Thursday, September 30, 2004

The First Presidential Debate

I was going to wait until tomorrow to do my shake-down on the debate, but I decided to do it now while it was fresh in my mind.

First, a few general comments and observations:

  • 90 Minutes with no commercial breaks is too long for a debate. There are a couple of reasons why. Firstly, a lot was said early on that needed to have a few minutes for reflections. Secondly, 90 minutes is a long time to sit with one's eyes glued to the TV. Thirdly, it seemed to me that both Bush and Kerry began to repeat themselves.
  • Both candidates spoke very articulately and clearly. Both candidates made some good points. I think Jim Lehrer did a good job of moderating, controlling the crowd, and asking questions based on the statements of the candidates.
  • John Kerry is ridiculously tall and makes George W. Look like an elf.

The Breakdown:

  • Kerry came out looking like he was ready to go to war. I think Kerry did a good job of not underestimating Bush, which is typically a weakness of Bush's opponents. The first thing Kerry said that caught my attention is that we need to be "reaching out to the Muslim world while isolating the fundamental Muslims." To me, this is another contradiction in statements, or at an incoherent thought. Kerry didn't do a good job here explaining how we find the difference between the two. Do we look at this on an individual basis? "Well, Omar is Muslim, let's reach out to him. Mohammed is a fundamentalist, let's isolate him..." That won't work . Do we look at it on a nation by nation basis? If so, then it works against the idea we shouldn't be at war--how else do we isolate a nation led by a dictator using the fundamentals of religion as a basis to abuse people, intimidate people in the region and in his country, defy international law, etc. etc. Make up your mind, John.
  • Kerry continued with his opening by pointing out that the real war on terror is in Afghanistan, not Iraq. He explained that you don't send troops to war without the armor they need. He vowed to bring allies back to the table. President Bush began speaking and I could tell that he was nervous because he was standing up very straight and stiff. As he began to speak and get a few works under his tongue, so to speak, I could see him loosening up and slouching a little--when Bush slouches, he's in his element and nearly unbeatable. Bush pointed out a couple of key arguments here. Her explained that the war on terrorism must include a "multi-prong strategy." He explained that Iraq is a center in the war on terror because "free nations reject terrorism." This is a good point. He also jumped on something which I, as an observer, was hoping he'd launch into. Kerry said that "real war on terror is in Afghanistan." Bush replied with a great line, "people who think there's only one place to fight the war on terror doesn't understand [how to fight] a war on terror." Look, there are terrorists in just about every country in the world--Spain, France, Russia, Great Britain, Afghanistan, --but not in Iraq. To think for a minute that there were not terrorists in Iraq is to fall into naivety which is detrimental to society. Wake up, folks. The war on terror is a global war--the War in Iraq, the War in Afghanistan, Russia's war against the rebels, and our homeland security efforts are all just branches of one war. Bush also brought up a good point when he asked what initiative would nations have in "join[ing] us in the wrong war, at the wrong time, at the wrong place."
  • Kerry continued to point out that he would "Bring allies back to the table." Bush responded in a way that I have been waiting for him to for weeks--by saying that saying we have no allies alienates those who support us, including Poland, Italy, Australia and Great Britain amongst others.
  • Kerry again used his little slogan, "Help is on the way" this time in reference to the troops abroad. Bush hit a home run when he said "it's hard to tell that helps on the way when he votes against the 87 Billion [to give them the funds they need].
  • I was so glad to finally hear somebody ask the Kerry campaign "exactly what did Bush lie about." I don't think Kerry handled this well. I think he used very general statements many of which he himself has made over the years. A common theme of the Kerry responses was the idea that Bush lied when he promised to use war as a last resort. This is ridiculous. How many resolutions would it have taken to make it the "last resort?" We were at 14. Do we did 18, 20, 25, 50, 100? How many? Personally, I think two was too many. This issue should have fallen on somebody else's lap, but I'm glad Bush finally took the initiative to do what needed to be done. Bush slammed this point home by saying, "to think another round of sanctions would have worked is ludicrous."
  • Bush defended his choice often by using the line "Kerry saw the same intel I did." I think this is a good point. Saying that the President 'misled' him as the reason he voted for the war is a joke. It's taking the easy way out. Kerry really needs to change this if he hopes to win. He needs to stop using this excuse.

Both candidates had some great one liners. Her are my picks for the Best One Liners:

  • Bush: "I believe I'm going to win because people know I'm a good leader"
  • Kerry: "The truth is what policy should be made on."

The Candidates

  • Bush: I think the President did a great job. He spoke well. He had very few verbal slip-ups. I think he played a good defense, which I guess is what he needed to do. I would have liked to have seen Bush be a little more on the 'offense,' that is--I wish that Bush would have gone after Kerry more. Still, Bush did a good job holding his own and defending himself and his policies at every turn.
  • Kerry: I still don't have a sense of exactly what Kerry's plan for the war is. He mentioned a 4-Point Plan, but he never elaborated on it. I do think that Kerry did a good job firing one after another at Bush, but like I said above--Bush played a good defense. I still don't know what Kerry's views are. He changed throughout the campaign, and tonight, he changed throughout the debate. Hopefully we'll know what his views are before November 2, 2004.

The conclusion:

I think that Bush clearly won the debate. I don't think it was the home-run I expected, but it was a victory and we'll take it. Both candidates spoke in rather broad, general terms, though, on a lot of subjects. I do think that Bush's usual line of "at least you know where I stand" was clear again tonight--I left the debate with the same thoughts on Bush that I had coming into it. I really don't think that this debate will have an impact on people who pay even a little attention to what goes on because I don't feel like there was anything new said by either candidate. This fact, I think, hurts Kerry more so than George Bush because, as Bush says, we know where he stands. We don't, though, know what Kerry has in mind. I also believe that Bush looked at the audience and spoke from his heart. I still didn't feel that way from Kerry though. I still felt like he was speaking to the polls, not to the people (if that makes since).

I'll try to be back tomorrow night, but I make no promises...


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