Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Vice Presidential Debate

What to me was perhaps the most significant result of the VP debate was the fact that, as combative and pointed as it often was, it had no estimable impact on my opinion. That is, nothing about the Vice Presidential candidates or their respective performances had an appreciable impact on how I view the heads of their respective tickets. That might not have been the case, had one of them had an on-stage meltdown, but obviously that didn't happen.

If I were to declare a "winner" in the context of which candidate looked most Presidential, it would be Edwards. If I were to declare a "loser" in the context of which candidate clung most desperately to a pathetic lie, it would be Cheney and his continued advancement of an Iraq-Al Qaeda nexus with an implied link to 9/11.

If I were to give a candidate bonus points for refusing to bend his personal convictions to the will of his party, they would go to Cheney for his silence on the issue of rights for domestic partnerships. Certainly it isn't bravery to sit in silence, rather than speaking one's conscience, but it demonstrated that there are lines Cheney will not cross with respect to his family and his party. When Cheney's boss was put to a similar test, and could have spoken out against the smear campaign over Kerry's war record, he failed - that is, unless his claimed personality traits of courage and credibility exist only as fiction. I am not sure that similar tests have yet been put to Edwards or Kerry.

At the same time, if I were to give penalty points for stubborn idiocy, it would be for Cheney's insistence that he would handle Iraq in exactly the same way if he were to do it again. That simply can't be true.

The "Zap Them With A Cattle Prod And Wake Them Up" award goes to Babbling David Brooks and Narcoleptic Mark Shields, who provided some post-debate commentary on PBS. They found the Iraq material exciting, but were bored by the domestic issues. Thus, declared Brooks, this election really does turn on Iraq. What a pathetic way to prioritize the many important issues this nation faces.


  1. Hi Aaron,

    I'll welcome myself back into a bit of blogging badinage by commenting here - with a remark that hopefully won't be unwelcome.

    I'm not sure what you have in mind when you contend that Cheney "lied" about a Saddam-Al Qaeda nexus. My guess is you mean that he insinuated something of which we have no evidence - an Iraqi hand in 9.11.

    That there was some kind of "relationship" between the two seems a perfectly reasonable conclusion to me. Certainly in the late 90's the Clinton Administration believed as much, e.g., ajudging the Sudanese Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant as a ligature of sorts connecting Al Qaeda and Iraqi WMD - and therefore a legitimate target in response to the embassy bombings in '98.

    Of course critics will then say that whatever the connection, it falls short of a substantive partnership (cp. Thomas Kean's remarks in his post-report press conference). I wouldn't hang my hat on having to refute that claim, but would simply note that many commentators, for motives of their own, run afoul of "absence of evidence equates to 'evidence of absence.'"

    This whole issue could have been avoided had the administration taken greater care in how it presented - and, perhaps, conceptualized - its case, in terms of concern over ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda. What they should have said is: "We aim to prevent an eventual, or disrupt an actual, collaboration between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda." That's always how I have framed the imperative to myself (prudential calculation). Then the argument would turn to the grounds on which one would/should fear such a marriage of convenience - an argument I would be glad to make.

    Since Edwards clearly wasn't trounced in the debate, he "won" - there's enough disenchantment with Bush and Co. that, it seems to me, all the opposition needs to do is to project that "we certainly won't be any worse, and we might just be better."

  2. Paul, I am not willing to give in to the Administratin's implied argument that "it isn't a lie" because "you cannot prove a negative". In the absence of evidence, with the assertion repeatedly made for political convenience and gain, I think "lie" is a fair descriptor.

    It's in the same vein as Cheney's comment that Iraq's connection with Mohamed Atta was "pretty well confirmed" ("It's been pretty well confirmed that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack."), and his subsequent absolute denial that he ever said that during an interview with Paula Borger ("No, I never said that... Absolutely not.") How much "benefit of the doubt" does this man deserve?

    Additionally, the purpose of the deceit is not to establish that there was some nebulous connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda. The purpose is to convince voters that the war in Iraq is directly connected to 9/11, and that Saddam Hussein was at least partially responsible for 9/11. Care was not taken in the presentation of the (lack of) evidence, because the Bush Administration found benefit in a dishonest presentation. This is one of many deceptions advanced by the White House, often through Cheney, on the subject of Iraq and Al Qaeda. In that context, it is more than fair to call it a "lie". Yes, it might have been possible for them to advance an honest argument based upon the available facts, but even accepting that the argument can be reframed, the Administration intentionally framed it in the manner presented.

    Even granting the benefit of the doubt, what would you have us call a conviction firmly held, despite a complete lack of evidence, and despite significant contrary evidence (e.g., Bin Laden's open animosity toward Hussein's secularized government)? An illusion? A delusion?

    I agree that Edwards wasn't trounced, but I wouldn't declare him the victor on that alone. But perhaps that's because I didn't expect him to be trounced. So far, I haven't really been perceiving "victors" as such, perhaps because as I see it the candidates have performed in a manner consistent with their essential character. I think to "win" one of these pseudo-debates, they would have to exceed my expectations, not meet them. (Or, at times, with all four candidates in mind, live down to them.)

  3. Hey - I'm flattered. You came by my place before you even had a new post up at your weblog (which I continue to highly recommend). Welcome back to "this side of the pond".

  4. Thanks very much, Aaron.

    Yes, I chose you as the first person to annoy upon my return! Will reply to your rejoinder if I can compress my thoughts. I often have big plans which I don't realize, but this exchange gives me another reason to assemble my thoughts on the war into my own "definitive statement."

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