I’ll begin with some general observations and thoughts before we dive into the specific debates.
The VP is usually considered the “attack dog” of the ticket since they can say things the President can’t without potentially alienating people, and they can be aggressive where the Presidential nominee usually wants to keep their hands as clean as possible. With that in mind, listening to the VP’s go at it is pretty interesting. I think Edwards gives Cheney more grief for the Bush administration’s overreach after 9/11 than Kerry did with Bush himself for example.
I understand why VP debates are held and I think they should continue, but historically they’ve had ZERO effect on the election. As an experiment, I tried to watch these and pretend the Presidents didn’t exist for a minute. I considered “would I elect this VP or that one?” in an effort to see if my choice for the strongest ticket would change. It never did. I’d still overwhelmingly pick Biden over Ryan as I did Obama over Romney. I’d pick Biden over Palin as I did Obama over McCain. I’d reluctantly choose Edwards (though believing he wasn’t going far enough holding the incumbents feet to the fire.) The only instance where looking at just the VP’s alone might have swung my vote the other way was 2000. Lieberman was just so “blah” and Cheney was more well spoken. (Of course we didn’t know in 2000 how nefarious he would be.) But come to think of it, so was Bush to Gore. The only reason we know Bush/Cheney was the wrong choice now is hindsight; Bush revealed himself as a hypocrite, Cheney as a caricature of corruption, and they both outright lied about their policies here in the debates. Like with Gore, Lieberman is made to look like the interventionist and borderline warmonger where Cheney, similar to Bush, promises a hands-off approach to foreign policy.
Lieberman v Cheney 2000
Bernard Shaw is the moderator. If you’ll remember, this is the guy who asked Dukakis the worst question in the history of Presidential debates. After that spectacle, you would think he’d never be allowed to moderate any debate ever again…yet here he is. At least he’s been relegated to the kiddie table I guess.
Like Cheney and Edwards, Lieberman certainly is VP material in terms of speaking cadence. (That’s what’s called a backhanded compliment.) He sounds vaguely nervous or like he’s suppressing a yawn. I hate his obnoxious shout outs to his mom in the first question. This whole incident is probably the single best example of why they ought to just give the candidates’ opening statements to get their “thank yous” out of the way, or force them to do it in the closing statements. Those get on my nerves at every debate, but Lieberman’s is probably the single worst instance I’ve seen.
It’s nice to step out of our ridiculous 2016-2020 reality for an hour to go back to this debate, where the focus is on education and the brave new world of the coming new century. The 2000 presidential debates were so much more hopeful than any before or since. Afterwards, the fallout of Iraq, 9/11, the debt as well as economic woes dominated the conversation forever after. While it’s disappointing to see the “women only get 70 cents to the dollar!” misleading statistic trotted out here, the fact that women’s issues are talked about at all (albeit in a well meaning but misguided way) is further proof of how much better things were in 2000. There weren’t so many drastic issues like war and economic collapse we had to focus on, so we could afford to talk about societal reform and progress. [Now in 2020 the only topic anyone cares about is “gotta stop Trump!! Gotta stop Trump!! Healthcare? UBI? LGBT civil rights? Fuck that, gotta stop Trump!!!”]
It’s really interesting that Bernard Shaw asks Cheney if US soldiers be deployed as warriors or peace keepers and Cheney says “warriors” while simultaneously criticizing the Clinton administration for what they did in overextending us abroad. Like Bush in the Presidential debates, it seems like Cheney was framing himself as a non-interventionist which, as we all know, was a massive lie. In fact, Lieberman is the one who employs the Orwellian “oh, so you don’t want the troops to have the best equipment and our full support??!?” doublespeak deflection which Bush would throw at Kerry in 2004. It’s really bizarre to see this in hindsight, how the tables apparently flipped after this cycle, between which side was seen as more militaristic and interventionist. The 2000 Republicans framed themselves as isolationists and accused the Democrats of wanting to get us involved in more overseas adventurism, then governed in the exact opposite manner after the election. It’s an absolutely tragedy that the American people voted against the ticket they were lead to believe stood for interventionism, only for it to then been shoved down their throats anyway, and I think it’s important then for people to recognize these lies on the campaign trail. As far as I’m aware, this grievous misleading campaign rhetoric by the Republicans in 2000 has never been brought up against them.
Speaking of Iraq, that subject comes up in this debate too. It seems Cheney “changed his mind” on Iraq since the ’90s because other countries were conducting business with Saddam again and the UN inspectors were kicked out. Lieberman says a decision on this should be made outside of the pressures of the campaign. BUT the crucial moment here comes when Lieberman says there will never be true stability in the Middle East until Saddam is gone (!!!) which possibly reveals that a Gore administration may not have been so different than Bush in terms of neocon intervention. (Also, it demonstrates that Lieberman is the least Democratic Democrat who ever took on the “liberal” mantle and should have been expelled from the party rather than be allowed to give us a bad name making asinine statements like this. If this clown is considered left-wing, then America is a seriously ass-backwards country in terms of national politics.)
Lieberman claims Desert Storm was not a total victory, and says there will not be peace until Saddam goes. This is pretty damning in hindsight, and to me, further shows how ridiculous it is when Democrat partisans shame Nader voters from 2000. If your precious Gore was evidently also in favor of Middle Eastern intervention, or at least not directly opposed to it, you have no right to claim the moral high ground and slander other people for “throwing the election to Bush” because they voted for a genuinely better candidate. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Gore was responsible for his own fate in 2000. Had he come across better in the campaign and not made so many poor choices, like picking Lieberman for VP, he would have been President.
I’m not sure what Lieberman’s selection was supposed to bring to the ticket. Gore had been in national politics since the ’80s—he didn’t need an older statesman to bring experience to the ticket. Maybe it was appealing to another region of the country, but surely there were better options.
Cheney definitely brought the perception of experience for the Bush II ticket though. People have even argued Cheney was the acting President and Bush was merely a figurehead. Cheney is probably the single most powerful VP in US history. From what I’ve read, Bush wanted to be a hands-off “let the experts handle it” type of leader. The problem is, the experts he trusted to run things in his stead were all hardcore neocons: Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz among them. Three of the most horrible men to ever govern this country. Bush took more vacation time than any other President before Trump and basically served as the rubber stamp for their dangerous and ruinous agenda.
Cheney vs Edwards 2004
Watching these two people, what most overwhelmingly comes to my mind is they were born to be VP’s. They just have zero charisma or speaking ability. Cheney is soft spoken, cold and has resting jerk face. He really truly looks and sounds like a man who belongs in smokey back rooms, tenting his fingers together, leaning back in a swivel chair saying “excellent” after a henchmen just announced that polluting the local water supply will save Evil Corp $100,000 on the next quarterly profits.
John Edwards sounds like a weird hybrid of Dan Quayle and Bill Clinton doing a JFK impression. Edwards was definitely the fresh faced, young, “exciting” kind of VP for Kerry. Problem is, he’s just…not. He’s like the halfway point between Dan Quayle and JFK. Not the total idiotic young politician, but nowhere near the nation-inspiring, once in a lifetime, larger than life figure JFK was. He just has a weird voice, a weird smile and watching him here I really wish it was Obama or even Kerry debating Cheney. They’d rip him apart.
I’m not sure what Cheney’s deal is, saying the world is safer without Saddam. You can literally find interviews of his on YouTube from the ’90s where he states that to remove Saddam would be to destabilize the Middle East and plunge Iraq into absolute chaos. He knew exactly what he was doing invading Iraq, the question is, why do it? I suspect to make his buddies in the defense contracting industry rich and ensure perpetual warfare to keep them rich. Some say it’s because Saddam wanted to start selling oil in Euros and the weakening of the Petrodollar would harm our currency’s value and therefore our economy, hence why we invaded. Cheney uses the excuse that Iraq was the most likely place where terrorists would get access to WMDs which is shaky reasoning at best. Not only were there no WMDs, but Saddam was a secularist who kept the lid on the various Muslim factions in his territory. This is similar to how Bush himself completely lied about everything he’d do in the 2000 debates.
Like the 2004 Presidential debates, this one is, of course, completely dominated by Iraq and the war on terror. Just stupid chest-thumping, arguing over whether to invade Iraq or Afghanistan. Cheney, like Bush, shamefully deflects any criticisms of the wars with the expected, Orwellian “how dare you criticize our troops!” which is one of the most insufferable rhetorical tactics I’ve ever witnessed. Once again, I loathe people who do this just on principle. It’s part of the military idolization that’s twisted “support the troops!” to mean “send them into armed conflict and never criticize or question why!” (And given them inadequate support when they come home as veterans.) This is a deliberate tactic on the part of the powers that be to stifle criticism and dissidents. It’s way more effective than it has a right to be, and it prevents people from speaking out more against illegal or unnecessary wars like Iraq or Vietnam.
One thing I like which Edwards brings up but Kerry never did, was how there was no 9/11 commission established to determine how the attack happened. People give the 9/11 truthers a lot of grief. Perhaps rightly so. But there are some sketchy things about the government’s response, and this is one of them. Possibly decades from now, when the sting has worn off, more questions will be raised. But for now, anyone criticizing the administration’s reaction or asking questions is demonized. I could only imagine how much worse it was back then, which is perhaps why Kerry declined to hit Bush hard on things like the lack of a commission, the use of torture, and the mass surveillance. I still consider that a failing on Kerry’s part though, not just morally but strategically as well. While people loathed Bush even by this point, nobody was really crazy about Kerry, and I think his lack of coming out strong against things like these are a big part of why that was.
Edwards also brings up Cheney’s ties to Halliburton, which is amazing to hear in an official political debate.
Worth noting too is when Cheney’s “family” (read: his daughter) and gay rights come up, he does a lot of mental gymnastics to try to justify his position on supporting a Constitutional ban on gay marriage. He claims that freedom is good and any kind of union a person wants is only their own business, not the government’s. He trots out the typical “leave it to the states” dog-whistle that conservatives always use whenever they want to tacitly support a policy that would sound mean spirited (because it is) when said out loud. So…it’s not the government’s place to get involved in support of gay marriage according to Cheney. Edwards calls the entire topic a fringe issue being used to divide us and nothing more. He’s not entirely wrong, fringe issues like this have become all presidential campaigns are about since the late ’90s, maybe earlier. Ever since both parties adopted neoliberal economics and neocon foreign policy full throttle, it’s these social issues which are all that actually divides the parties anymore.
Palin v Biden 2008
Nothing much to say about this one.
Biden was another older statesman, assuaging fears of Obama’s lack of experience, and a great selection in terms of campaign strategy, I’d say. He’s hardly perfect, but I consider him one of the better VP selections in modern history. Palin was an out of left field, flip-the-script VP selection designed to appeal to Hillary supporters and young people. Had she not been a total idiot, it’s difficult to say whether it would have succeeded, or been mocked as pandering, the same as Geraldine Ferraro’s selection in 1984 apparently was. Palin deserved to be scorned for her clear incompetence, but I hated how prominent the stupid SNL skit was in the discourse that year; I knew people who unironically used that skit as proof of how stupid she was as if it had been comprised of direct quotes.
Palin beat expectations by not completely blowing it, but she doesn’t really get any effective digs in either. She sounds confident enough but you can also tell she doesn’t completely know what she’s talking about with regard to certain topics. Moments like “say it ain’t so, Joe!” and other talking points are obviously rehearsed and I get the impression if Biden pushed a little harder, she would have collapsed like a house of cards. He did the right thing not to go too hard though, in my opinion. Biden is a gentleman [except for the fondling and rape accusations I guess] and part of his appeal is the lovable “Uncle Joe” meme. Palin was already a laughingstock at this point, and McCain was dead in the water by association. Obama was already expected to win big by this stage of the election. There was no need to go all out and rhetorically slaughter someone who was already getting way more scorn than perhaps was fair. Biden does a good job of holding his own, defending his and Obama’s records and criticizing McCain without making Palin look any worse than she has to.
I think it was really classy that Obama also neglected to throw Palin under the bus when asked in the third debate if she’d be a good or bad leader. As far as we’ve come in terms of gender equality, the fact is that it’s still bad optics for a guy to go too hard against a woman, especially one who’s widely considered a lightweight. And since the media was doing their work turning Palin into a liability already, there was no need for Obama/Biden to get their hands dirty. (This is a stratagem that would have served Hillary well in 2016. If the media is already beating us to death with how offensive Trump is, you don’t need to waste valuable debate and ad time flogging the dead horse some more.)
Worth noting, when gay marriage comes up, Biden says he and Obama consider marriage between a man and a woman. Maybe this was the more politically sound thing to do, but as someone who is LGBT, it’s disappointing. I don’t hold it against Obama/Biden, but I hate how they’re now made out to be these great heroes and icons for the community. They supported us only after it was safe and convenient to do so. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s hardly commendable either. Personally I will save my praise in this category for people like George McGovern, Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders, who defended our civil rights in the ’70s and ’80s long before it was cool.