Dick Cheney's solidity and steadiness mark him as the Bushie the left most loves to hate. There he was in Cleveland in the vice-presidential debate - the big dog against the ankle-biter, the reliable Lab showing the way to the undisciplined yapper who won't stay off the furniture.
John Edwards made millions as a plaintiff's lawyer suing physicians for medical malpractice. A year ago he was introduced to 75 top trial lawyers in "The Inner Circle" by the group's president Ned Good this way: "John Edwards is one of us. First and foremost, he's a trial lawyer who just happens to be a U.S. senator and one day will just happen to be president. He's already said medical malpractice reform will pass over his dead body." The nation's trial lawyers rank high among big contributors to the Kerry-Edwards campaign.
Edwards' performance as a one-term senator from North Carolina has been so contrary to the desires of most voters that his prospects for re-election there were dim. So he campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination and, failing that, won the consolation race to become John Kerry's running mate. As a senator, he predictably has opposed (a) tort reform and - notably - (b) lower taxes.
According to The Washington Post, Sen. Edwards has cast these votes, among others: against removing Bill Clinton from office for obstruction of justice (1999); against tax cuts for married couples (2000); against the Bush 10-year, $1.35-trillion tax cuts (2001); and against allowing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (2002). In 2003 he voted for limiting the size of the economic stimulus tax cut, against adding a prescription drug benefit to the Medicare program, and against the $87 billion supplemental appropriation for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The vice president presides as president of the Senate. As Cheney said Tuesday, Edwards (like Kerry) has been chronically absent for Senate votes, and participated minimally in discussions of President Bush's fourth tax cut, signed into law Monday. Instead of signifying for that tax cut, on Monday night Edwards took a break from his debate preparation to tell "Nightline": "I'd say if you live in the United States of America and you vote for George Bush, you've lost your mind."
He echoed that sentiment the next night, when toward the end of the debate he looked at Cheney and said: "I don't think the nation can take four more years of your administration."
To this peevish pretty-boy slickster with the anchorman hair, Cheney was stalwart, unflappable, and locked-on. And he kept largely to the point that the election is principally about Messrs. Kerry and Bush: Bush, fixed and consistent, vs. the mixed-message Kerry trying to sell liberalism to a fundamentally conservative electorate.
Cheney cited Kerry's (and Edwards') votes against tax cuts, crucial weapons systems, and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. He spoke sensitively and sensibly about homosexuality and AIDS. On terrorism, he noted Kerry-Edwards' disparaging of success and demeaning of our allies - including Iraqis with "their necks on the line" in their fight for freedom and stability.
On domestic policy, Cheney summarized the Bush administration record: "We've got 111 million American taxpayers who have benefited from our income tax cuts. We've got 33 million students who've benefited from No Child Left Behind. We've got 40 million seniors who benefited from the reform of the Medicare system. The Democrats promised prescription drug benefits. For years they've run on that platform. They never got it done. The president got it done."
On foreign policy, Cheney told Edwards: "You're not credible on Iraq because of the enormous inconsistencies that John Kerry and you have cited time after time after time during the course of the campaign. Whatever the political pressures of the moment require, that's where you're at. But you've not been consistent, and there's no indication at all that John Kerry has the conviction to successfully carry through on the war on terror."
As with Bush and Kerry in their first debate, so with Cheney and Edwards: Labrador steadiness vs. yappy running around. Anyone declaring the Democrat the "victor" in either debate should be required to respond to this question: In the realm of Important Things, how and when did substance lose out to style?