Debra J. Saunders

 Edwards was more convincing when he confronted Cheney's association with Halliburton, the Houston-based company that has major Defense Department contracts in Iraq. Edwards failed to establish that Cheney has done anything improper, but he didn't have to. It's unseemly, undignified and bad politics for a sitting vice president to collect a golden-parachute stipend while in office.

 "People are going to be turned off by the way in which Cheney failed to directly respond to the questions (about Halliburton) that were posed to him," noted Roger Salazar, who was Edwards' spokesman during the primary. If voters weren't turned off by Cheney's demeanor, they should be turned off by this seedy arrangement.

 Cheney also stumbled when he claimed to have not met Edwards before the debate -- although the fact that they met twice doesn't exactly speak volumes for Edwards' presence on Capitol Hill.

 Otherwise, Cheney carried the day when he dismissed the hawkish (at least this week) position of Kerry/Edwards as "a little tough talk in the midst of a campaign."

 Cheney referred to Kerry's and Edwards' vote against $87 billion in funding for the war in Iraq and noted, "I couldn't figure out why that happened initially." But then, Cheney said he noticed that Howard Dean was running well on his anti-war rhetoric. The kicker: "Now, if they couldn't stand up to the (political) pressures that Howard Dean represented, how can we expect them to stand up to al Qaeda?" And: "These are two individuals who have been for the war when the headlines were good and against it when their poll ratings were bad."

 So you see the contrast. One ticket is committed to winning the war and staying the course in good times and bad.

 The other ticket is committed to winning the election and thus talks about sending more troops one week, then withdrawing troops the next. It promotes a beefed-up international coalition it can't deliver. It berates the Bushies for doing things -- going after Saddam Hussein before catching Osama bin Laden -- that Kerry failed to protest when he voted for the resolution.

 The choice is clear: commitment or opportunism.

Debra J. Saunders

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