Cheney on Trial
October 6, 2004
By Dave Allsopp
the first Kerry/Bush debate, CNN's Wolf Blitzer almost wet himself
at the prospect of witnessing history in the making.
"A pivotal night in this presidential campaign, perhaps a
decisive moment," he gushed. "A defining night. I think
everybody agrees potentially. This certainly could be a defining
night. Historians will be writing about this for many years to come."
Of course, after Kerry left Bush's smoking remains lying scattered
across the stage, Blitzer changed his tune.
"Even if John Kerry decisively won the debate, we shouldn't
jump to any conclusions, let alone on the final outcome on November
2," he announced.
And indeed, it took a few days before the mainstream media finally
admitted, in the face of overwhelming evidence, that John Kerry
was the winner. Of course, this duly allowed them to set up the
Cheney/Edwards debate as the latest and greatest minty-fresh "defining
"Debate assumes new importance," screamed the Washington
Post in an above-the-fold front page headline on Monday. "Tomorrow's
vice presidential debate has assumed critical importance, with Republicans
depending on Vice President Cheney to halt the ticket's slide in
While the Post's exercise in hyperbole has been mostly disproven
by post-debate spin, it is true that Dick Cheney entered last night's
debate with two very important goals: first, he had to convince
viewers that he was still the kindly old grandfather-figure they
saw chatting with Joe Lieberman in 2000, and second, he needed to
get the campaign back on track after George W. Bush's disastrous
performance in Miami left Republicans reeling and on the defensive.
To get a bit of perspective on Cheney's mission, let's return for
a moment to Campaign 2000.
In 2000, the vice-presidential debate between Dick Cheney and Joe
Lieberman was widely regarded as a yawn-fest; the two experienced
politicians were genial, tip-toed around one another, and agreed
more than they disagreed on many positions. The debate focused almost
entirely on domestic policies and the consequences of the giant
budget surplus created under Bill Clinton.
But there were also character questions in 2000. Bush had counteracted
many criticisms that he was too green for the job by repeatedly
insisting that the team he was putting together would bring to the
table the experience he lacked. Dick Cheney was Bush's number one
go-to guy, and his performance in the 2000 debate convinced many
that under his tutelage, George W. Bush would do okay.
The 2000 vice-presidential debate cast Cheney as a accomplished
elder statesman, and his cool demeanor won the hearts of many who
worried about Bush's inexperience.
"Sure, the governor of Texas is a bit of a doofus," thought
America, "but how can we possibly go wrong with Cheney's capable
hand guiding him?"
I think we all know the answer to that by now.
In the wake of September 11, a moribund economy, a dangerous war
of choice in Iraq, and a thousand other disasters that have occured
on this administration's watch, the vice president had his work
cut out for him during Tuesday's debate.
No longer was he the genial, competent guiding light behind Bush's
folksy-but-dim presidency - Cheney went into the debate as the chief
architect of the disastrous Bush doctrine; as the man who insisted
Saddam Hussein had reconstituted nuclear weapons; as the man who
refused to reveal which energy executives created the Bush administration's
energy policy; as the man who gave his former company free reign
to plunder Iraq while his other corporate pals raked in the cash
from military contracts; as the man who told Sen. Patrick Leahy
"go fuck yourself" on the Senate floor.
And he wasn't just forced to defend a disastrous record. Cheney
- who symbolizes the very essence of corrupt, corporate America
- had to face Senator John Edwards, a man who has spent his life
stopping those very corporations from shafting the little guy. You
can bet Cheney would have preferred a rematch with Joe "I Yield"
John Edwards made his intentions perfectly clear from the very
beginning of the debate; after thanking the moderator and the people
of Ohio, the first words out of his mouth were, "Mr. Vice President,
you are still not being straight with the American people."
For Cheney, it was downhill from there.
Edwards hit the vice president early and hard, contrasting the
administration's fantasy-land version of what is happening in Iraq
with the reality of the situation there. And the more light he threw
on the Bush administration, the more Cheney's famously short temper
began to boil.
Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" has frequently joked
that Sen. Edwards is John Kerry's "ward" - but if Edwards
is Robin to Kerry's Batman, last night Dick Cheney was The Penguin.
And you can be sure that Cheney would have given his right arm for
a poisoned umbrella when John Edwards attacked his voting record.
"The vice president, I'm surprised to hear him talk about
records," said Edwards. "When he was one of 435 members
of the United States House, he was one of 10 to vote against Head
Start, one of four to vote against banning plastic weapons that
can pass through metal detectors. He voted against the Department
of Education. He voted against funding for Meals on Wheels for seniors.
He voted against a holiday for Martin Luther King. He voted against
a resolution calling for the release of Nelson Mandela in South
Africa. It's amazing to hear him criticize either my record or John
Ouch. Could Cheney defend the fact that he voted to keep Nelson
Mandela in prison? He could not.
"Oh, I think his record speaks for itself. And frankly, it's
not very distinguished," he lamely replied, ceding the rest
of his 30 second rebuttal back to the moderator.
During the onslaught Cheney appeared to be restraining himself
from leaping across the table and throttling John Edwards, and presumably
it was this lack of self-control that caused him to commit the mother
of all debate gaffes - telling obvious lies which were easily disproven
by the opposition and the media.
Here are just a few of Cheney's screw-ups:
CHENEY'S LIE: "In my capacity as vice president,
I am the president of Senate, the presiding officer. I'm up
in the Senate most Tuesdays when they're in session. The first
time I ever met you was when you walked on the stage tonight."
THE TRUTH: Cheney has met John Edwards several
times, including at a prayer
breakfast in 2001. In addition, Cheney has presided over
the Senate's Tuesday sessions just
twice in the past four years. In Cheney's absence, John
Edwards has actually filled in as President of the Senate twice.
CHENEY'S LIE: "You've got one of the worst attendance
records in the United States Senate."
THE TRUTH: John Edwards has an 84.8%
voting record in the Senate. In his first four years his
voting attendance record was 99.2%, 100%, 99.2%, and 100%.
CHENEY'S LIE: "The senator has got his facts wrong.
I have not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11."
THE TRUTH: "He [Saddam Hussein] had long established
ties with al Qaeda." - Dick Cheney, March
14 2004. "I think there's overwhelming evidence that
there was a connection between al Qaeda and the Iraqi government"
- Dick Cheney, January
22, 2004. "Well, what we now have that's developed
since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report
that's been pretty well confirmed, that he [Mohammed Atta] did
go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi
intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April." - Dick
If Cheney's first goal was to convince viewers that he was still
the trustworthy, capable grandfather-figure from 2000, he failed,
and failed dismally. But could he achieve his second objective:
to spin hard enough to shift the momentum away from Kerry/Edwards
and get the Bush campaign back on track?
Last week John Kerry cooly demonstrated that Bush is an empty suit
who crumbles under the slightest pressure. On Tuesday Cheney was
no such pushover, but John Edwards succeeded in forcing the administration
further onto the defensive. Kerry showed America that the Great
and Powerful Bush is nothing but an illusion, and Edwards showed
America that the man behind the curtain ain't such hot stuff either.
To be sure, Tuesday's debate was much closer than last Thursday's
presidential debate. Cheney certainly did not give up without a
fight, and most of the post-debate spin concluded that the debate
was a draw. But political pundits also agreed that the vice-presidential
debate would not cause a shift in momentum from Kerry to Bush. In
fact, CBS's scientific poll showed undecided viewers leaning towards
John Edwards 41%-29%. Team Bush cannot claim this debate
as a victory.
If anything, Dick Cheney's performance served only to highlight
his boss's incompetence. Looking at the four men on the two tickets,
it is now quite clear - if it wasn't blatantly obvious already -
which man is the weakest link.
This Friday George W. Bush will have to perform out of his skin
if he hopes to do better than his own vice president, let alone
his challenger. And as the election closes in, and Americans begin
to really focus on their choice this November, they will have to
ask themselves two questions: whether it is sensible to re-elect
George W. Bush when his knowledge of the issues most important to
them seems so desperately shallow, and whether Dick Cheney can be
trusted as the president's second-in-command.
We have two more debates to go before the first question can be
fully answered. But on Tuesday night, at least, it became clear
that the answer to the second question is a definitive "no."
Dave Allsopp, aka EarlG, is a co-founder and administrator of