Temerity and Mendacity, the Cheney-Edwards Debate

                                                            Cheney-Edwards Debate

            A lot of this has to do with trial-lawyering.  I have lugged around the title, “criminal trial lawyer,” occasionally modified in some way, or substituted for by the further label, “public defender,” for my working life.  I have done it with pride, usually enjoying the mostly, but certainly not entirely, unsaid deprecation which wondered, “how could you?”  I never had the impudence that might have prompted a more heroic justification; that might have made reference to traits of empathy and compassion and commitment to Constitutional principle, and toughness and intellectual vitality.  My parents taught me better than that.

            In any event, spending all of those years staring down judges and prosecutors and cops and witnesses have saddled me with certain instincts.  I call them instincts, but they aren’t really.  It’s just that the feeling comes before the thought actually forms in your mind.  It is a physical reaction, in my case, complete with cold sweat.  It has developed over the years and comes from knowing two things don’t match.  If the witness on the stand says something that contradicts one’s knowledge of the facts, there’s that sensation; it comes over you, or over me anyway, and you know you got action.  For a trial lawyer, you know you are going to have some fun.

            I know the place where I was when I heard the news that they had shot Kennedy.  I know the exact spot on Dwight Avenue where I was driving when I heard Dick Cheney tell that wonderful lie which I thought signaled the end of this horrid time through which we have been suffering.  There was, after all, a trial lawyer at the table, a trial lawyer of some note, a trial lawyer with a record of success who had ascended to the halls of the Senate.  Surely he would be able to put good wood on that hanging curveball.  It was the Vice Presidential debate, 2004; Dick Cheney against John Edwards, and I felt a cold sweat.

            The debate had barely begun; I don’t remember what had delayed me at the office making it necessary to listen as opposed to watch, but listen I did.  “I have not suggested there is a connection between Iraq and 9/11…”  A blistering, ferocious, fearsome falsehood of Vice Presidentially tyrannical proportion.  In court there are myriad ways to underline the moment from asking the judge to ask the court reporter to mark the record to acting like you didn’t hear properly and thus needed the matter repeated, to spitting out the water if you were fortunate enough to have been drinking at the time.

            But this was no courtroom with a judge providing stern rebuke in case of lapsed decorum.  It was a debate about the future of democracy and the power of the not-very-well-hidden forces that have served to corrupt it for the last century or so.  Whatever rules there are against interrupting have nowhere near the stature of the opportunity to demask monstrous mendacity.  The interruption can be executed with grace and apology, and with the pretense of giving Mr. Cheney the opportunity to correct himself.  We all misspeak occasionally; even the shiniest, most polished among us will drop a “not” or insert one by mistake, upon occasion.

            With the interruption Edwards might have edged along, gently, in this direction:  “Ms Ifill (the moderator) if you don’t mind, and I would be glad to give the Vice President additional time to clear the matter up, but I think the American people and the world have an opportunity to learn a most essential truth concerning the governance of this nation, and it behooves us to embark upon it with deliberation at this time.  I will make my point now, even at the cost of disrupting the format to the extent it does.  The Vice President has just denied that he has been the source of the suggestion that there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11.  You, Ms Ifill, are a well-informed journalist.  This debate is being broadcast by every major news source in the world and every one of them, and you, have the ability, at this instant probably, but certainly within the next 24 hours to establish beyond question the falsity of the statement that this leader of our nation just uttered.  It is a fact that his every breath on the subject has included the suggestion that there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11.  Now, he is a man capable of great subtlety, and it is certainly true that there may have been only a few occasions when such a statement, such a claim, was made by Mr. Cheney, but the question of the existence of suggestion cannot possibly be truthfully contested at this time.  I would further accuse Mr. Cheney of seeking to plant in the collective mind of the American people the idea that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, as poll after poll demonstrates is the lie held true by a disturbing percentage of American citizens of voting age.  I say at this moment this democracy will stand up to this test of its worth and show the endless footage of the Vice President doing precisely what he just denied, or it will be buried in recognition of the death it suffered decades ago at the hands of this man, and others,  poisoned by similar abhorrent and insidious ideas            I am not writing this because I don’t think those words sound pretty good.  Whether they move people now, or would have then, someone else will have to judge, but the question arises: this is all very nice looking backward, but could anyone expect such a performance under the circumstances?  Well, what exactly is the point of such a debate if it is not to illuminate the deficiencies of one’s opponent?            At the time of this debate, Iraq was a full-blown quagmire, there were no WMD’s, and the lies that were the justification for warfare were a daily repast for those with the stomach for it.  Colin Powell’s disgraceful performance at the UN was one of many sordid examples of warped propaganda in pursuit of military adventure.  Of all of the lies, however, the intimation that it was Saddam Hussein who was behind the atrocity of 9/11 was the most clanging of bells.  With close to a majority of Americans believing it to be true, the subject must have arisen in the Kerry camp.  One would assume combating the notion would have been given some consideration.  When better than with the viewership attendant a debate that involves a figure like Dick Cheney?

            In the trial of a criminal case the defense lawyer prepares an argument in an effort to persuade the jury of the doubts that the evidence has failed to overcome.  The defense lawyer must then sit and listen as the prosecutor seeks to answer any theoretically worthy claims.  The prosecutor speaks last, and the defense hopes that what is obvious to him or her will be apparent to the jurors.  The job of the defense is hardly over with the last syllables of their summation.  In the hours and days, if not months before, other preparations have been taking place in hopes that the prosecutor in their zeal will stray sufficiently that an objection may be “spoken.”  A speaking objection, depending on the judicial officer involved, may not even include the word objection, but is simply the rebuttal that the trial procedures do not make provision for.  One is rarely given more than a phrase or two so the words and their delivery must be studied and practiced.

 What I call for above need not have been thought of along the lines of a speaking objection, prepared just in case.  For me it would have been the essential accusation of the debate whether Cheney had had the temerity to deny it or not.  But what possible excuse can there be for not being prepared for the glorious event when, with the seeming blessing of the Creator, it takes place as only you might have prayed? 

            Is it timidity?  An excessive binding by convention?  Good breeding which deigns never to interrupt?  Simple fear?  One hopes, sometime before the Snows of Kilamajoro have evaporated entirely, that our leaders will understand that all of the marbles are inside of the circle, and act, or fight, accordingly.  If there is not the instinctive cold sweat encasing an attentive motorist on Dwight Avenue, can there at least be preparation commensurate with the task?






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