Cheney-Edwards:success for the voters
As did their running mates last week, vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney and John Edwards offered American voters a substantive and dignified look at their differences and ideas last night in their one-and-only televised debate.
Their major points of difference echoed those of the presidential candidates: whether the war in Iraq is being handled properly or whether the Bush administration's tax policy is fair to the vast majority of Americans and good for the economy.
In some ways, the debate was better than the first meeting between candidates John Kerry and George Bush. The tone was a bit sharper; distinctions were more closely drawn.
Cheney, the Washington veteran, was the comfortable, direct master of policy and detail. Edwards, the expert trial lawyer, was quick on his feet and clearly unintimidated by the old pro.
On foreign affairs, the two reprised the themes and ideas put forth by their running mates, particularly on Iraq. In some ways, Cheney did a better job than Bush in explaining how the war in Iraq is part of the overall battle against international terror.
He brushed off criticism that the country was misled into that war, saying there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein was a real threat to his neighbors and an active supporter of terrorists outside the borders of his own country.
One of the better exchanges, however, centered on domestic issues and voting records in Congress.
Cheney, trying to emphasize the point that Edwards' senatorial record is relatively short and unsubstantive, noted that he regularly presides over the Senate as vice president.
"And the first time I met you was when you walked on the stage tonight," he said.
Good jab. But it provided an opening for a powerful riposte from Edwards, who said if you want to talk voting records, then how about Cheney's votes against such things as the Martin Luther King holiday, Head Start and Meals on Wheels?
Pre-debate handicapping said Cheney had the upper hand since he has significantly more Washington experience, ranging from service in Congress through his nearly four years as vice president. He also had gone through this precise debate format four years ago against Democrat Joe Lieberman.
And indeed, the vice president was comfortable and authoritative.
But he hit no home runs against the agile Edwards.
For anyone interested in this year's presidential campaign, the Cheney-Edwards standoff helped shine additional light on where the two campaigns stand and how they differ.
This event underscores how important it is for voters to tune in to the final two presidential debates.
Forget the television ads and glossy advertising. These debates, as Cheney and Edwards demonstrated so well, are the best way to get to understand what this election is all about.