It is hard to return to commentary after three days off. Well, not three days "off" - as I started a fulltime job managing a small systems shop at a major corporation, and with more than eight hours a day there, and a thirty-minute commute there each morning and an hour commute home each evening (same route, but more people around in the afternoon for some reason), it has been hard to say on top of events. But I haven't had the long hours here to scan these current events and who is saying what about them in the press and on the blogs, here and in Europe, and add my observations.
What did I miss?
The former top American administrator in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, told a private audience that the United States did not send enough troops to Iraq to establish security after driving Saddam Hussein from power. Oops. Much has been said about that, and he's being publicly attacked now by the administration - something about sour grapes. Everyone knows we did the war just right. And too, Donald Rumsfeld appeared before the Council on Foreign Relations Monday and, during the question-and-answer period, acknowledged that he had seen no evidence showing a connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. The Pentagon later released a statement, claiming that Rumsfeld had been "misunderstood." He did not mean to deny the existence of "ties" between the two. Oops. And I see there is much commentary on that. And Charles A. Duelfer submitted the final official report on Iraq and WMD - all one thousand pages - there weren't any, and hadn't been any. Oops. But the war seemed like such a good idea at the time. Well, the latest Gallup poll shows that sixty-two percent of Republicans still believe that Saddam was behind 9/11. That will do to get Bush elected, for real this time. Then there's the price of oil, news of more planned layoffs than anyone has seen in quite a while, and everything else that calls for some thought.
I've missed quite a bit.
But the debate was the main event of the week - so far - and I missed that for a business meeting over dinner. Cheney versus Edwards. Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker. Montgomery Burns versus the Breck Girl. Whatever.
Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, did watch it and told me it was a draw.
That's what it was. Which means, since I was sure Cheney would win, I'm sort of pleased. (It's that old expectations game at work here.)
Nevertheless, I still found myself yelling at the TV, trying to tell Edwards what he should say. I swear sometimes, I'd be the better candidate than both these Democrats, although I wouldn't want either job, were I to win.
But still, as it turns out, they both did good.
I didn't see it. I had a dinner with the folks from work in Pasadena and didn't get home until 11:30 Eastern Time. I take it Cheney didn't lean over and say, "I'm your father, Luke."
I just caught some clips on cable. Cheney was effectible in what I saw. MSNBC had a poll up a few hours later showing Cheney with thirty-two percent saying he "won" and Edwards sixty-eight, but that just half a million folks stuffing the web ballot box. Edwards seemed a lightweight, but far less light the GWB was back in 2000 - so who knows? I sipped some scotch and surf a bit for reaction.
CBS News tracked the reactions of a nationwide panel of 169 uncommitted voters - voters who could change their minds before Election Day. A "scientific" poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percentage points - by 41% to 29% their "uncommitted" debate watchers say Edwards won the debate tonight.
ABC News poll, 509 interviews +/- 4.5
Vote preference among debate viewers
Before the debate vs. after the debate
Bush/Cheney 51% - 50%
Kerry/Edwards 48% - 49%
Nader/Camejo <1% - 0%
Not much shift.
Then there's Andrew Sullivan:
And Sullivan's complete reaction in the National Review is here.
Boy was I ever wrong. If last Thursday night's debate was an assisted suicide for president Bush, this debate - just concluded - was a car wreck. And Cheney was road-kill. There were times when it was so overwhelming a debate victory for Edwards that I had to look away. I have to do C-SPAN now, but stay tuned for more post-debate blogging in a little while.
... My view is that Cheney undoubtedly fired up his base; but I doubt very much that he made any headway with swing voters, and may well have alienated many. Edwards helped Kerry tonight. I didn't expect it; but I'm sticking with my judgment. My view is that Republican bias is making many believe Cheney did much better than he actually did. I'd already discounted the Daddy factor. But we'll see, won't we?
... From the beginning of the debate, it seemed to me that the contrast was fundamental. Let's start with superficials - because they do matter in debates. The only way to describe Cheney's performance was exhausted. He looks drained. And you can see why. One of the least understood and reported aspects of the current administration is simply the enormous strain of the past four years. They have endured some of the most testing times any modern president and vice-president have had to encounter. And you can see the strain and exhaustion in both the two principals. I'm not criticizing; in fact, I'm empathizing. But the result is obvious: when confronted with the major issues they have been dealing with day in day out, issues they know intimately and have worked on endlessly, their response is simply what Cheney himself kept saying: "Where do I start?" They have become so enmeshed in running a war that they have become almost unable to articulate its goals and process - and at times seem resentful that they even have to. There was a tone of exasperation in much of Cheney's wooden and often technical responses to political and moral questions. I can't explain the incoherence except fatigue and an awareness deep inside that they have indeed screwed up in some critical respects, that it's obvious to them as well as everyone else, and that they have lost the energy required to brazen their way through it. What I saw last night was a vice-president crumpling under the weight of onerous responsibility. My human response was to hope he'll get some rest. My political response was to wonder why he simply couldn't or wouldn't answer the fundamental questions in front of him in ways that were easy to understand and redolent of conviction.
... But, in fact, it was worse than that. He went down snarling. His personal attacks on Edwards were so brutal and so personal and so direct that I cannot believe that anyone but die-hard partisans would have warmed to them. Edwards' criticisms, on the other hand, were tough but relatively indirect - he was always and constantly directing the answers to his own policies. Edwards, whom I'd thought would come of as a neophyte, was able to give answers that were clear and methodical and far better, in my view, than Kerry's attempts to explain himself last Thursday. On substance, Cheney clearly had the better of the debate on Afghanistan; his criticisms of Kerry's record were strong and detailed; his brutal assessment of Edwards' attendance record was sharp - but too direct and brutal to win over swing voters. But on domestic policy, he was terrible. Again, he used the term "fiscal restraint," but he gave no explanation for the unprecedented slide toward debt in the last four years. When asked to respond to a question about young black women with HIV, Cheney might as well have been asked about Martians. He had no response to the charges (largely new to me) about Halliburton. He had no solid response to the question of sufficient troops in Iraq or the capability of the coalition to guarantee national elections in January. He was weak on healthcare; and said that the Massachusetts Supreme Court had ordered the legislature to change the state constitution! Huh? And, of course, he cannot disguise that he supports a president who would remove any legal protections for his own daughter's relationship.
Rick, The News Guy in Atlanta, takes heart -
Gee, I wish I had seen all this.
Once again, I may have underestimated the success of my side. Although I guess I do see a draw as favoring Edwards, I suppose time will tell us whether this Veep debate mattered either way.
The truth is, of course, that our side has truth on its side, while they have on their side the overwhelming power to condescend with so much self-confidence that many voters will be bamboozled into thinking those guys have truth on their side.
They will be home free for four more years if only they can just keep this pose up for one more month, surviving what Sullivan perceives as the "strain and exhaustion ... in running a war." (My immediate response to that is, "What war would that be?" But also, if they think they've been working under a strain this term, try conducting the nation's business while some gang of goofballs is trying to impeach you.)
While watching these debates, I keep wanting to wave a magic wand and jump inside the head of one of my guys and make him say what he should be saying. Last night, after Cheney told me the first time he met me was walking on this stage, I would have turned to him and laughed, saying "You're kidding! You don't remember me? We've met several times! I imagine there are even pictures out there of us shaking hands! Is it that I'm so unmemorable? Or could it be you are experiencing a 'senior moment'?"
(I might have added, "One reason you wouldn't remember meeting me has less to do with you being President of the Senate, as the fact that you mostly only showed up on Tuesdays, for the Republican lunch. Not many of us Democrats ever attend those.")
But in fairness, I suppose if I were to channel inside the skull of Cheney -- or maybe Bush, which I imagine has a bit more elbow room -- I'd have him be more honest about Iraq; which is that we could not have known back then everything we now know about the WMD, and the al Qaedda and 9/11 connections, and that Saddam was not such an imminent threat to the United States or anyone else; and that yes, it turns out that Clinton's containment policy and the UN sanctions, coupled with inspections, actually were working; and that yes, we have apparently caused a terrible mess in Iraq that wasn't there before, with the only small consolation being that a murderous dictator is no longer in power; but that simply because we didn't have good "actionable intelligence" on this back then means we had to take a chance and do what we did, because the cost of not doing it, and being wrong, was simply too great. So yes, knowing what we know now, we wouldn't do it again; but there was no way of knowing back then what we know now; so yes, we did the right thing.
I know it's too late for them to change to this approach without showing themselves to be major flip-floppers. Still, this would be the honest approach, one that I think might have cost them a few votes but made it up in confidence in them among not only citizens of this country but also the world. Then again, I get the feeling these people are just not into truth and honesty as much as I am.
But as for explaining why they've done virtually nothing on the so-called "War on Terror"? Hey, Cheney's on his own on that one! I can't be expected to do all this thinking for him!
As for Rick's comment that these people are just not into truth and honesty, Cheney wasn't exactly honest, as you see from this table of lies. But people buy them.
Well, not everyone is buying everything. The top professors at the top business schools in the country Wednesday published an open letter to George Bush - and you can scroll down the list of signers, and see who they are - saying the administration is well on its way to destroying the economy, and ought to stop with the deficits and tax cuts for the wealthy and all that.
Less than thirty days to the elections, right? It's come down to the damn-the-facts true believers versus the damned-facts realists. The optimists with the good attitudes versus the realists with questions. And the hedgehog versus the fox (see this for that clich? - from December 21, 2003).
And I'd say more, but I have to get some sleep and go back to work tomorrow.