far, the low-point of the Senator’s performance. I don’t expect perfection, but it was an easy question with a simple rule attached to it. It surprised me how badly he flubbed the answer to such a softball question.

That’s my 2¢ (or 4¢ in this case, I wrote more than I meant to). Feel free to chime in with your own observations.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.