So disappointing. Not just the debate, but the evenness of the press spin afterword. The fact is, Cheney came as close to steamrolling John Edwards as he could have come while still allowing the press to call it a draw with a straight face.
Cheney was credible and steady. He exuded competence and gravitas. Edwards will never be a Cheney, that much is obvious, but he was still worse than he needed to be. Edwards batted his eyelashes and flashed his pearly smile between questions, seeming as if he was more interested in getting the moderator and audience to admire his charm than to take him seriously as a potential president.
The task that Edwards failed at was similar to John Kerry’s: Don’t just slip a few negative details into answers filled with meaningless, boilerplate platitudes. Stay on message and drive the point home, forcing the other side to either answer the charge or concede the point.
For example, we knew Cheney would dodge questions about, say, Halliburton. But it was Edwards’ job to call attention to the fact that he avoided the issue, and then tell the American people why.
“The vice president never responded to the the issue of cutting soldiers’ combat pay while sending them into Iraq, because it is a fact, and it will stand up to the light of the truth well after this debate, and he knows it.”
“The vice president didn’t address the outsourcing of jobs because his administration supports it. It’s a fact, and one that they prefer not to own up to when confronted by the American people.”
“This administration sent 40,000 troops into battle without body aromor. It’s a fact, and the vice president knows it, and it’s wrong. No parent should have to take up a collection here at home to provide their son or daughter with basic equipment in Iraq.”
“In addition to being the first president in 70 years to lose jobs, George Bush refuses to even acknowledge that millions of Americans are underemployed, a situation so bad that parents are competing with their children for minimum-wage jobs. The fact is, this administration would rather cover up the problem by counting McDonalds jobs as ‘manufacturing‘ jobs because they make hamburgers. George Bush refuses to accept the reality of what’s going on in America, and the middle class is hurting as a result.”
And it goes on, and on, and on. Bush opposed 9/11 commission and the Department of Homeland Security. He didn’t fully fund No Child Left Behind. He still hasn’t caught Osama bin Laden.
Edwards’ mentioned most of these criticisms, but the problem was how. His occasional jabs were quick and forgettable; he never stuck to them and made them the focal point of what will be beamed into millions of households over the next three days. Edwards left us with very few takeaways, when the story could have been how Cheney was too stubborn and ultraconservative to even admit a mistake in voting against the Department of Education, against Head Start, against Meals-on-Wheels for seniors, against a resolution for freeing Nelson Mandela or against a Martin Luther King holiday.
Cheney won this debate because he successfully portrayed Kerry as vaccilating and unsteady. He also revealed how tremendously unready John Edwards is for this job, and undoubtedly left Democrats wishing they could sub in a Joe Biden to close the gravitas gap.
I still think John Kerry will win this race. The two additional cracks at Bush alone should ensure that. But seeing as how the Democrats have been so consistently outmaneuvered by the Republicans in this campaign, if Kerry does lose, tonight’s debate will be one of many reasons why.