Take the Shrek v. Breck debate last night. For a while, I thought Cheney was getting the better of Edwards. Sure, every third word out of Cheney's mouth is a willful distortion. But those predictable lies were undercut by Cheney's (for lack of a better word) gravitas. Speaking smoothly and (seemingly) knowledgeably in an affectless baritone, Cheney's entire vibe shouts "experienced old hand". So even while we know he's the most dangerous man in American politics, he came off as a slightly curmudgeonly but ultra-competent insider. That was enough for CW to call it a tie, even as Cheney pooped out completely during the discussion of domestic issues.
But that's before he got caught. During the debate, Cheney unleashed a rehearsed zinger that, if the Democrats are remotely savvy, should become the central focus of post-debate spin. Cheney said:
" "Now, 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," Cheney told Edwards during the debate."
Two problems. One, Cheney met Edwards at least three times. In fact, there's incontrovertible proof:
Second, in his four years as VP, Cheney presided over the Senate exactly twice on Tuesdays. Another lie. So while his whoppers on 9/11-Al Qaida, "global test", the Iraq War, etc. were substantively worse, these lies are more easily and readily grasped by the public. More importantly, it fits into the reality of Bush/Cheney's governance, which is based primarily on denial of reality and facts, something that Kerry has finally made that the central theme of his attacks after about two years of clear-eyed observers making this charge. These people will say anything, no matter how far from the truth, to further their cause.
Cheney surely got a cheap yelp of joy from his wingnut fanbase for this zinger. By the time the spin cycle stops, though, Cheney will wish he never played for the cheap seats. But you know, the little ogre can't help himself. He just can't help but spew out lie after lie.
As for who "won", it seems they weren't playing the same game. Cheney's rhetoric and manner were meant to fire up his base, while Edwards recited Democratic themes for swing voters. They both did their jobs, and while Edwards had some slip-ups, I thought he articulated the campaign's themes much better than Kerry did (though I didn't think Edwards did as well as Breck Girl-fanboy Will Saletan thinks). And I love his rhetorical tricks (paraphrasing: "I don't have to tell folks watching at home that insurance premiums are going through the roof. You already knew that, right?"). One surprise: attacks on Halliburton played especially well with swing voters. I've always took Halliburton as a sop to the base -- of no concern to the average American -- but clearly that line of attack works.
On the other hand, Edward's hurt by not being as commanding and authorative a presence as Cheney, though at least he didn't get "Quayled" either. So Edwards didn't run over Cheney as if the VP were "road-kill," as Andrew Sullivan thinks. But neither did Cheney obliterate the callow and overmatched senator, as the wingnuts think. They both did what they set out to do. It'll end up being a draw unless the post-debate spin end up focusing on Cheney's lies. So the Democrats need to get to work and hoist Cheney by his own petard.
From the looks of it, I think it's already happening.
Kevin Drum has the most graphically appealing summary of Cheney's lies here.