So for the most part we engaged in a thoughtful exchange of ideas. We tackled the surplus, tax cuts, education, inequality in women's pay, abortion, the former Yugoslavia, when to deploy troops in the Middle East, Iraq, energy strategy, oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Social Security, gay rights, and more in a very substantive hour and a half.
Cheney and I disagreed on most issues, but we managed to disagree without being disagreeable.
And every now and then, they surprised everyone — by agreeing! When Bernie Shaw asked them about gay marriage, their answers weren't canned rhetoric programmed to please one interest group or another. What the voters saw were two men, from traditional backgrounds, who were trying to come to terms, in an open and tolerant fashion, with a controversial question in a changing world.
I was surprised when Bernie Shaw declared the debate over. The hour and a half had passed so quickly. And I was ecstatic. I had made the points I wanted to make on every question; I knew we'd had an interesting exchange; I thought we'd both done well. Tad Devine and Stan Greenberg told me later that night that they sat with a checklist of goals, points they hoped I would make, and I made them all.
What I have to say may sound like the words of a wife, but, really, they're the words of an observer. What is interesting about Joe is that he has a way of making people look good and feel comfortable. He brings out the best in people. Sitting there, I looked over at Matt and I could see him start to tear up a little because, as he said when it was over, "My dad was back. He'd been gone during the debate training, but he was back tonight and he was wonderful and it was a relief."
Al and Tipper called, and they were cheering with excitement. Al said, "You did just great; you did everything I could have wanted. I couldn't have been prouder of you."
We were flying high. We left the auditorium for a hot, screaming, exultant headquarters rally sponsored by the Kentucky Democratic Party and then went to a quieter but equally upbeat reception for some of my biggest supporters who had flown in from around the country.
The response from the press and the public was outstanding. The Washington Post called the debate "serious, well-informed, substantive, grown-up" and added, "Maybe the presidential tickets are upside down. The country might face a less troubling choice if Dick Cheney and Joseph Lieberman were the presidential candidates … "
What you need to realize is this: Because he was a two-term senator, much was expected of Joe — and he totally lived up to everyone's expectations. As for Dick Cheney, he was someone who had been out of government for a long time and was widely seen as a hard-nosed conservative. This thoughtful Cheney surpassed expectations, so he gained a lot from the debate, too.
It goes without saying that there were commentators who managed to find fault. Veteran columnist Mary McGrory complained that I had overdone my loyalty to Gore. "Lieberman was … lost in the mists of sycophancy…," she wrote. "He was not the free spirit hailed by the media. He was a composite called 'Al-Gore-and-I.'"