Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate gave viewers some of the most exciting moments of the campaign so far with Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John Edwards sparring before a live audience at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Vice presidential debates tend to be more aggressive,” according to Dr. Richard Brake, an American politics professor at Temple. Brake said that because vice presidential candidates don’t have to worry about “the likeability factor” they can concentrate more on attacking.
In contrast to the first presidential debate, Cheney and Edwards were seated just a well-placed hook away from each other at a round-table facing moderator Gwen Ifill. Edwards came out swinging, directly accusing Vice President Cheney of “still not being straight with the American people,” referring to the situation in Iraq. Cheney countered by asserting that progress has been made in Iraq and that democratic elections will take place in January.
Edwards continually brought into question the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror and specifically the decision to divert resources away from Afghanistan and into Iraq.
“They [the Bush administration] gave the responsibility of capturing and/or killing…Osama bin Laden to Afghan warlords who, just a few weeks before, had been working with Osama Bin Laden.”
In response, Cheney cited the fact that there are 16,000 troops in Afghanistan, that they are still pursuing Osama bin Laden and that the country is four days away from the first democratic elections in their history.
Cheney also accused Kerry and Edwards of “being for the war when the headlines were good and against it when their poll ratings were bad.”
On domestic issues, the two candidates traded jabs on the topics of healthcare, jobs and taxes. Edwards, when asked about the 31 percent of people in Cleveland living in poverty, pointed out that under the Bush administration four million Americans have become impoverished. Edwards also drew contrast between Bush’s policies of outsourcing American jobs overseas and Kerry’s plan to keep jobs in America.
In response, Cheney replied that “111 million Americans have benefited from our tax cuts,” and that “we’ve got 40 million seniors who’ve benefited from the reform of the Medicare system.”
Tuesday’s debate took on a personal tone, with the candidates directly attacking each others’ records in government. Cheney brought up the fact that John Edwards’ home-town newspaper has called Edwards “Senator Gone.” Cheney also attacked Edwards’ attendance record in the Senate saying “Now in my capacity as Vice President I am President of the Senate, the presiding officer…The first time I ever met you was when you walked on stage tonight.” At a post-debate rally in Cleveland Senator Edwards cleared things up, noting that he and Vice President Cheney sat next to each other at the swearing in of Elizabeth Dole in 2003.
In Brake’s view, Cheney’s strongest moment was calling into question Edwards’ experience, as he would be a heartbeat away from the Presidency if Kerry is elected. Edwards was most successful when brought up Cheney’s former company Halliburton’s past business dealings with Libya and Iran.
Brake felt there was no “slam-dunk” winner but that Cheney did a good job of “rallying his troops” leading up to the final stretch of the campaign.
“Last night was a preview of what we’ll see on Friday,” Brake said, referring to the upcoming presidential debate on Friday at Washington University in St. Louis.
“There is going to be a lot of pressure on the president going into Friday. Look for him to attack Kerry,” Brake said.
Reaction to the debate among Temple students was mixed. Peter Suanlarm felt that the two came out even but that Edwards had a slight edge. Suanlarm also said that Edwards’ experience as a trial lawyer helped him to win arguments. Another student, Andy Allwine, disagreed.
“I thought that Cheney was stronger. He knew what he was saying and he stuck to his points,” said Allwine.
Michael Sharir felt Edwards and Cheney both avoided answering questions or didn’t answer them at all which became “annoying…they both seemed like they were on the defensive,” Sharir said.
Brendan I. Keegan can be reached at email@example.com.