The Corner

My Take

For what it’s worth. Remember, I thought Bush did “just fine” last week. I always have a hard time figuring out how we’re supposed to balance substance and style points in these things. In one sense, I don’t even think we need to have these debates, given the fundamental emptiness of Kerry-Edwards on Iraq and other vital questions; there’s no way Bush-Cheney can’t “win.” Alas, these debates are a ritual of our politics, and so is commenting on them.

1. Cheney was substantively better, but Edwards has great courtroom style. But Edwards still seems like a pre-9/11 candidate–the likely heir to the Democratic Party of the 1990s, not the one that needs to reshape itself for what we face now. If I ever need a good trial lawyer (and have deep pockets), he’ll make my short list.

2. Cheney’s best moment–and perhaps the best moment of the whole debate–came when he accused Edwards of belittling the Iraqis: “He won’t count the sacrifice and the contribution of Iraqi allies.” Cheney used the word “demean.” I actually wish Cheney had become a little more passionate in this exchange, but what he did was good enough. Edwards clearly didn’t know what to say except to interject “I’m not demeaning!” But in fact he was.

3. How does Chuck Hagel — a GOP presidential wannabe — feel about the fact that Edwards can tick off his name as a “Republican leader” who doesn’t think Bush is being honest about Iraq?

4. Did you see how Edwards contorted his face when he uttered the words “global test,” as if it were a really yucky thing to say?

5. Jim Lehrer didn’t impress me last week, and Gwen Ifill didn’t impress me last night. She commented that the United States “seems absent” from the “peacemaking process” with respect to Israel and Palestine. (My view: Toppling Hussein was an important part of that process.) And then, in a debate that featured some of the final opportunities to pose foreign policy and national security questions, she didn’t ask about two things Lehrer didn’t bring up: the Patriot Act and missile defense. But she did ask two questions about gay marriage and one about AIDS in America. And that business about answering a question without using the opposition’s name was strange.

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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