Former political apparatchik Dick Morris wasn’t watching the same debate I watched last night.

“Confronted with Dick Cheney’s obvious competence, incisive parries to his charges and devastating rebuttal of his phony statistics, Edwards looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights,” Morris wrote.

David Winston, the Republican pollster, must have been at the same party Dick Morris attended–he thought Edwards was a yapping terrier going after a Golden Retriever.

Cheney, in my view, turned in a performance that made me wonder if he was exhausted–he missed so many opportunities to strongly state the administration’s position, but he seemed weary (as anybody who had to help run the country by day and debate a jack in the box by night might be).

Mickey Kaus of kausfiles seems to agree more with me with a caveat about radio: “Cheney isn’t as sunny as Shrek! A friend wandered in after about half an hour, having listened to the debate in the car, took one look and fell into a funk. ’He was winning on the radio,’ he lamented.  The funny and tolerant Cheney of 2000 mostly didn’t show up.” (You have to asssume that Mickey’s friend was pulling for Edwards for this nugget to make sense–a pretty safe assumption.)

Andrew Sullivan thought the debate was a “car wreck for the administration,” and noted that, when asked about African-American women with AIDS, Cheney might just have been asked about Martians. I, too, was appalled when he said he just hadn’t heard the figures Gwen Ifill gave him on the subject. If ever there was a time to fake it (and he had done fine on the question until he came out with the fact this was news to him), this was it.

Andrew seems to have missed what I thought was one of Edwards meanest and probably most effective moments–going on and on praising the vice president for loving his gay daughter. This was a way to flummox Cheney, who has been private on this issue, and I think it worked. Edwards had no doubt practiced it–but Cheney shouldn’t have thanked him for his “kind” remarks about his family. Dick: They were not kind, and of course you knew it. But what can you do in a situation like that with your most intimate family moments on display? I’m a southerner, and I must say that Edwards has gotten a certain form of southern cattiness down pat–only generally it’s girls, not men, who resort to this brand of meanness.