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Even-keeled Cheney-Lieberman debate takes global view

Contest focuses on military, international policy, social issues

DANVILLE, Kentucky (CNN) -- On this, both vice presidential candidates agreed: It was a good debate that steered clear of personal attacks and covered important issues.

Democratic candidate Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Republican hopeful Dick Cheney engaged in 90 minutes of even-tempered debate Thursday night in Danville, Kentucky, in front of a national television audience.

Lieberman, Cheney
In post-debate interviews with the vice-presidential candidates, Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman, top, and Republican Dick Cheney said they were pleased with the face-off  

In post-debate interviews with CNN Congressional Correspondent Chris Black, both men said they were pleased with the face-off.

"I had a chance to say my piece," said Lieberman, "and I think he did, too."

"I thought it was a good discussion of the issues," Cheney said, "and we kept it to a high plane."

Both candidates said they had prepared for much tougher rhetoric. Cheney said he and Lieberman joked afterward that they could have set aside much of their preparation had they known the polite tenor of the sole vice presidential debate.

Lieberman, as he sat up in his chair to answer the first question posed by moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN, delivered a brief opening statement in which he pledged not to engage in any personal attacks through the contest's 90 minutes.

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Both Cheney and Lieberman spoke separately with CNN right after their debate (October 6)

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Dick Cheney and Joe Lieberman debate in Danville, Kentucky

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CNN's Bob Franken reviews highlights of the debate (October 6)

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Watch the debate: Part 2

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Watch the debate: Part 6

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"I am going to be positive tonight," Lieberman said. "I am not going to indulge in negative personal attacks.. I am going to describe the plan that Al Gore and I have to keep America's prosperity going."

Cheney responded in kind, offering a lighthearted joke at the senator's expense.

"I want to avoid personal attacks," Cheney said. " I promise not to make fun of your singing."

The harmless barb was a reference to the Lieberman's recent appearance on NBC's "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," where the senator purposefully butchered songwriter Paul Anka's "My Way" before a national audience.

"I promise not to sing," Lieberman snickered in return.

The exchange, though spontaneous and good-humored, marked a significant moment in the night's proceedings. The give-and-take between both No. 2 men on the major party tickets was never testy or acrimonious, as was the debate between their principles, Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, two nights ago in Boston.

Rather, the event moved at a much more orderly pace, with both candidates using little more than their alloted two minutes for responses, and only infrequently asking for more time on certain questions. Through the debate's full length, neither man stepped on the other's answer or interrupted to present a counterpoint.

World stage comes to 1,500-seat assembly hall

Residents of the college town of Danville, home to the 1,300-student, liberal-arts based Centre College, marveled throughout the day leading up to the vice presidential debate that the event was perhaps the biggest thing ever to happen there.

Lieberman
Lieberman, left, and Cheney, right, with moderator Bernard Shaw  

And as Lieberman and Cheney took the stage at the college's Norton Center for the Arts, uncertain political events in Eastern Europe framed much of the debate's agenda. With the whereabouts of Yugoslavia's President Slobodan Milosevic in question, and Milosevic's opponents seemingly in control of central Belgrade -- including government buildings and state television -- the geopolitics of the inflammable Balkans seemed to change in less than a day.

The implications for the United States are many. The U.S. has committed ground troops to a NATO peacekeeping operation in the Albanian-majority province of Kosovo, and led a NATO air campaign to drive Milosevic's ground forces from that region.

Should Milosevic now be out of power, election-year questions about U.S. foreign policy, military deployments and readiness could be altered.

"If Milosevic has left Belgrade, that is a very happy ending to a reign of terror," Lieberman said of the Serbian leader, who is widely regarded to have instigated complicated civil conflicts in the former Yugoslav provinces of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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Lieberman said American intervention in the region was necessary to the nation's interests and values, contrary to Republican criticisms that the U.S. had no business deploying personnel to the region.

"Vice President Gore," his running mate said, "played a significant role in stopping genocide and aggression."

Cheney, defense secretary to former President Bush, said the end of socialist rule in the Balkans represented the movement of a trend that began 10 years ago with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The Bush and Reagan administrations are credited with providing much of the impetus that lead to the dissolution of the former Soviet bloc.

Thursday's events in Belgrade, Cheney said, confirmed Bush's assertions Tuesday night that Russia needed to become more involved in finding a solution to the Yugoslav electoral impasse. Russia reportedly applied pressure on Milosevic to leave -- with some reports indicating the Russians were willing to dispatch aircraft to provide him safe passage.

Now, Cheney said, pressure must be placed in Russian President Vladamir Putin to demonstrate his commitment to democracy.

"It's a test for him -- whether he represents the old guard of the Soviet Union," Cheney said.

Republicans have consistently criticized the Clinton administration's deployment of troops to areas such as Bosnia and Kosovo, saying such deployments have changed the role of the military, while cutbacks and a lack of proper force maintenance have depleted vital resources.

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"My preference would be to deploy them as warriors, (rather than peacekeepers)," Cheney said in response to a question about the future role of the U.S. military.

"The administration has failed in this area failed in major responsibility. We have seen a reduction of our forces far beyond anything that was justified by the end of the Cold War, and at the same time we've seem a rapid expansion in our commitments around the world as our troops have been sent hither and yon. We are overcommitted and underresourced," Cheney said.

Lieberman took great exception to Cheney's comments, echoing Gore's assertions earlier this week that the United States was still the "best trained, best equipped fighting force in the history of the world."

Cheney's remarks, Lieberman said, could be perceived by service members and the public at large as slights on the military, and of the commitment of those who serve.

"I don't want the American public or people in the military to feel insecure," Lieberman said. "In areas where they have said we have overextended our soldiers, they have a higher rate of re-enlistment."

Cheney, in turn, took exception to the renewed activity of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, whose standing among some nations is improving despite longstanding U.N. sanctions, and who may be restarting some of his most lethal weapons programs.

Military action may be needed to remove him, Cheney said, if he shows renewed aggressive tendencies to his neighbors.

Social queries

The two vice presidential candidates spoke at length of their campaigns' respective plans for the use of the federal government's ten-year projected budget surplus -- now estimated to come in at some $4.3 trillion.

Discussions followed much of the same paths trodden by Bush and Gore in Boston, with both Cheney and Lieberman discussing their varied views on education, Medicare and Social security spending, as well as levels of tax relief.

Some offbeat moments occurred, however, when Shaw challenged each candidate's social views. Asked to consider themselves "black for this question," Lieberman decried the use of racial profiling techniques by law enforcement officers, saying he had black friends who had been frightened and humiliated by the practice.

Cheney, however, said he couldn't offer an answer, but he couldn't fully understand how one might feel in such a situation.

"I don't think I could understand fully what it would be like. I have always been part of a majority, not part of a minority," he said. "It has to be a horrible experience. I don't know how I would respond." A presidential administration, he added, could affect change in some areas of racial differential, including disparities in income and education.

Cheney
Cheney  

On the subject of abortion, both men held their parties' positions, though Cheney admitted, as Bush did, that changing the law or the Constitution would prove difficult.

And, asked about same-sex marriages, both Lieberman and Cheney said legal marriage should be reserved for heterosexual couples. Lieberman, however, called for certain civil rights protections for lesbians and gays, who "are citizens of this country and children of an awesome God."

Cheney offered his own position -- "People should be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to. Should these relationships be treated the way traditional marriage is? That is a tougher problem. I try to be open minded as much as I can."

Cheney did get his shots in at Lieberman, but they were cushioned. Prompted by a Shaw question, the former defense secretary scolded Lieberman for collecting funds from Hollywood luminaries, all the while blasting the Hollywood establishment for deliberately marketing adult material to children.

"We will not stop until the entertainment industry stops marketing this material to children," Lieberman said of he and Gore. "Al Gore said be yourself when he asked me to be his running mate, do not change a single position you have had."

Gore campaign director Bill Daley, the former Commerce Secretary, said as the debate ended that if that was the best Cheney could do, Lieberman succeeded at the top of the debate in knocking him off course.

"I thought it was a good, informative, positive debate," Daley said, adding that the Democrats expected Cheney to "go negative" early. "I think Joe blocked Dick Cheney from going negative early by keeping his message positive."

 VIDEO
CNN's Jeanne Meserve says vice presidential contenders frequently serve as their ticket's offense

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CNN's Jeff Greenfield offers a list of 'do's and don'ts' for U.S. vice presidential candidates Dick Cheney and Sen. Joseph Lieberman

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"He's been their attack dog for a good number of weeks," Daley said.

Told of Daley's assessment, Bush campaign spokeswoman Karen Hughes said Cheney never intended to attack.

"Secretary Cheney's plan tonight was to do exactly what he did," Hughes said. "That's a good spin on a bad situation for Secretary Daley. I think they're having to do a lot of spinning after that debate, because clearly Dick Cheney was in commands of this debate. His authenticity, his sincerity came right through the camera. I think the American people saw the real thing up there."

Daley, on the other hand, insisted Lieberman was the clear victor, but spoke somewhat nicely of Cheney.

"For a guy who's been out of it eight years, he did fine," Daley said.

 

EUROPE'S VIEW
Where do Bush and Gore stand on issues of importance to Europe? Launch our Interactive Guide.

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View the latest tracking poll or dig into our poll archives.

WHAT'S AT STAKE

VIDEO
Watch selected policy speeches and campaign commercials from the major presidential candidates.

WHERE THEY STAND
See where George W. Bush and Al Gore stand on the major issues.

THE STATES
Who are your elected officials? What is the past presidential vote and number of electoral votes in your state? What are the presidential primary results and exit polls? Find out with these state political and election facts.

ELECTION GUIDE
Get Election 2000 zip code searchable candidate biographies and other material for races for governor, Senate and House in our Election Guide.

FOLLOW THE MONEY
How much money have the candidates raised? Here are their quarterly reports to the Federal Election Commission.

RACES
If you need to know who's up in 2000 and what seats are open, launch this quick guide.

WEB WHITE AND BLUE
Allpolitics.com is a partner in the Web White and Blue rolling cyber-debate, a daily online exchange among the major presidential candidates. Look for twice-daily updates Sunday through Friday until election day.


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