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EDITORIAL / Cheney and Lieberman: That's the Ticket

FINALLY, SOME normal people.

Joe Lieberman and Dick Cheney, the Democratic and Republican candidates for

vice president, gave their bosses a lesson in their debate Thursday night on

how a potential president should act. They differed sharply on the issues, but

they did it with civility, grace, intelligence and maturity.

What a welcome change of pace.

It might not have been titillating television and there were only a few

good one-liners-gently and subtly delivered-but it's what people expect from

their national leaders. Al Gore and George W. Bush, take note.

Maybe it's because Gore and Bush seem so uncomfortable in their own

personas, but it was a relief to watch two adults speak in a relaxed, unstudied

manner about serious issues facing the nation. No doubt both Lieberman and

Cheney practiced a lot for their sole confrontation. But they did not come off

as automatons spewing programmed data.

Normally it's the vice-presidential running mates who are the designated

hatchet men for the guys at the top. But somehow, in the first two debates,

those roles were reversed.

There's something loony going on, when the number twos outshine the number

ones so obviously. Maybe it's the Catch-22 of American presidential elections:

If you are crazy enough to jump through all the hoops it takes to win the

presidency, you are obviously mentally unfit to be president. There's so much

at stake for Gore and Bush, they have worked so long and hard to get this close

to the big prize, that they can't modulate their behavior in a debate. It's

also quite clearly the case that neither is artful in the practice of campaign

politics or terribly comfortable doing it.

On substance, the vice-presidential debate only accentuated the substantial

policy differences between the two tickets. Lieberman continued Gore's theme

that the large, across-the-board tax cuts favored by Bush and Cheney tilt too

strongly to the wealthy and, combined with other programs Bush has proposed,

would blow a trillion-dollar hole in the federal budget.

Cheney countered that Gore's targeted tax-cut and tax-credit plans were so

complex that it would take a certified public account to figure them out, and

that, overall, Gore's approach to public policy smacked too much of the big-

government, big-spending tendencies of the old Democrats.

An impartial analysis of the budget figures reveals that the Gore-Lieberman

point is correct: Bush's numbers just don't add up to a balanced budget. This

is especially true now that Bush has admitted he would use the surplus to fund

the transition to a privatized Social Security system. He was already using the

surplus for the tax cut, prescription-drug plan, shoring up regular Social

Security and new defense spending.

Interestingly, Cheney's presentation wasn't so different from Bush's

Tuesday night, but he delivered it with a sense of serious purpose-a

gravatas-that made it seem more authoritative. Cheney has not gotten high marks

on the campaign trial, but in the debate he showed the demeanor of someone who

knows how to be in charge.

Lieberman's manner is more folksy, but he talked with great moral authority

when he discussed the right of women to make the agonizing decision whether to

terminate a pregnancy and the wrongs of racial profiling.

After Thursday's debate, Newsday endorses a Cheney-Lieberman ticket.

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