The Running Mates
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KWAME HOLMAN: John Edwards looked exuberant arriving at a rally in West Palm Beach, Florida, this afternoon, with plenty to say about last night’s debate.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: One thing you saw in the debate last night was that hope was still on the way. ( Applause ) You also saw that we have a president and a vice president who struggle with the truth, right?
KWAME HOLMAN: Sen. Edwards was referring in part to Vice President Cheney’s attack on Edwards’ Senate attendance record.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: Senator, frankly, you have a record in the Senate that’s not very distinguished. You’ve missed 33 out of 36 meetings of the Judiciary Committee, almost 70 percent of the meetings of the Intelligence Committee. You’ve missed a lot of key votes, on tax policy, on energy, on Medicare reform. Your hometown newspaper has taken to calling you “Senator Gone.” You’ve got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate. Now in my capacity as vice president, I am the president of the Senate, the presiding officer. I’m up in the Senate most Tuesdays when they’re in session. The first time I ever met you was when you walked on this stage tonight.
KWAME HOLMAN: Edwards in turn attacked Cheney’s congressional record.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: When he was one of four hundred thirty-five members of the United States house, he was one of ten to vote against head start, one of four to vote against banning plastic weapons that can pass through metal detectors. He voted against the Department of Education. He voted against funding for Meals on Wheels for seniors. He voted against a holiday for Martin Luther King. He voted against a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It’s amazing to hear him criticize either my record or John Kerry’s.
KEVIN WILLIAMS: And today, Edwards insisted he and Cheney had met before.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: You know, three years ago, I sat at a table with the vice president, we shook hands, we talked, had conversation there for a couple of hours together. In fact, it was a national prayer breakfast. I introduced the president of the United States. And during — after that event, last night again, we got a chance to sit together, to shake hands, to say a few words, and I’ll tell you one thing I’m pretty sure of. He won’t forget we were there last night.
SPOKESPERSON: The vice president of the United States.
KWAME HOLMAN: Vice President Cheney also was in Florida today, rallying supporters up north in Tallahassee. Mr. Cheney answered the Kerry-Edwards charge that the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq was far inferior to the coalition assembled for the first Gulf War.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: They often hold out the Desert Storm coalition we put together twelve/thirteen years ago. We had 34 countries then; we have 30 countries today.
KWAME HOLMAN: The make-up of the coalition was one of the key points of disagreement during last night’s debate.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: You know, we’ve taken 90 percent of the coalition casualties. American taxpayers have borne 90 percent of the cost of the effort in Iraq, and we see the result of there not being a coalition.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: The 90 percent figure is just dead wrong. When you include the Iraqi security forces that have suffered casualties as well as the allies, they have taken almost 50 percent of the casualties in operations in Iraq, which leaves the U.S. with 50 percent, not 90 percent. It’s hard, after John Kerry referred to our allies as a “coalition of the coerced and the bribed” to go out and persuade people to send troops and to participate in this process. You end up with a situation in which– talk about demeaning– in effect, you demean the sacrifice of our allies when you say it’s “wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, oh, by the way, send troops.” It makes no sense at all. It’s totally inconsistent. There isn’t a plan there.
KWAME HOLMAN: And the vice president continued today.
VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: The bottom line is this effort obviously places a very special burden on the U.S. military and on military families, and we owe our men and women in uniform an enormous debt of gratitude for what they’re doing for all of us. (Applause)
KWAME HOLMAN: Vice President Cheney spoke later at a rally in Gainesville, he continues his Florida campaign swing tomorrow with events in Miami and Fort Myers. Sen. Edwards travels north for campaign stops in New York and New Jersey.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a closer look at the vice presidential debate, and to Terence Smith.
TERENCE SMITH: Once again, Fallows and Jamieson take a look at the debaters’ skills and styles. That’s James Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Welcome to you both. Kathleen, as a student of rhetoric– both of you are, really– what struck you about last night’s debate in terms of both style and substance?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The debate helped substantively to help clarify the issue distinctions about what is going on, on the ground in Iraq and how optimistic we are, about tax policy, about health care coverage, and about what to do about the so-called frivolous lawsuits. So, in those substantive areas, this was a good debate. But it also is the debate that per minute of debate had the highest amount of factual distortion of any debate I’ve looked at on the history of the presidency, and that’s problematic.
TERENCE SMITH: That’s saying a lot. Give us one example of what you have in mind when you say that.
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Well, for example, let me give you one example from each side. On Sen. Kerry’s record on defense, Vice President Cheney says that the senator says that he would only respond if attacked. He didn’t say that. That’s not what the global threat means when he talked about– the global test means– when he talked about that in the first debate. He says that the senator voted for war. He didn’t, he voted for authorization. And that’s a distinction even the president made when that vote was pending. And he is continuing to overestimate the extent to which the senator opposed defense systems… defense weapons systems. On the other side, Sen. Edwards is overstating the job loss, although carefully phrased as private sector job loss. But that’s not what people are going to hear. We haven’t actually lost 1.6 million jobs. When you add both sectors, it’s about 900,000. And Sen. Edwards persisted in saying that the administration wants to outsource American jobs. No, it doesn’t.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Jim Fallows, when you look at the style and the substance, what do you see?
JAMES FALLOWS: What struck me about this debate was that it was, in a sense, an all-offense or all- attack debate. There was a lot of substance talked about with stipulating the various embroideries that Professor Jamieson was mentioning. But you had each side spending most of the time attacking the other, advancing the case, you know, against what’s happening in Iraq on the Democratic side against John Kerry’s, you know, strength and the Republican side, and almost no engagement. So I think that it probably was useful politically, and for the electorate, in having a sense of what each side was saying about the other. But there was almost no comeback of somebody, for example, Dick Cheney answering what was said about Halliburton, or his only response to the Iraq critique was “I’d do it exactly the same way again.” So clarifying in a way, but sort of unsatisfying… it was unsatisfying by high school debate rules in having any kind of connection between attack and response.
TERENCE SMITH: Or reaching any sort of conclusion on the differences.
JAMES FALLOWS: Oh, certainly. Perish the thought.
TERENCE SMITH: (Laughs) All right. Kathleen, are there, or were there memorable lines or moments that you think might survive in the video clip reels of the future?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: The most memorable exchange, because it was on the most important subject of this debate, that being are these two individuals qualified to be vice president of the United States, occurred when Vice President Cheney attacked on the record of Sen. Edwards that is only one term and he has been out campaigning, so he has been missing a lot of votes. And Sen. Edwards responded by attacking the voting record of Vice President Cheney when he was in the House as a representative from Wyoming a long time ago. What was memorable to me about that, and it’s being featured in the sound bite clips, is how meaningless that exchange actually was.
This was Sen. Edwards’ chance to explain that it’s not simply Washington experience that qualifies you to be a vice president. To analogize his level of experience to such past presidents as Sen. Kennedy or President Kennedy, Sen. Kennedy when he ran, and to George Bush when he was governor running for president. It was also an opportunity to take on the challenge of Vice President Cheney, which is to establish that he is not the scary neo-con who pushed President Bush toward war and ignored some of the available evidence, but rather a person who gives ballast in the White House. So in that exchange, we essentially didn’t have either one of them answering the important questions that the public is I think asking about both.
TERENCE SMITH: What do you think about that? Was either question answered?
JAMES FALLOWS: No, not really. And the closest that Sen. Edwards came actually to answering that question– the question about his experience– was essentially saying that a long resume does not necessarily equate good judgment, was the one sort of responsive thing. And it’s easy in the aftermath to think of things he could have said. He could have said, “Well, I have more experience than President Bush did four years ago, when he was running.” He could have sort of engaged this “we haven’t met before” by saying, “oh, well, perhaps this is a senior moment, or something, but Mr. Vice President, you don’t recall our dinner together three years ago?” He probably wouldn’t have gone that far. But it was I think typical of the debate as a whole in again not having engagement of charge and counter… charge and response.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen, what about the tone and what about the energy level of this exchange? You’ve watched a lot of these and tried to analyze them. Did you read anything into that?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: One of the things that’s interesting about the tone of the debate is that the soft- spoken nature of each of these two candidates means that when they’re making very strong attacks, attacks that when you read them in print you almost step back and take a deep breath, those attacks don’t sound as strong or strident as they would if they were delivered more sharply, in a harsher tone. We’ve known for a long time that part of the way audiences read the legitimacy of attack is by the tone of the attack. So to the extent that the tone was civil, we were probably able to hear the substance better, and be less distracted by a tone which would have been angry or more aggressive. But I think the people are underestimating the amount of attack in this debate because the tone was not underscoring it; it was countering it.
TERENCE SMITH: Indeed, the tension was quite high, was it not…
JAMES FALLOWS: Oh, it was.
TERENCE SMITH: …At the beginning?
JAMES FALLOWS: And I think it extended from a tonal decision of Sen. Edwards I think wisely made right at the right choice. The very first thing that Sen. Edwards said was a direct, you know, attack on the merits of the vice president, and he looked at him and spoke to him directly, which was sort of against the rules, even though he wasn’t asking him a question, but was saying, “we can’t believe what you say about Iraq, we can’t trust you, it’s going poorly.” And so, I think that set things up, until about an hour later Sen. Edwards made this relatively gracious comment about the vice president’s gay daughter. And I thought there was sort of a shift to a different tone that which might actually have helped the vice president because it made him all the more kind of low-key and affable seeming, while making these very tough points.
TERENCE SMITH: Kathleen, about midway, the topic shifted to domestic affaires, and the tone seemed to change. Or let me put it as a question: Did you think it changed?
KATHLEEN HALL JAMIESON: Yes, I did think it changed, although part of the problem with a 90-minute debate is that you don’t know whether the candidates are just toning down a little bit because they’re getting tired, or whether in fact there is a shift because you’re moving to domestic affairs. The attacks that Sen. Edwards were making seemed to have more energy when he was focusing on domestic policy. You have a sense that this is actually where the team of the two senators is more comfortable making the argument. You’re also, by the way, in the moment in which Sen. Edwards is praising the vice president for the way in which his family has supported his daughter, that there was a moment there on both sides in which there was a candidate on stage who was… who would have been potentially different if that candidate had carried through in the rest of the debate. There was something about that moment that looked as if there were candidates wanting to debate differently, getting past some of the distortions, and maybe just coming out and telling us truth about the situation we’re in, and telling us the facts that they both know. These are both very smart individuals.
TERENCE SMITH: Jim Fallows, you get the final word very briefly.
JAMES FALLOWS: Well, I think this debate probably is not going to change the dynamics of the race in any kind of fundamental way. It does help us as viewers and citizens understand the critique one side is making of the other. I think the main problem it might create for the Republicans is we’ve now seen… of the four people on stage, we’ve seen three who have been relatively eloquent, and so I think it puts the pressure on President Bush for his performance next time.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay, Jim Fallows, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, thank you both very much.
JAMES FALLOWS: Thank you.