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October 01, 2004

The Debate

I have to preface this by noting that I didn't see the first half hour of the debate; I heard it-- or most of it. I missed the second half hour, and watched the third.

I'll catch up on it all later. But I saw/heard enough to have an opinion. (Go figure.)

First of all, the great Deborah Orin sums up my basic feeling:

Kerry seemed far better prepared than Bush, ready to counter the president's points while Bush often repeated himself and at times seemed at a loss for words or defensive. The president even audibly sighed at times.

By the time the debate was over, it seemed clear that Kerry had given himself a new lease on life and guaranteed that the campaign has a long way to run.

Kerry was rated the clear winner in a CNN/Gallup poll immediately after the debate. It found that 53 percent said Kerry won the debate, compared with 37 percent who gave the nod to Bush.

Deborah Orin had a more opinion-y piece in the Post which I can't find at the moment. She said that Kerry appeared sharp, concise, effective, and clear, while Bush seemed more like a Senator, speaking of "6-way talks" and frequently repeating himself.

Bush did repeat himself-- a lot. I said "If he says 'hard work' one more time I'm going to scream." In his closing, he said "hard work" again, and a Kerry partisan I didn't know and didn't speak too cried out "Hard work!" and laughed. She, too, had been tracking the "hard work" repetitions.

I had assumed that all the tough-on-Kerry questions were asked during the half-hour I missed. How does he explain his ever-shifting position on Iraq? Etc.

I said to a friend, "We must have missed the part where Lehrer grilled Kerry on his changing positions."

"Maybe not," the friend said. "Maybe he never asked."

"No," I said. "They couldn't do that."

"Couldn't they?" was the answer.

Well, it turns out, gee willickers, they could simply ignore the all of the toughest questions for Senator Kerry.

The debate resembled a Katie Couric interview-- tough questions with follow-ups for the Republican like "Please explain why you lied or screwed up so badly," while the Democrat is offered his own "tough questions," like "Please explain why your opponent lied or screwed up so badly."

I don't know why Bush keeps agreeing on Jim Lehrer as a moderator. I hope no other Republicans ever make that mistake again.

But we can cry bias all we like. The fact is, Lehrer asked Kerry very easy questions for him, tossed up high fat hanging curve balls, and Kerry, predictably, knocked them high and far and true. The net result is still that, in the public's mind, Kerry seemed more comfortable with the questions.

As was Jim Lehrer's design.

Bush continued to frustrate me, as he has always frustrated me. When Kerry made a big issue of our boys not having all the armor they needed, Bush did not mention the fact that Kerry voted against that same armor when he voted against the $87 billion supplemental.

Only later, in an entirely different question, did he even mention that vote, and he did not mention the body-armor aspect, nor link it to Kerry's hypocritical complaint.

What the fuck could he have been thinking? Bush is simply not a good debater.

Kerry's litany of complaints wasn't anything new, but he delivered that litany well, and, for the most part, Bush did not rebut them. Many of these criticisms were either false or tendentious, but the fact is that Bush let them lie on the table unchallenged, which most non-partisan, uninformed viewers will take as conceding their fundamental accuracy.

Which is not a crazy position to take, after all. Most media-savvy folks, like us, know that when a spinner dodges a question or doesn't challenge a charge's truthfulness directly, that question should be taken as answered against their interest, and the charge should be taken as probably accurate.

Repeatedly, Bush allowed Kerry to lay charges against him without contradicting them. He just kept saying that Kerry "changed his position."

And on that point: Look, the flip-flopping charge is already reflected in Kerry's low-ish level of support. That's not new information to the public; that's not the sort of new argument that can move, or solidify, voters on behalf of Bush. That charge is already baked in the cake, as it were, and continuing to pound that issue is of low marginal value.

Yes, you want to build on your strengths and reinforce the perceived weaknesses of your opponent, but you don't want to do that exclusively; it would be nice if you could occasionally slip in a new argument or a new line of attack.

From what I saw, Bush didn't.

I think that Kerry is incoherent and that Bush has a coherent and wise plan for fighting terrorism. But that's what I know from information gathered outside the debates.

In the actual debate -- again, from what I saw and heard -- Kerry presented himself well enough to overcome doubts about his fitness to lead, and furthermore Bush did his own cause some harm by not seeming more authoritative.

Sorry. That's the way I saw it.



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posted by Ace at 01:44 PM

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