Dick Cheney played the sober judge in last night's debate while John Grisham Edwards played the sophistical trial lawyer, long on cheap rhetoric, short on real responsibility. "Senator Gone," as Cheney called him (quoting a North Carolina newspaper), can't even claim experience in the Senate because he is almost never there to experience anything.
Without a record Edwards fell back on rhetoric, leveling convoluted charges too insider baseballish to keep the audience from turning to real baseball on another channel. John Edwards treats the American people like an audience at a Michael Moore movie, expecting them to respond robotically to the sound of "Halliburton."
Cheney's substance only highlighted Edwards' lack of any. He looked hollow, gesticulating in proportion to his lack of sincere thought. Cheney made Edwards look like a smart-alecky ass when Edwards tried to score political points by sneering at the Iraqis' contribution to the war effort. Like a grandfather scolding a mindless teenager, Cheney suggested to Edwards that he treat the sacrifice of Iraqis with a little more respect.
Some debaters master details and miss the big picture. Other debaters get the big picture and stumble on details. Cheney is pretty good at both, making him a deadly debater against a demagogue like Edwards who thinks canned lines are a substitute for convictions.
The essential cheapness of Edwards was seen in his use of family members (both his and Cheney's) as political props. When he wasn't using Cheney's daughter to score political points against his opponent, he was telling bizarre stories about his undereducated father "learning math on television." Then he added patronizingly, "I was proud of him." Edwards's subtext: My father was a loser, I am a winner who rose from a family of losers through hard work, vote for me.
Why do we need to know that his father learned math by watching "Sesame Street"? And what possible relevance could Cheney's daughter have to national policy? The lifestyle choices of vice-presidential daughters now drive television debates? There is no bottom to the superficiality and stupidity of American politics under the influence of Democratic demagoguery.
The Kerry-Edwards position on homosexual marriage is as convincing as their position on Iraq: they are against it and for it. They are for marriage between a "man and a woman" and against attempts to define marriage as that union. They don't want the states to veto the judges of Massachusetts through an amendment power given to the people in the Constitution, but Edwards and Kerry are fine with an extraconstitutional "global test" vetoing America's national security.
Moderator Gwen Ifill asked Edwards a simple question: Isn't a global test a "global veto"? His lawyerly distinctions were utterly inadequate to the question. To the question, would you have left Saddam Hussein in power? Edwards just resorted to lawerly evasion. It is too bad Cheney didn't say, "Notice, Gwen, that Edwards didn't answer your question, because he and Kerry would have left Saddam Hussein in power."
Edwards said he is "frightened" by the spread of the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the conflict in the Sudan -- "two huge moral issues for the U.S." -- but saw no moral urgency in stopping the spread of Saddam Hussein's terrorism. Since certainty is a vice and uncertainty a virtue in the philosophy of Kerry and Edwards, no contradiction is too great for them. They will decrease the deficit by increasing government. They will help small business by taxing it out of existence (Cheney noted that almost a million small businesses would see their taxes rise under Kerry and Edwards). They will promote class unity by practicing class warfare (Edwards conjured up the "multimillionaire by the swimming pool"). They will fix health care by spreading universal health care, a topic Edwards, ever the ambulance chaser, returned to time and again. They will defend Israel -- Edwards' pandering on this score was almost comic -- while Kerry calls Israel's security fence against Palestinian terrorists a "barrier to peace."
Edwards took his trial tricks into a debate with a vice president as commanding as a judge. The American people aren't likely to rule in his favor.
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