Friday, October 01, 2004

I'll admit I was afraid that the Kerry who traps himself in rhetorical cul-de-sacs might show up at the debate. It didn't happen. He was crisp and much more on message than Bush. In fact, with a good deal of assistance from Bush himself, Kerry demolished the president, exhibiting both superior style and clear but nuanced substance.
George Bush, on the other hand, as he listened to Kerry's responses, looked as if he were suffering from acid reflux, his expression a combination of sour and perplexed. His usual lopsided smile hardened into a Cheneyesque sneer, and his homey persona verged on bobblehead. But enough of drama criticism; what about substance? Everyone expected him to be "on message", but over an hour and a half, that message grew thin and thinner until it finally came across as simple minded and repetitive. Worse, he became increasingly rattled and wandered. In talking about his supposed alienation of allies, for example, he chose to remind us of his unwillingness to join the world court. The connection was unclear until he concluded that presidential decisions aren't always popular. How this example was supposed to strengthen his case remains a puzzle. Furthermore, maybe seven or eight times, Bush whined about the presidency being "hard work." He seemed to feel overwhelmed.
Meanwhile Kerry's answers were consistently on target. When accused of saying he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it, he responded that he had made a mistake in how he talked about the war. The president made a mistake in invading Iraq. "Which is worse?" Kerry asked. Later, he offered specific ideas about how to better handle Iraq and summed up Bush's plan as "four words: more of the same." Kerry hit Bush hard on neglecting North Korea, pointing out that in the two years we didn't talk to Kim Jong Il, he developed nuclear weapons. And I cheered when Kerry emphasized the importance of quickly securing nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union.
John Kerry sounded capable of dealing with complex issues. George Bush was just bush league. Even the four conservative post-debate panelists on Fox (including Bill Kristol and Britt Hume) conceded that the debate would keep Kerry in the race. Well, we didn't expect them to admit that Kerry clobbered their man, did we? So far, I don't see the media pouncing on Bush's facial expressions the way they pounced on Gore's roll of the eyes. We'll see whether Bush gets another free pass.
In any case, Kerry did himself proud, and I'm looking forward to the debate on domestic issues--assuming, that is, that Bush doesn't think better of the risk and back out of the last two.


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