Saturday, October 09, 2004

Debate II: Advantage Bush

The President redeemed himself nicely Friday night in a spirited and scrappy debate. The audience driven questions were hard-hitting and without pretense. It was without a doubt one of the best debates I've ever seen. The town hall format seemed to be a more comfortable fit for the President than the first one. Senator Kerry did not appear as sure-footed when speaking directly to the public represented here by the questioners. He often used that semi-condescending tone when asked a direct question that clearly put them on the opposite sides of an issue. Kerry felt it necessary to empathize with the questioner, citing his "enormous" respect for their point of view. The President, when presented a question that didn't square with his policies simply said "that's a great question, I'm glad you asked" and proceeded to lay out his position without a hint of condescension.

On the substance of the debate - was it me or did John Kerry simply repeat verbatim the things he said in the first debate? This is not to say the President didn't repeat himself ad nauseum as well, but honestly Kerry sounded like a broken record. Senator Kerry spent most of his time repeating the same laundry list of sins committed by the President rather than giving us details of these "plans" he has to solve everything that's wrong under the sun. In fact, my dear wife, who was listening to the debate as background noise, left the room to escape the drone of Kerry's negativism. The Senator did, however, score a direct hit when he rebutted the notion that the UN imposed sanctions on Iraq didn't work. He stated unequivocally that the goal of the sanctions was the elimination of Iraq's WMD's. By any and all accounts there were no stockpiles of WMD's in Iraq. However, this, again, is with the benefit of hindsight - John Kerry was not saying loudly and clearly that the sanctions were working two years ago, quite the opposite actually.

The President scored several important points as well. To the delight of his base he finally hit Kerry on his less than distinguished record in the senate over the past 20 years. He also showed Senator Kerry's inconsistency with regards to the multi-lateral talks over North Korea that the Senator insists should be one on one talks between Kim Jung Il and the United States. This strategy is exactly what he condemns the President for doing in Iraq. Bush jumped all over Kerry's non-answer answer regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions. Personally I think that having the U.S. military surrounding Iran with a huge presence in Afghanistan and in Iraq (not to mention American nuclear armed subs in the Persian Gulf) is an aggressive policy where Iran is concerned.

The domestic policy questions shed no new light on the debate with both candidates offering party line sound bites. Once again Senator Kerry promised a magical plan to solve the health care problem, and again offered no details. Here the President actually laid out specifics by citing medical liability tort reform and the push for medical savings accounts and insurance pools for small businesses. Bush also found the opportunity to paste the liberal label on John Kerry. Like all liberals, the Senator treated it as a dirty word. Apparently liberal is a code word for socialist, which is, of course, what John Kerry is.

In the end, professional debate analysts will probably score this one a draw, but on substance and on the tone President Bush helped himself greatly. Senator Kerry did not. Advantage Bush…