Here’s a rule of thumb for judging the debates. The first candidate who starts repeating the same stock phrases over and over is the loser.
Last week, it was President Bush, who constantly kept falling back on his set line, “Anyone who keeps changing his mind on the war isn’t fit to be commander-in-chief.”
Tuesday night is was John Edwards, who repeated the line “There is no connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein” eight times. He also said the administration should “tell the American people the truth” six times. Every time Cheney boxed him into a corner, he returned to the set script.
Cheney, meanwhile, was relaxed and informative. He never repeated himself, never fell back on set phrases, and even managed to be a little bit philosophical — something unheard of in a candidate — when he opined about the similarity in background between himself and Edwards. Meanwhile, Edwards went all goo-goo-eyed in telling about watching his father learning math on television. It’s a nice story but haven’t we had enough of this born-in-a-log-cabin rhetoric? Jimmy Carter, move over.
The high point of the debate — something that no one seems to have jumped on — is when Edwards responded to Cheney’s answer about lifting sanctions against Iran:
The reality about Iran is that Iran has moved forward with their nuclear weapons program on their watch. They ceded responsibility to dealing with it to the Europeans.
“Ceded responsibility to the Europeans!?” What does he think John Kerry’s entire foreign policy is? Kerry’s only “plan” is to beg France and Germany to get back in the game. That’s what he means by the “global test.” Meantime, we’ve let the Europeans and the U.N. deal with Iran and the Sudan, primarily because we were preoccupied with Iraq and didn’t want to step on any more toes. So what have they accomplished? Absolutely nothing. What would we have accomplished if we had waited to “broaden our alliance” to include France and Germany before going into Iraq? Absolutely nothing as well.
One of the staples of liberal lore is that Dick Cheney is really the President and George Bush — as John Nichols, editor of the Nation¸ put it the other day — is only around to “play golf and go on vacations.”
Anyone who has watched the administration knows that’s ridiculous. But after watching Cheney in yesterday’s debate, my response is: “What’s wrong with that?”
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