The Calculus of Bullshit
It takes five seconds to speak a lie. Let us be extremely optimistic and say that it takes thirty seconds to debunk a lie. Both candidates are alloted the same amount of time to speak and respond. Therefore, the advantage goes to whoever is willing to lie most freely. The poor bastard on the wrong end of this equation ends up being unable to address more than a handful of the lies, leaving most of them unchallenged (or inadequetely challenged) while he himself appears to be ducking questions because he spends all his time refuting a minority of the other guy's points, or speaking in vague generalities in an attempt to do the impossible by addressing them all.
Welcome to the Vice-Presidential debate, ladies and gentlemen; believe me, I am even more appalled than you.
In 90 minutes, Dick Cheney did more to undermine my faith in democracy than the fact that we're still allowing Florida to participate in national elections.
I have nothing much to say about the debate, other than I'm glad it's over. Frankly, there's no excuse for Edwards' lack of immediate responses to most of Cheney's lies - they were almost exclusively rehashes of the same basic untruths he's been peddling for two years. The only real way to counter the calculus of bullshit is to scare the other guy out of using it by coming down like a bomb on one or two lies early on.
When Cheney talked about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Edwards should have responded with something along the lines of "What you left out, Mr. Vice President, is that Zarqawi was operating prior to the war out of a camp in the Kurd-controlled portion of Iraq, an area inaccessible to Saddam Hussein. You know this, and yet you use Zarqawi as an example of Al Qaeda connections to Saddam Hussein. That is a deliberate ommission with the intent to deceive, and where I come from, that's called a lie, Mr. Vice President." If it didn't slow down Big Dick's Bullshit Express, it would have at least provided the press with a juicy quote to toss around all week - and maybe, you know, confirm the fact that Cheney lied.
But he didn't, and, until things got bogged down in domestic policy wonkery (and wankery - "Your record is undistinguished!" "No, your record is undistinguished!"), it gave the national security advantage to Cheney - which translates to an overall Cheney advantage, for I guarantee you that a large portion of the audience changed the channel when the debate turned to HeadStart and medical malpractice.
With all apologies to my Democratic brethren, I'm calling this one for Cheney - albeit not by much. I don't think that anyone really doubts that the major issue for the few remaining undecideds out there is terrorism and national security, and during that portion of the debate, Edwards did the "I'll get to your question in a second, but first I'd just like to say..." thing way too often. I like John Edwards, I'm voting for Kerry/Edwards, and even I rolled my eyes at wha seemed for all the world like standard politician-avoiding-the-question. Even when he did actually end up answering the question, that repeated initial response to questions will be seen in retrospect to be a disaster - at least for people's opinions of Edwards performance in the debate. As to what degree tonight's debate will actually affect the election, I really couldn't say. Not much, I would guess.
As a final observation, I have decided that it is now the number one, no-shit, do-this-right-the-fuck-now priority for the Kerry/Edwards speechwriting crew to come up with a way to convey the fact that Kerry and Edwards have a plan to do a bunch of good stuff without actually saying that they have a plan. Again, there is nothing on this planet that could get me to vote for Bush/Cheney, but I'm going to be honest with you: it looks really freakin' bad when our boys keep repeating "I have a plan to..." in response to direct questions about details of how they intend to proceed. I know that the plans they do have are complicated and cannot be adequetely explained in soundbites, but I am absolutely positive that a good number of people's natural response to "I have a plan" is "Yeah? Like what?" - and then they decide that Kerry/Edwards is bullshitting them, and the task of winning them over becomes exponentially more difficult. This problem is exacerbated by constant repitition, which makes it seem more and more like a cop-out. After all, it's easy to say you have a plan, but actually having a good plan, and then executing it, is another animal entirely. Even the dumbest among us know that; only blind faith keeps you from acknowledging the difference, and the people with blind faith in one cadidate or another are not in the "persuadable" column.