‘Sphere Does Its Best Sportswriter Imitation

The Expectorate — those reporters, commentators, pundits and political operatives who try to set expectations for a given candidate and then announce later whether he lived up to those arbitrary expectations — nearly had a meltdown in the hours before last night’s vice presidential debate. Reading their descriptions of the two contenders … master litigatorcentral cheerleader” for the Iraq war … the man with the golden tonguebalding, pudgy, taciturnall honeyed accent and toothpaste smile …called to mind the semi-hysterical sporting press that attends to the run-up to the Super Bowl, or a heavyweight championship boxing match.

Trouble is, there’s a lot more at stake here than a football score or the result of a boxing match. But that didn’t stop post-debate bloggers from taking their cue from the mainstream press’ breathless pre-debate exhortations and exclamations. Thus, in a classic case of “us” becoming “them,” they let it rip throughout the night.

At Pandagon, Jesse Taylor and Ezra Klein did their best imitations of play-by-play announcers, taking turns live-blogging during the debate. The duet registered dismay at Edwards’ early performance: “Cheney is DECAPITATING Edwards” and “Edwards is doing a borderline awful job at hitting Cheney.” But they warmed to their candidate as the debate turned to economic policy (“Now THIS is good shit on Edwards’ part”), though Klein ended on a “ho hum” note: “This debate grew remarkably dull over the last 45 minutes … Cheney was dominant at the beginning, but Edwards worked him on economic issues and had a better closing statement. My feeling? It was a draw, and the race lies unchanged.”

Kos disagreed with Pandagon on “national defense stuff,” calling that part of the debate a draw. He later refuted Cheney’s claim to have never met Edwards, coupling supporting evidence with the dry observation that “reality need not get in the way of a good zinger.”

Partway through his “Live Blogging-Lite” at Oxblog, David Adesnik offered a bit of an aside, remarking: “Bloggers often get criticized for saying whatever crosses their mind rather than searching for information and crafting evocative sentences.” Twenty minutes later, he provided the link to the FactCheck.org piece mentioned by Cheney, and demonstrated some pretty good info-gathering skills: “Cheney is recalling how when he was in Congress, there was much more bipartisanship. Yet just this afternoon, I was reading through a congressional debate about Nicaragua from 1988 and I can assure you, bipartisanship is not what I saw.”

(The fact that Adesnik knows where FactCheck.org is puts him ahead of some reporters, as well as the vice president himself, who incorrectly cited FactCheck.com, one of several mistakes the fact-checking organization noted in the latest dose of its specialty.)

Mickey Kaus, who seems to grow more dyspeptic daily, didn’t have much praise for either VP candidate, preferring to slam Edwards as “a yapping ankle-biter, albeit a well-briefed ankle-biter” before going on to highlight “Edwards’ great failure” and “Cheney’s missed opportunities.” He concluded: “I suspect Cheney would have won hands down if he’d have candidly admitted to some screw-ups. That’s how real CEOs talk.”

Andrew Sullivan apparently saw a different debate, and executed a neat flip-flop on his pre-debate predictions. Unlike the candidates, however, he rushed to confession: “Boy was I ever wrong. If last Thursday night’s debate was an assisted suicide for president Bush, this debate — just concluded — was a car wreck. And Cheney was road-kill.” Realizing that he was going almost solo here, Sullivan elaborated on his view in about ten variations on a theme (and counting).

Over in The Corner, Jonah Goldberg got some unflattering verses about Edwards off his chest, but devoted his coda last night to debunking Sullivan because “the turf he seems to be defending is quicksand.” With much of The Corner band backing him up in similar strains, Goldberg wrote: “Cheney won, on substance by a wide margin and politically by a small one. I think he probably lost on points in the second half. But he racked-up enough points in the first half that it didn’t matter. If Cheney looked too tired or too somber, I don’t think anyone but Sullivan noticed or cared.”

On the other hand, John Hillen seems to think no one’s listening anyway: “I think it is safe to say that it is a huge non-event outside of wonkdom.”

But heck, we could just chuck the whole thing and call the election right now. As Stanley Kurtz blogged: “So long as Kerry’s record on foreign and defense policy is out in the open, this race is over. The campaign was heading toward a blowout after the swift-boat ads and the Republican convention brought out the truth about Kerry’s lifetime dovishness.”

News to us … and a few others, as well.

Susanna Dilliplane

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Susanna Dilliplane is a contributor to CJR.