The expectation that the vice presidential debate is supposed to be a "gloves off" battle is, in my opinion, an unfortunate one in multiple respects. First, I've heard Edwards repeatedly on the campaign trail, and knowing his message of optimism, I don't think he's particularly comfortable in the role of attacker. Interestingly, though Cheney has frequently been called the Republican party's top attack dog, he seemed weakest when engaging in personal attacks. He was much stronger and more sure of himself when speaking about actual policy, and I'd rather hear substance from both sides, as opposed to unproductive negativity.
It was just . . . odd. I think, given the way the debate went, both men would have been better served playing to their respective strengths. Cheney appeared irritable, condescending, and angry at times (you could almost see the thought bubble "Bitch!" above his head when the moderator told him "Well, that's all you've got," when he said that 30 seconds wouldn't be enough time to respond). He did much better when showing his calm, experienced side. Edwards scored points when being gracious, and during the times he was able to speak positively, rather than feeling compelled to counterattack.
Body language: Edwards blinked way too much, and Cheney needed to quit closing his circle and muffling his microphone. Also, Edwards' closing argument sounded like Trial Lawyer 101, which surprised me just a bit, because I've heard him do so much better than he did tonight. I think he does better flying his own plane than being co-pilot, so to speak. I was expecting a tie, but he just didn't seem as confident this evening as I've seen him in the past.
I give points to moderator Gwen Ifill for hard-hitting questions on both sides (Cheney on gay marriage and Edwards on his lack of experience), as well as for not taking any guff from either one of them. Cheney also blew it on his lack of awareness on AIDS in African American women. That population's susceptibility due to domestic issues has been a problem since the outset of the epidemic in this country -- the PeeDee region of South Carolina is one immediate example that comes to mind -- so for those of us with some familiarity, Cheney looked bad for not having a clue about a long-time problem. He also looked bad when he was trying to back off from the discussion of the deficit. I will give him points for being honest about the partisan politics of this country not having healed at all in the past four years. ('course, unapologetically dropping the F bomb on the Senate floor doesn't exactly help ease the divide, Mr. Cheney.)
More oddness: did Cheney help or hurt Bush? That may seem like a strange question on the surface when I stated at the outset that Cheney won the debate, but factor this: Cheney has often been considered to be the "shadow president" by many, and I think, given Bush's poor performance in the previous debate, he only solidified that perception tonight. In other words, Cheney seems like the one who has confidence in what he's talking about, rather than Bush, which makes Bush look less presidential.
Oh, and speaking of looking less presidential, I just have no respect for this. You're supposed to complete your argument within the debate time, George, not after. Dragging it out after just amplifies the fact that you aren't quick on your feet.
I'm not trying to spin anything -- goodness knows, we don't have wonderful choices, period -- but it does seem to me that Kerry isn't particularly hurt by Edwards looking like the junior partner, so to speak. It makes Kerry look all the more experienced. Cheney continues to make Bush look like the junior partner, and that's not necessarily a good thing, given that we're electing the president, not the veep. I mean, we've kind of been there and done that these past four years already, haven't we?
So, Kerry 1, Cheney 1. For what it's worth, Kerry won his debate with much greater margin than Cheney did. We'll see if he can keep that up.
More debates to come.