MORE DEBATE THOUGHTS….Dinner’s over, but I haven’t really changed my mind. I still think the debate was roughly a tie. Here are some miscellaneous comments:

  • I suspect that talking about “the mess in Iraq” is a good line, but Edwards didn’t really follow it up as effectively as he could have. Instead of just talking about what people see on their television screens, he should have done a better job of explaining exactly what’s wrong and why it’s Bush’s and Cheney’s fault.

  • According to CNN’s little reaction meter gizmos, Cheney’s best moment came when he talked about gay marriage. But wasn’t that the very moment where Cheney came closest to disagreeing with George Bush? After a desultory discussion of state vs. federal control of marriage, he stopped dead and said merely that “[the president] sets the policy for this administration, and I support the president.” And he refused to answer the followup question. How much more clearly can you say that you disagree with the boss but really don’t want to talk about it?

  • And speaking of his boss, Cheney didn’t mention George Bush’s name very often. You’d almost think that Cheney feels like he’s already the guy in charge. Conversely, Edwards mentioned John Kerry’s name about once every 30 seconds.

  • Overall, I think Edwards was on the offensive more than Cheney. He controlled the flow of the debate a bit more than Cheney.

  • Edwards did a lousy job of explaining the $87 billion flip-flop. This is inexplicable. The explanation isn’t really very complex, but he barely even touched on it.

  • Cheney lost a lot of steam when it came to domestic issues. He looked like he really didn’t give a damn. Edwards, not surprisingly, got stronger. When the subject was Iraq, Cheney was the guy with facts and figures, but when the subject was domestic policy Edwards seemed more the expert.

  • Gwen Ifill didn’t help matters by asking some seriously dumb questions in the last half hour. I mean, Cheney was right to be a little puzzled that she expected him to answer a question about whether Edwards was qualified to be VP. Was she really unable to think up more than two or three meaty questions to ask about domestic policy?

  • Cheney was, um, aggressive about repeatedly saying that he was a big fan of an aggressive foreign policy. I have a feeling that didn’t help him very much among undecided voters, who probably feel that right now we need a little less aggression and a little more thinking.

  • Edwards started out strong with his criticism of the Afghanistan war, but he never quite punched it home. He did say that we should have gone after al-Qaeda ourselves instead of letting Afghan warlords do it, but why not go the final step and fill in the obvious conclusion: if John Kerry had been president, we would have caught or killed Osama three years ago.

  • Edwards’ spiel about healthcare (“they were with the drug companies….they were with the insurance companies”) was very good.

  • Cheney was reasonably solid throughout, but there were a few occasions where he seemed a little flustered or caught unawares. And of course, he seemed pretty grim and unfriendly throughout, but that’s just Dick. Did you expect anything different?

And now, after taking the time to write all this stuff down, I’m beginning to think Edwards did better than I initially gave him credit for. Basically, he put Cheney on the defensive on Iraq and demonstrated clear superiority on domestic issues. That’s not bad.

So score it a modest victory for Edwards, especially since he was the one who had to prove he could hold his own. It probably won’t make a big difference in the polls, but even a small difference could be important. The Kerry team is probably pretty happy with how things went tonight, and it definitely puts additional pressure on Bush to perform well on Friday.


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