A sneak preview of the VP debate
By Dr. Muhammad Obed, MD
Editor's Note: to appreciate this article, be aware that it was written before the debate
The two vice-presidential candidates have their job cut out for them when they face each other on Tuesday for the debate.
The traditional role of the vice-presidential candidate have has been that of an attack dog; to do the dirty work for his or her running mate as he or she does not have to worry about appearing presidential. In a close election like this and with the country so divided, more than a few sparks are expected to fly. The only question is who is going to get burnt?
Cheney's task is the more difficult one. He has a very high negative rating, which he must live down. Additionally he must compensate for/counter the president's defeat in the first debate.
Cheney is a shrewd politician and knows how not to sound like a politician. It was this talent that gave him the upper hand against Lieberman during the
debate in the previous election. But the negative publicity of the last year
and a half has given him the public image of a ruthless and maybe tainted
politician With so much to defend it will be interesting to him mount an
offensive against a rival who happens to be an eloquent, handsome and
popular trial lawyer.
It is likely that Cheney will resort to attacking Kerry while largely
ignoring Edward. He will try to dismiss the democratic candidate as a
political lightweight who was chosen for his good looks and charming
personality. The only "nasty attack" on Edward most likely would be because
of his career as a trial lawyer, who are always portrayed by the GOP as
greedy. It may safely be assumed that Cheney will focus on Kerry's 'flip
flops' and his 'twisting in the wind' in keeping with the GOP strategy,
thereby establishing Kerry as 'not fit for command' during the perilous time
Edward must guard against appearing to be a slick lawyer wanting in
deference to his older opponent and to the president of the nation. He
should aim at evoking in the audience a sense of betrayal at the hands of
the Bush Cheney combine rather than a sense of pity for his over matched
Edward is aware of this and will be ready with his response: 'Mr. Vice
President, even though you came to power in a highly questionable fashion, a
divided country rallied around President Bush when we were attacked on 9/11.
We trusted you both, Sir. But you have betrayed the trust. Instead of
completing the job of capturing Bin Laden when he was surrounded you
outsourced the job to the rag tag Afghan militia. You misled the nation and
rushed us in a war without having formulated a plan to win the piece. You
refused to listen to the generals and experts who kept cautioning you to be
better prepared. Worse, sir, you undermined the State Department and the
intelligence agencies relying instead on a bunch of political appointees in
the Pentagon and your office. You were rewarded with misleading intelligence
advice. Foreign policy is not the strength of this President. He admits as
much when he says that he believes in delegating his work to his team. By
now it has become self evident that his team has failed him, failed the
nation and failed our brave soldiers who are paying the price for this ill
advised and ill prepared mission.'
Here is another possible attack from Edwards: 'Mr. Vice President, I give my
solemn word to the nation that I will never mislead the President. I do not
have stakes in the oil business and I am not an ideologue, so my advice will
be an objective and unbiased one. I will never undermine the State
department and the CIA. John Kerry has 20 years of experience in both
foreign and domestic policy. He will not depend on others to show him the
way. He will seek expert advice but will not allow any biased or incompetent
person to mislead him. He will not surround himself inept ideologues. His
team will do him proud and give him no reason to hide/protect them from the
media and the American public.'
When Cheney brings up the "Samarra victory" Edward will remind him: "Yes we
won a hard fought victory but we are losing our brave men and women every
day. They are not adequately equipped and account for 90 % of the total
casualties. Each time we attack a town or a city the insurgents melt into
the population and react with guerilla war tactics. After we retreat from
the area they are back in full strength. The President misled us once again
when he said in the debate that we have trained 120,000 Iraqis. The Pentagon
admits that we have only trained 50, 000 and not fully. Today Iraq acts as a
magnet for the supporters of Al-Qaeda the way Afghanistan earlier did. To
say that things are getting better in Iraq amounts to perpetuating the
On the issue of Afghan elections, Edward must focus on Karzai, the one trump
card that this administration likes to play up. A relevant retort would
be: "Yes Afghans, like all human beings want to be free but are they really
free? A larger part of the country is still misgoverned by warlords who
continue to be the largest cultivators of poppy and suppliers of heroin.
The Taliban is back and Al Qaeda active. The prevailing security conditions
deter President Karzai from campaigning for his election). Nothing can be
further from the truth than to say that Afghanistan is normalizing. We are
in this mess because the President on your and Secretary Rumsfeld's advice,
shifted his main focus from Afghanistan to Iraq."
He must be ready to defend the "flip flop" charges the way Kerry was. He
will have to undo the "global test" miscue of Kerry. Here is a way Edwards
can achieve this: "John Kerry said that we are 90% of the casualties and 90%
of the expenses and that is not acceptable. The only way we can cut down our
casualties is to approach the world and Muslim leaders with respect as the
President had promised in his campaign. It was because he broke that promise
that the world does not see America as a leader any longer. President Kerry
will call a summit and remind the leaders politely but firmly of their
stakes in this war. He will live up to the legacy of world leaders such as
Presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Truman, Kennedy and George
Once Edwards is successful in creating a dent in the aura of trustworthiness
that surrounds the President he can proceed to prepare the ground for a
Kerry victory in the upcoming debate by challenging the President's domestic
policy. He will do well to remind the undecided voters of the two questions
they are most likely to ask themselves before pulling the lever: Am I better
off economically than I was 4 years ago? And will my future and my children
be safer under this president. The larger the number of people that Kerry
and Edward can compel into asking these questions on November 3rd the better
the likelihood of their victory.
Edward can refer to two recent stories, one about how the administration
misled the world by manipulating the Intelligence report on Iraq's nuclear
threat and the other about the VA health care system which is unable to cope
with the increasing casualties of the Iraq war while President Bush's budget
for 2005 calls for cutting the Department of Veterans Affairs staff that
handles benefits claims. Another news story that might find mention is how
the warlords and Taliban both are intimidating Afghan voters.
It will be an interesting battle between two of the sharpest political minds
fought for the hearts and minds of the undecided voters. The prominent
verbal weapons will be "flip flops" and "consistently inconsistent" pitted
against "consistently misleading" and "same old failed policies" and
"defender of the rich." The side that succeeds in painting the other as
"unfit for command" will win the debates and thereafter the elections in
these perilous times of war.
Dr. Muhammad Obed is a physician. He occasionally writes commentary on
political and psychosocial issues.
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