...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

September 30, 2004

Debate One Deconstruction

Part of blogging for me is honesty. There's no room on my blog for spin, and i hope long time visitors know that about me. So it pains me to say that, in my opinion, President Bush was bad tonight. Not fatally bad, but still bad.

Sure, the president scored some points. His approach to North Korea clearly makes more sense than Kerry's. He was effective in highlighting Kerry's tendency to insult the same allies he says he wants to court. He was reassuring on continuing the all volunteer armed forces. And he struck the right tone when criticizing Putin.

But the president was also repetitive, hesitant, and defensive. He slouched, his ears seemed to stick out more than i remembered, and he pounded the podium too much, which i hate because Hillery does that too. He also missed numerous opportunites to point out major Kerry contradictions, passing them up in favor of repeating the same conclusory slogans.

Why didn't Bush list all the anti-military votes that Cheney reviewed in his convention speech? He should have hammered on Kerry's "87 billion" vote at least two more times. And it still boggles my mind why Bush can't or won't effectively explain the reason why we have to be on offense in the War on Terror (like Giuliani did so beautifully at the convention) and why Kerry's plan is solely and dangerously defensive.

(And why did the president have to buy into Kerry's "war should be the last resort" bullshit. After 9/11, the last resort is too late. Isn't that part of the Bush Doctrine? Yeah, yeah, i realize that Bush has to agree with that "last resort" line for political reasons, but in this new world of terrorist sleeper cells on our soil, i'd much rather have war be the third or fourth from the last resort.)

i cringed a number of times watching the president search for words. But i do that every time he speaks formally. He doesn't do that on the stump, so i can't understand his difficulty in debates, speeches and press conferences. The truth is that the president is just not the best spokesman for himself. In fact, i think i could have done a better job tonight than he did.

But tonight i also realized that this election is more of a battle of surrogates than any other election i can recall. The greatest vulnerabilities of both candidates are things that neither candidate can talk about.

Bush couldn't talk about Kerry's betrayal of this country while he was in uniform. He couldn't bring up the questions about Kerry's medals. He couldn't equate Kerry with the loony America-hating left that supports him. He couldn't put down Teresa.

Kerry couldn't accuse Bush of having been AWOL. He couldn't accuse Bush of being a religious fanatic, like so many of his supporters do. He couldn't call Bush evil, or Hitler, or even use the word "liar." And because Kerry still has to win over pro-war voters, he had to straddle the fence on Iraq.

Actually, i thought Kerry's reconciliation of his various Iraq policies was rhetorically pretty effective - at least on the surface. As i understand it, Kerry now says he is for the war, wants to win the war, but thinks that Bush is doing it all wrong and he'd do it better. The problem is, Kerry's new position still contradicts his many old positions, and maybe even some new ones too.

The blogosphere is already compiling a pretty good list of Kerry's contradictions. Right on Red names a few:

He said Saddam was a threat, but the war was a mistake, we should’ve brought allies on board, but the allies we did bring were not enough. He said that he would never ask permission to defend the country, but then later said that any preemptive action must pass 'the global test'. He said he would increase troop strength but would decrease it in Iraq. He said that something must be done about Darfur, including possible deployment of some kind I suppose, but criticized the President for over-committing troops!
At any rate, i still think Bush could have done a better job of confronting Kerry on his record. Kerry sidestepped Bush's repeated "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" attacks. But i would have asked rhetorically why Kerry voted for the 2003 war, when we didn't have France and the UN on our side, yet he voted against the 1991 war, when the UN approved and the French contribution was considerable.*

As for Kerry's performance, i was impressed. If one ignores every contrary thing Kerry has said in the past, and his lackluster political career, and his demonstrated arrogance and unlikeability, you might almost think he looked presidential tonight. He certainly gave the impression that he was the more knowledgeable and relaxed candidate.

However, the biggest flaw in Kerry's perfomance to me was one that might not be obvious to the casual debate observer (by that i mean, those idiots who still, for some insane reason, have not yet made up their minds). It's one thing for Kerry to insist that he has a plan. But i still need to hear what that plan is. Kerry couldn't tell us. i guess you could call it the six million dollar man plan: "better, stronger, faster." But when Lehrer asked Kerry to be more specific, he wasn't.

The bottom line is this: Kerry didn't lose tonight. He stayed alive by exceeding expectations. Bush didn't lose tonight either. He kept Kerry alive by reminding us all that we should not have high expectations of Bush in a debate. i only hope people remember that debating skills are not necessarily reliable predictors of presidential leadership. And i expect Bush will watch the tape, cringe like the rest of us, hopefully work on his presentation, and show some improvement next time.

* In 1991 the French sent their 6th Armored Division and two regiments of Foreign Legionnaires (their only really badass troops), among other forces.

Posted by annika, Sep. 30, 2004 |
Rubric: annikapunditry



I'm less pessimistic about Bush's perfomance tonight than you are. He stayed the course. He ummed and ahhed much more than Kerry did. He slouched. He stammered. He banged the podium. (So I heard driving from work at the beginning. So I saw later on TV when he visibly came to the word "nuclear" and froze.)

Kerry sounded great on the radio. Kerry looked great on TV. He is the best polished turd I have seen in a long time.

He flippered all over that debate. At one point he called Bush reckless for invading an Iraq lead by a non-threatening Saddam. Later, he called Saddam a threat. I'll leave the detailed fisking as an exercise for the experts.

When asked to clarify why he in effect called Bush a liar, he said he never called him a liar, just that Bush "misled" the American people. "Let's talk about those Nigerian reports ..." It depends on what the meaning of "is" is. The arguments were "fake but accurate".

The biggest sidesplitter in my mind was the notion that Kerry will be better at diplomacy -- at alliance building than W.

Bush pointed out that 30 other countries signed up to the war in Iraq. Kerry's reply: they were either second bananas or Johnnie-come-lately's. Wow! So some British family or some Polish family or ... etc ... who just buried a cherished loved one can rest assured that the United States appreciates their loss.

Oh, and then Kerry says he'll build a better coalition? Hard to do given that he already blew off Kalawi's speech to a JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS. And then has Lockhart dissmiss Kalawi as, literally, a puppet. Some rhetoric from an alleged master diplomat!

Need I even mention that the French and Germans have exlpicitly stated that they will never commit troops to Iraq. Even is Kerry is elected!


Posted by: go 4 TLI (formerly HH in Hollywood) on Sep. 30, 2004


Your assessment is hypercritical. remember, the masses of people are trying to figure out WHO THEY TRUST and WHO THEY LIKE.

John Kerry did nothing to win the trust of the people last night; nor did he do anything to make people like him. He is still the Boston Brahmin with the unmistakable air of a privileged class snob. He still pounds the podium also (but escapes your critical eye, while Bush gets it) with his hand and slips and uses the pointing finger despite his handlers' instructions to not use it, using his hands incessantly and keeping his hands clenched and showing the thumb. I wondered if he was Italian, he used them so much.

But, Bush spoke to the people directly on several occassions, connecting solidly; Kerry never connected.

These things take a few days to settle, but I'm betting that Kerry did not connect and the polls will not improve for him...if anything, he'll be lucky to stay where he is, in my opinion. Remember, he needed to knock it out of the park, while Nush just needed to make contact. Bush will still be at leat 5 or 6 ahead in the real polls, not the spinners' contests.

Posted by: shelly s. on Oct. 1, 2004

I hate to say it, but I think Annika is correct on this one. Maybe I had higher expectations for the President, but I felt he didn't come back hard enough at Kerry. Frankly I wish he had taken some shots at Kerry. Bush had better be ready to unleash his ownership concept at the domestic policy debate. I think ironically, Bush might do best in the Town Hall debate.

Posted by: Ag on Oct. 1, 2004

shrubs all done! we finaly got the goods on him!

any reich wingers go here! i dare you!

Posted by: Um Yeah on Oct. 1, 2004

LOL That's pretty funny. Huh? You were serious?

I heard Senator Kerry admit that he shot a man in the back.

Posted by: Ted on Oct. 1, 2004

I'm pretty much with you on this, Annie. I expected some ums and ahs, because that's just the way Bush is. He's not as polished a speaker as Kerry is (and it is possible to be polished and still convey warmth and folksiness). He's not The Great Communicator. We know that. What bothered me was that, to my mind, he pulled his punches during several counterattacks that could have been more productive for him. Kerry seemed more in command of the facts, and only a couple of times did Bush challenge him on the facts.

I hope Bush doesn't hold back like that on the domestic policy debate. I'm afraid that debate is going to play to to his weaknesses and Kerry's strengths, and Bush is going to need to be really on the ball to do an effective job. Most importantly, I think, he's got to be prepared to counter with hard, detailed facts when Kerry starts unloading propaganda about how bad the economy is, how "outsourcing" and free trade are hurting America, etc. What I saw tonight didn't fill me with confidence that he'll be able to do that effectively. (Of course to tell the truth, I'm not at all sure how much of our economic performance, good or bad, can be attributed to the president. It depends on such a huge variety of variables, many of which the president seems to have little or no influence over. But that's irrelevant for purposes of the debate, as long as a significant number of Americans think the president somehow controls the economy.)

That said, let me say for the record that I don't think Bush blew it last night. I think he lost a little ground, but it wasn't a route.

Posted by: Matt on Oct. 1, 2004

Our friend still isn't taking his antipsychotics, I see. That's OK. His defective psyche just provides additional justification for sending him to the camps.

On that note, if any fellow VRWC members need the secret web address for the concentration camp guard and/or secret police job applications, please let me know. We start rounding up the lefties on January 21, 2005. Halliburton is already building the camps in secret desert locations, under the personal supervision of Reichsmarschall Cheney. The pay is really good and you get a plunder quota, too, so you can keep part of the assets of any lefties you arrest. The policy on the use of deadly force is extremely relaxed. It's a great deal.

Posted by: Matt on Oct. 1, 2004

I largely concur with your analysis, Annika. Check my blog.

Posted by: roach on Oct. 1, 2004

I agree with you Anni, Bush didn’t show nearly as well as I would have liked. Way too many Uh’s, Um’s and too repetitive to my overly-sensitive, political-geek ears. Bush swallowed his tongue - and only barely recovered - at least three times and boy, CNBC and CNN wasted no time in rolling out those hi...er…lowlights.

And similar to you, I sat there thinking, “Man, I would absolutely cream Kerry in this debate.” (Of course every Sunday I think I can out-coach half the NFL’s head coaches. The losing half.) I think Jim Geraghty over at Kerry Spot said it best, “Every time Kerry opened his mouth, conservatives thought of the eight different responses and attacks that they wanted to see, and Bush mostly didn't use them.” I would like to have seen Bush take the word “summit” and that asinine “global test” line and spin donuts with them on Kerry for the rest of the debate.

I watched most of it twice (I’m a glutton, I know) and it struck me that maybe the Bush camp didn’t anticipate this format allowing for the type of exchanges that occurred. Or maybe they didn’t think Cicero would leave the openings that he did – Bush genuinely seemed surprised at a few of the Kerry gaffes.

In any event, for all his lows, I felt his highs were much higher than Kerry’s, and of an emotional nature that I think appeals to people. Kerry appeared polished and ***aaack*** presidential. But Bush connected, which is what he does best. Overall, a draw, I think.

Posted by: Kurt on Oct. 1, 2004


Check with Rush today, he's on track.

Yes, we all wished for a little more polished effort, but W made the points he needed to make, and Rush has counted over 50 wrong statements of fact by Kerry. Some of them big enough to drive a truck through, especially the "global" permission thing, Trebklinka instead of Lubyanka, etc.. If it were Bush, they'd say he was lying and misleading them, but Rush just calls it the way it is, mistakes of fact.

Kerry is also walking the line with his base, 70% want him out of Iraq NOW. Those lines will run good in future commercials by the RNC.

The market is up over 100 points, so the smart money says Bush is still way ahead.

Put away the poison and wait for the Monday and Tuesday polls. Betcha we're still ahead by at least 5. The folks in the flyover states like straight talk, not Senatorial gobbledegook.

Posted by: shelly s. on Oct. 1, 2004

Yeah, sKerry was smoother, but I really LIKE the fact that Bush is a WYSIWYG kind of guy. I know where he stands, I know he won't wobble and waver when the wind blows from a different direction. I can depend on him. I may not always agree with him - I think he's entirely too liberal on a number of issues - but I admire his staunchness, his honesty, and his steadfastness. And I admire his faith and the fact he is not ashamed of it!
Elizabeth, the sinner
and Perennial Student

Posted by: Elizabeth on Oct. 1, 2004