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
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.