Former Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) faced off last night in the first and only Vice Presidential debate, clashing over policy issues but maintaining a tone more humorous and respectful than vindictive.
The debate consisted of issue exchanges between the candidates, ranging from education, military readiness, the newly-approved abortion pill and the budget surplus during the 90-minute debate at Centre College in Danville, KY.
Both candidates stated clearly from the outset that the debate would maintain a respectful tenor, with no forays into character attacks.
"I am going to be positive tonight.
I'm not going to indulge in negative personal attacks. I'm going to talk about the issues that matter to the people of this country," Lieberman said in his opening statement.
Cheney immediately echoed Lieberman's sentiment, throwing in a dash of good-natured humor.
"I want to avoid any personal attacks. I promise not to bring up your singing," Cheney joked.
But Cheney was quick to draw distinctions between the two tickets.
Cheney said the American people have a clear choice between "a new course of action" and "an old way of governing ourselves--of high levels of spending, high taxes, ever more intrusive bureaucracy."
Lieberman responded by saying most Americans are better off today than they were eight years ago. He outlined a plan of targeted tax cuts, including a $10,000 college tuition tax credit for the middle class.
But Cheney responded that average Americans would not be able to reap the financial benefits.
"You have to be a CPA to understand what he just said," said Cheney. "The fact of the matter is the plan is so complex that an ordinary American is never going to ever figure out what they even qualify for."
The two vice-presidential candidates also discussed issues that the tops of the ticket had not mentioned during the first debate: racial profiling and gay marriage.
Lieberman said he is "thinking about" legal recognition of gay and lesbian partnerships, alluding to the notion of equality in the Declaration of Independence.
Cheney, whose daughter is a lesbian, said the issue is not "a slam dunk," but "we ought to do everything we can to tolerate" such partnerships.
The crowd of over 100 people that watched the debate at the Institute of Politics ARCO Forum said it was more engaging than the one on Tuesday between Vice President Al Gore '69 and Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
"I thought it was really well done--it was more substantive than the presidential debate," said Christina T. Shay '02.
"It focused in on the issues," said Marcie B. Bianco '02, coordinator of Harvard Students for Gore. "They weren't critiquing each other's character as much which I thought was good."
The audience was overwhelmingly supportive of the Democratic ticket, loudly cheering for Lieberman at the beginning of the debate. Posters supporting Gore and Lieberman hung from the walls of the forum.
However, many Democrats were impressed with the Republican nominee's performance.
"I think Cheney did more good for Bush than Lieberman did for Gore. I thought he was much more articulate in explaining and justifying his positions," said Shawn T. Malone, who is pursuing a Master's Degree at the Kennedy School.
Meghan L. Sibole '03 said she thought the debate was "really enjoyable to watch, especially the humor," citing one particular exchange between the two candidates after Lieberman said that most Americans would say they are better off today than they were before President Clinton took office.
"I'm pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you're better off than you were eight years ago," said Lieberman.
"I can tell you, Joe, the government had absolutely nothing to do with it," replied Cheney.
"I can see my wife and I think she's saying, 'I think he should go out into the private sector,'" responded Lieberman.
"I'll try to help you do that, Joe," quipped Cheney.
The second of three Presidential debates will held at Wake Forest University on October 11.