Hunched Shoulders, Fluttering Eyelids

Guest: Cole Campbell, Dean of the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada - Reno Rich's notion that we have to sort through competing sets of facts, or facts that don't quite add up to a coherent whole, is an important insight into political life. In the case of the vice presidential debate, it's also a bit of making lemonade out of lemons. In strong constrast to the first presidential debate, which was largely about substantive policy disagreements and the underlying narrative of certainty v. competence, the vice presidential debate was waged as a series of attempts to puncture and bleed the other side. All debates have strategic objectives: To win the debate, if there is a mechanism for declaring a winner; to resolve a policy dispute in a formal policy-making process, or, in the case of electoral debates, to persuade voters that one side is superior to the other. Since the vice presidential debate is the undercard in this forensic tournament, the two camps felt freer to use this squareoff to drain credibility or authority from the opposing camp. So fragmented facts -- about Halliburton's corporate failings, about Senator John Edwards' spotty Senate attendance while he's been campaigning, about every other arguable blemish -- are fired in shotgun-like barrages in response to questions that had nothing to do with these topics. Vice President Dick Cheney, with a slight hunch in his shoulders, seemed grumpy and put out. Senator Edwards, fluttering his eyelids throughout every answer, seemed uncomfortable either with what he was saying or with the strategy he was asked to pursue. Their body language spoke for me, because this debate left me grumpy, put out and uncomfortable with what both candidates were trying to accomplish.