You want to talk about playing against expectations during a major debate? Well, here’s something that John Edwards might want to be prepared to deal with during his upcoming face-off with the Vice President.
Cheney as funny man.
You might remember that during his 2000 lovefest debate with Joe-mentum Lieberman, Cheney was a charmer. And he got the big laughs (which had to bother Lieberman, who thinks he’s funny). Take a look at this exchange (one of the moments often repeated in the media even four years later as we prepare for another debate):
Lieberman: I think if you asked most people in America today that famous question that Ronald Reagan asked, “Are you better off today than you were eight years ago?” Most people would say yes. I’m pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you’re better off than you were eight years ago, too.
Cheney: I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.
And then, laughter.
In truth, this moment offered Joe Lieberman an opportunity to make an incredibly important point. As the CEO of Halliburton, Cheney in fact made boatloads of money specifically because of his ties with our government (and others) and his company’s governmental contracts. The government had more to do with Cheney’s eight year windfall than almost any other American.
Will Cheney try to disarm the much more charming Edwards with unexpected humor and one-liners? I’m not sure. But Edwards shouldn’t allow Cheney to soften his own image. There’s not that much funny about Cheney’s record (whether you’re for or against him).
Edwards should position this as one more trial (especially if Cheney tries to rip him for being a lawyer) in which he is fighting for the individual against a giant corporate entity (only this time the winner ends up with the task of dealing with a multi-trillion dollar debt).
Worried about the common attacks on trial lawyers? Don’t be. Democrats often make the mistake of attacking the rich even though a lot of Americans actually love the rich (or at least the idea of being rich themselves). Well, here’s a bulletin. Away from cheap stump speech attacks to the contrary, Americans love trial lawyers. Don’t take it from me. Just ask the television and movie executives who have made billions off of our desire to root along with our courtroom champions. (I couldn’t figure out a way to have that two beat Law and Order musical refrain play here.)
Cheney has been testifying for four years. Edwards needs to keep the cross-examination going all night. Then we’ll see who is yucking it up on November 2.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Cheney should try to exploit the gravitas gap and his years of international and defense experience. I say, watch out for the one-liners.