Pre-Spin thoughts on the Veep debate

October 06, 2004

A couple of thoughts about last night's VP debate. I wrote this this morning, before reading the news or checking he blogosphere.

Cheney may be the prince of darkness, but he is also a policy wonk and an impressive one. I found him more impressive than Edwards, even though I disagree with most of his positions and analyses.

Cheney may be addicted to linking Saddam Hussein with the war on terror, but he is also a good insider - his critique of Edwards as Senator stay-at-home was powerful: "I am in the Senate every Tuesday. The first time I met Senator Edwards was tonight."

Both debaters turned to talking points from the stump speeches every time they hit something they did not want to talk about. For Edwards, it was Halliburtan, for Cheney it was attempts to spin Kerry and Edwards' Senate record, either by saying they were absentee, saying they were trimming politicos, or mis-representing their voting records.

Bush and Cheney have the easier forensic argument: we did the right thing in Iraq, things are getting better, democracy is a good thing and we are building it, our opponents want to cut and run just on the edge of victory. It may not be right, but it is mightily consistent and it lets them insert paens to democracy in the middle of any piece of policy rhetoric. Cheney sings these paens well; we respond to them; it is powerful political rhetoric.

Kerry and Edwards are making a nuanced argument: these guys drove us into the ditch, they are spinning their wheels, and we need to try a better way of getting out of that ditch. Or, to use a better metaphor, those guys tried to drain the swamp without planning for alligators. We are all up to our ass in alligators in Iraq. We would not have drained this swamp first, but now that we are here we will do a better job than they are of deterring alligators and draining the swamp. It might be true, but as Cheney repeated and repeated, and as Bush had repeated in the first debate, every rhetoric that makes it clear that the original ditch-driving or alligator clearing was poorly planned does make it a little harder to rally folks to help lift the car or drain the swamp. But then, standing there while you get spattered with mud from the spinning car wheels also gives folks an incentive to walk away until the driver stops blindly gunning the engine.

Cheney obviously disagrees with the Texas Republicans about gay marriage. He did the obligatory shuffle for the cause, then let the issue drop. Edwards was gracious to Cheney, and it worked.

Edwards was more comfortable talking about domestic issues than foreign policy. Still, he reminded me a bit of Bush back in 2000: both are telegenic men who have a compelling vision of themself, a disciplined focus on talking points, and a thin grasp of policy details. Bush, as much as I despise the man, did grow in office. Edwards will do the same. For that matter, so did Dan Quayle. Will Edwards grow enough? I hope so. His record before government is impressive and he appears to be a quick study.

Still, over the course of the debate I still found Cheney to be more impressive - even when he was making claims that disagree with other information I have picked up because I am a news junkie. Sell the sizzle, not the steak, and Cheney may be a cranky pitbull, but he is a pitbull with sizzle.

EDIT, here is the NYT
factchecking the debate.
Looks like I missed a couple of whoppers from Cheney, including the bit about never having met Edwards, and that as expected the Halliburton accusations were making much ado over nothing - Halliburton had won earlier bidded contracts for military services, and so were the only organization in place to fulfill the increase in those services.

Posted by Red Ted at October 6, 2004 07:28 AM | TrackBack