At first I took this to merely mean that Democrats were winning the spin war, which I predicted would dominate the post-debate analysis here more than normal. However, a few things have made me reconsider, slightly.
I still think that Cheney won, and by a considerable margin. However, an emailer to Andrew Sullivan makes an excellent point: Cheney addressed wonks, Edwards addressed "normal folks." I, alas, am a wonk, which might explain Cheney's appeal to me. Facts and multipointed arguments appeal to me, but most people need issues distilled to their essence. Edwards might have been superior on that count.
That explains part of the issue, but I think I've discovered one more quality about myself in the process: I like mean. Most people don't, but I do. Noam Schieber (subscription only) writes
It's pretty hard to be less likeable than evil incarnate, but Dick Cheney gave it his best shot. When Cheney disputed the accusation that the United States has spent $200 billion in Iraq, he explained that some of that money actually benefited Afghanistan and the global war on terror, but then couldn't resist adding, "You probably weren't there to vote for that." It was just one in a series of snide asides from Cheney. He repeatedly invoked the kind of derisive formulations that work before partisan audiences on the campaign trail--"I can think of a lot of words to describe Senator Kerry's position on Iraq; 'consistent' is not one of them"--but just sound peevish in a neutral setting. Cheney practically growled that Edwards and Kerry's rhetoric "would be more credible if there was a record to back it up." And when he lectured Edwards about having the worst attendance record in the Senate--a perfectly legitimate issue--he sounded more like a dour high school principal than the vice president of the United States.
To most people, it's mean, to me, it's aggressive. And I want to see politicians rip the other's arguments to ittybitty shreds. Sullivan says that "if you're on Cheney's side and want to see him take some flesh out of his opponent, you will have loved the performance." I'm not on Cheney's side, but I'd like to see a bit more flesh flying. My major fault with Kerry in his debate was that he wasn't aggressive enough, not hitting the President hard enough on Homeland Security and current Iraq policy. One of the things that angers me most about modern politics is that, inexplicably, politicians are perfectly willing to smear their opponents with poorly substantiated personal attacks (Swift Boats) but refuse to make obvious and pertinent attacks on true policy weaknesses. Perhaps it will never happen, but I want to see a surge in HARSH and FAIR attacks in political discourse, rather than the pandering sop we get today. Nowadays, political arguments appear to only be one or the other, which is bothersome. Though I don't agree with Cheney's specific allegations, he was right to raise them and I think they need to be addressed.
Polls split on the winner: ABC gave it to Cheney, CBS only surveyed undecided voters and put Edwards on top.
And for a veritable breadbasket of different takes on the debate, I give you: