Saturday, October 02, 2004

Thoughts on the Debate

Here are my belated thoughts on Thursday's Bush-Kerry debate:

-I agree with the general sentiment that Kerry helped himself. He spoke clearly and presented himself well. Kerry was on an even keel throughout the debate and turned in a solid consistent performance.

-I thought Bush started out well, and had a slight edge for the first half hour. He then seemed to get tired and his performance declined somewhat, though his closing statement was excellent. Bush looked tentative at times, and didn't counter Kerry as aggressively as he could have. Had Bush been in top form, he could have scored a victory. As it is, he avoided making any major mistakes, and scored some points.

-Bush's major failing, as everyone knows, is his lack of rhetorical skills. He does well delivering prepared speeches, but simply lacks the natural eloquence of Tony Blair or Ronald Reagan. This problem resurfaced last night as Bush became fatigued. He ran the phrase "hard work" into the ground, then picked it up and ran it in some more. I believe Bush's substance was good, but for much of the debate he just didn't express it as well as he could have.

-Kerry's problem was not with how he said things, but with what he said. Hopefully I'll be able to discuss Kerry's plan regarding Iraq this weekend, but for now I'll just focus on what he said in the debate. What can I say about "global test"? If used properly by the Republicans, that could truly come back to haunt him. Then there was this:

Well, you know, when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?

Followed just a few seconds later by:

LEHRER: All right, new question. Two minutes, Senator Kerry.

Speaking of Vietnam, you spoke to Congress in 1971, after you came back from Vietnam, and you said, quote, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?"

Are Americans now dying in Iraq for a mistake?

KERRY: No, and they don't have to, providing we have the leadership that we put -- that I'm offering.

(emphasis added-DD)

So invading Iraq was a mistake, then 20 seconds later it wasn't. Unbelievable...

Overall, I consider the debate the equivalent of a 0-0 draw in soccer, but one where Kerry had a little bit better of the play. Kerry was able to stop the bleeding, solidify his support, and energize his campaign, but Bush did enough to retain his lead. Bottom line: the debate helped Kerry, but not enough to radically change the race.

Anyway, the American Presidency Project has the transcript posted online. Check it out and judge for yourself.


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