- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

The conventional wisdom is that Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate didn’t matter, but the conventional wisdom is wrong for a couple of reasons. Every opportunity voters have to judge the validity of two opposing viewpoints is important, especially during a time of war. Vice President Dick Cheney, like him or not, is one of the most consequential vice presidents in the nation’s history, and his role in determining the course of U.S. policy has been crucial. Pundits and talking heads will debate every frown, sneer, sigh or scowl like aspiring psychiatrists, but the rest of us saw a highly charged philosophical and policy battle in which facts and ideas were pitted against each other. Of course, there were moments of pure partisan spin, but it truly was a debate.

In the end, Mr. Cheney carried the day by not only showing himself capable of presidential leadership, but by skewering Sen. John Edwards on both inexperience and inconsistency, traits he shares with John Kerry. Mr. Edwards had his good moments. He articulated with clarity an understanding of issues unusual for a senator completing his first term. But it was clear by the 90th minute who had the better night.

The most damaging point made by the vice president was that Messrs. Edwards and Kerry voted both for and against the war in Iraq, first to authorize the war and then against funding the war. “I couldn’t figure out why that happened initially,” Mr. Cheney said. “And then I looked and figured out that what was happening was Howard Dean was making major progress in the Democratic primaries, running away with the primaries based on an anti-war record … Now if they can’t stand up to the pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?”

When Mr. Edwards pulled the trump card called “Halliburton,” Mr. Cheney was ready for it: “The reason they keep trying to attack Halliburton is because they want to obscure their own record. And Senator, frankly, you have a record in the Senate that’s not very distinguished … You’ve got one of the worst attendance records in the United States Senate.” John Edwards may have been ready for prime time, but the veep persuasively reminded the nation that Mr. Edwards is not ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

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