- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2000

DANVILLE, Ky. The two men seeking to be just a heartbeat away from the presidency Richard B. Cheney and Joseph I. Lieberman faced off last night in their only debate, sparring politely about tax cuts, abortion, education and the state of America's military.
Their sharpest exchange early in the debate occurred when the vice presidential candidates were asked whether the U.S. armed forces are overextended and deteriorating.
"My preference is to deploy them as warriors," said Mr. Cheney, the secretary of defense for President Bush during the Persian Gulf war.
"There may be occasion when it's appropriate to use them in a peacekeeping role, but I think that role ought to be limited. I think there ought to be a time limit on it. I think that the administration has in fact in this area failed in a major responsibility. We're overcommitted and we're underresourced."
Mr. Lieberman took issue with Mr. Cheney's characterization.
"It's not right, and it's not good for our military to run them down, essentially, in the midst of a partisan political debate. The fact is, judging by its results from Desert Storm to the Balkans, Bosnia and Kosovo, to the operations that are still being conducted to keep Saddam Hussein in a box in Iraq, the American military has performed brilliantly," Mr. Lieberman said.
While the two candidates pledged at the outset not to get into personal attacks, Mr. Cheney sternly criticized Mr. Lieberman's evolving view of Hollywood.
"I do have a couple of concerns where I liked the old Joe Lieberman better than I do the new Joe Lieberman. Joe established, I thought, an outstanding record in his work on this whole question of violence in the media and the kinds of materials that were being peddled to our children, and many of us on the Republican side admired him for that," said Mr. Cheney.
"There is, I must say, the view now that, having joined with Al Gore on the ticket on the other side, that the depth of conviction that we had admired before isn't quite as strong as it was, perhaps, in the past."
Mr. Cheney said he was "especially disturbed" when he heard about a Beverly Hills fund-raiser attended by Mr. Lieberman in which a comedian got up and criticized George Bush's religion.
"My concern would be, frankly, that you haven't been as consistent as you had been in the past; that a lot of your good friends, like Bill Bennett and others of us who'd admired your firmness of purpose over the years, have felt that you're not quite the crusader for that cause that you once were," said Mr. Cheney.
Mr. Cheney was referring to a Beverly Hills fund-raiser in which Vice President Al Gore and Mr. Lieberman who just the week before had denounced Hollywood for peddling sex and violence to children collected $4.2 million as they toned down their criticism.
"Al and I have tremendous regard for this industry," said Mr. Lieberman. "We're both fans of the products that come out of the entertainment industry."
Mr. Lieberman downplayed any role he and Mr. Gore might play in cleaning up Hollywood, saying they would merely serve as occasional "critics, or nudges," a Yiddish term for gentle naggers.
Also at that event, Larry David, executive producer of "Seinfeld," said: "Like Bush, I too found Christ in my 40s. He came into my room one night, and I said: 'What, no call? You just pop in?' "
Mr. Lieberman did not object to the joke, saying later he found it both offensive and funny.
Last night, Mr. Lieberman said he found the joke "very distasteful," and unacceptable. "Any offense that was done, I apologize for it."
Mr. Lieberman insisted: "I have not changed a single position" since Mr. Gore named him to be his running mate.
When the two discussed tax cuts, Mr. Lieberman said Mr. Bush's $1.3 trillion, 10-year tax cut would bust the budget and return the nation to deficit spending. He then recited a list of numbers and statistics on why Mr. Gore's plan is better.
"You have to be a CPA to understand what he just said. The fact of the matter is that that plan is so complex that an ordinary American's never going to be able to figure out what they even qualify for," said Mr. Cheney.
The understudies for Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush met for a big encounter in this small central Kentucky town with less than five weeks left until the Nov. 7 election.
Mr. Cheney, a former six-term congressman from Wyoming, repeatedly stressed change throughout the debate, saying Mr. Gore offers an "old way" of governing, characterized by high taxes, high spending and a more intrusive bureaucracy.
Mr. Lieberman, a Democrat and a two-term Connecticut senator, said Mr. Gore offers an economic program in which "we live within our means."
Mr. Cheney and Mr. Lieberman faced off amid an escalating revolt in Serbia. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic refuses to step down after he apparently lost a presidential election to opposition leader Vojislav Kostunica.
President Clinton and National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger yesterday called for Russia to intercede and recognize Mr. Kostunica as the victor, actions echoing a suggestion Mr. Bush made Tuesday during the first presidential debate in Boston.
"Governor Bush suggested exactly that, that we ought to get the Russians involved and Al Gore pooh-poohed it," Mr. Cheney said.
Mr. Cheney said he is "pleased to see what has happened in Yugoslavia today." He said it is a victory for the Serbian people. Mr. Cheney called the events a continuation of the revolts of oppressed people throughout Eastern Europe.
Mr. Lieberman praised the Clinton administration's efforts to stop Mr. Milosevic's aggression in Yugoslavia. He said the United States "ought to do everything we can, to end this reign of terror" in Yugoslavia.
The debate underscored stark policy differences. Mr. Lieberman reiterated that he and Mr. Gore planned to save Social Security and Medicare, leaving $1.8 trillion in surplus cash to spend on other priorities over the next 10 years.
Mr. Cheney said the Clinton-Gore administration has failed to act and squandered opportunities to reform Social Security and Medicare.
Mr. Cheney said education is the most important issue of the campaign. He said he and Mr. Bush want to return the nation's public schools to their former glory. But he said there has been no progress on reading scores in the last eight years and "almost no progress on math."
Mr. Cheney said the nation has "graduated 15 million kids from high school in the last few years who can't read at a significant level."
Passing students who cannot read means "they are permanently sentenced to a lifetime of failure," said Mr. Cheney.
Mr. Lieberman said he and Mr. Gore will offer a menu of targeted tax cuts and leave enough left over to spend $170 billion on education.
The vice-presidential candidates offered humorous exchanges and asides in addition to sharp partisan differences.
CNN anchor Bernard Shaw moderated the 90-minute talk-show-style debate at the school's Norton Center for the Arts.
Mr. Cheney, 59, and Mr. Lieberman, 58, met for their only debate with less than five weeks to go in an extraordinarily tight presidential contest. Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush are battling for electoral votes in a dozen key swing states as the national popular vote swings back and forth.
Nielsen Media Research estimates that 46.5 million people tuned in Tuesday for the first Bush-Gore debate in Boston. It appeared unlikely as many viewers would tune in for last night's tilt in central Kentucky. Neither campaign believed the vice-presidential debate would prove decisive Nov. 7.
Mr. Lieberman and Mr. Cheney hoped to underscore their campaigns' key positions and to convince voters they could assume the presidency in a crisis. Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush will debate twice more Oct. 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Oct. 17 in St. Louis.

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