Debate Redux

It was something of a sacrifice, I admit. My reaction to watching George Bush speak tends to frighten my nearly-two-year-old son. Fortunately, he’d gone to bed by the time I settled in to watch the debate.

I have to admit my first note was about the candidates’ appearances. Kerry wore a red tie. Was that a subtle bid at courting some of the “purple” states? Bush wore a blue tie. Nice try.

Before I get into who said what, let me be clear. Want to know who won the debate? Kerry won the debate. As they said over a AMERICAblog, all Kerry had to do was hold his own top come out on to in this debate. Well, he did more than that here folks.

Let’s start. Points to Kerry on the red tie. Points to Kerry for courting Florida voters. Points to Kery for getting in a mention of his web address. (No such mention from Bush, naturally.) Points to Kery for invoking Reagan. He stayed calm. He was confident. He kept his cool and he hit all the right notes, again and again. He came right out and acknowledged Bush’s love of country and his own.

One minor issue: both bumbled the names of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.

Naturally, Kerry’s command of the language gave him an advantage that he used here to full effect, seldom seeming to stumble for words, but coming up with some of the most memorable utterances in the debate. At least three times Kerry pounded home one number: 90%. As in: “we have 90% of the casualties in Iraq, and we bear 90% of the cost. What kind of coalition is that?” He stole the “flip flop” term out from under Bush right out of the starting gate, with “His campaign has a word for that” when referencing Bush’s change of mind on some issues. He hammered home that when we had Osama bin Laden cornered, we didn’t finish the job because the president wanted Iraq. And at the same time he had one of the best two lines in the debate, saying that instead of using the “best trained forces” we had to go after bin Laden, “the president outsourced the job to Afghan warlords.”

Much of the debate, of course, centered on Iraq. Kerry again scored the best points with statements like “Iraq was nowhere near the center of the war on terrorism until the president invaded it.” And this gem, “The president says ‘the enemy attacked us.’ Well, Saddam Hussein didn’t attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Quaeda attacked us.” And he hit the “outsourcing” line again. Beauty.

Now, Bush. Perhaps it would be fair to give him a handicap, given his trouble with the language, but I won’t. From where I see, he’s had plenty of advantages already. Within just a few questions, Bush was on the defensive. Amazing for an incubent, wartime president to be on the defensive at this stage in the game, and defending a single digit lead that hovers somewhere between five and two percent, depending on who you ask. Bush is not best at thinking or speaking on his feet, and in a debate forum it shows. He reaches for words, often not quite grasping them. Without visuals, his pregnant pauses might suggest deep thought, but combined with the visual of the look on his face, they seem to belie a sort of … intellectual bereftness that would be less troubling where he not the occupant of the oval office.

Perhaps the most telling was what I could see on the split scren. Evidently, NBC—the network I ended up watching—didn’t abide by the condition not to show one candidate while the other was speaking. It’s in the split screen that the major differences between the two are revealed. When Kerry is speaking, Bush squints, furrows his brow and purses his lips, and comes off looking like a petulant child. In my the margins of my notes, I wrote “Pout for me baby!” (Indeed, Bush consistently turned to a childlike refrain, “you can’t say that,” in his remarks when he repeated Kerry’s words; more on that later.) By contrast, when Bush is speaking, Kerry is calmly taking notes. If any expression wafts across his face, it’s a smile; but a smile that seems almost to be just for himself, at some point he’s thought to make. He comes off looking smart and confident in comparison to Bush.

What was most striking, besides Bush being at a loss for words at least twice, was the way in which he repeated Kerry’s words “wrong war, wrong place” over and over again, almost as if he were offering Kerry more opportunities to point out why those words were on the mark when they were said in the first place. Bush’s only real response? “You can’t say that and be commander in chief.” Yet, there he was—as commander in chief—saying them over and over again. His other response was to turn again and again to defending his decision to go into Iraq. Which leads me again to ask, should Bush have to defend that decision at this point in the game, if it was the right decision in the first place? Should an incumbent wartime president be on the defensive in his first debate?

Towards the end, both showed some signs of fatigue, but Bush was definitely the worse for wear between the two of them, actually reaching a point where he had almost no answer for a question on North Korea, beyond repeating what he’d said earlier.

Closing statments. Kerry, hit on his service in Vietnam, and hit a high note with “The future belongs to freedom, and not to fear.” Bush…use a few complete sentences, strung together without relation or theme, proving the extemporaneous speaking is not his strong suit. Attempted a Reaganesque moment that fell flat.

And we’re out. Let the spin begin. But for my money, the answer to the question “who won the debate?” is : Kerry. Hands down.

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19 Responses to Debate Redux

  1. supa-james says:

    Oh please, Kerry got creamed. George Bush bowled him over and smashed him into a nasty shitstain in the underwear of American politics. Kerry rambled on an on, with unnecessarily complex answers that almost always strayed too far from the subject at hand. At one point he brought up JFK, the Bay of Pigs, and Charles DeGaule – WTF? How many Americans will have a clue what he was talking about? And then there was the time he started talking about diplomacy with North Korea – starting at 1952 and going to the present – yeah, that’s a great way to hold the attention of America’s channel flippers.

    His idiotic lie about America going to war without allies was an insult to the viewers, and his attempt to make up for it by saying that those allies don’t count because of their small number of troops didn’t cut it. In fact, very few of his answers cut the mustard, while Bush just hammered home his big hitters:
    1- FLIP FLOP!
    2- You cannot be commander in chief if you’re going to keep calling this the wrong war
    3- Iraq is the center of the war on terror.

    Sure Bush was full of shit, but that doesn’t matter, because he stayed on topic and provided succint, repetive answers that will seem to make more sense to most people than Kerry’s arrogant wanderings.

    The only thing I can give Kerry any credit for is not saying “uh” and “ummm” thrice in every sentence as Bush did, but that isn’t going to endear him to swing voters in the South and Middle America.

  2. tplants says:

    I know I sure feel safer ever since Bush caught Osama.

    Um…wait a minute…

  3. RB in Atlanta says:

    Wake me up from this nightmare… Bush isn’t really president, is he? Came off as a bumbling idiot with shallow canned answers for the wrong questions. I was particularly impressed with his pouting and smirking. Why does the American public keep giving this guy a break?? Kerry seemed clear and concise to me, and sorry to those who couldn’t follow his historical references. At least he put his Yale degree to good use.

  4. Joshua says:

    Pres. Bush is a joke. That’s all I can say tonight. John Kerry showed that he is ready to be President and make the better decisions. Bush is too biased. He doesn’t listen to dissenting points of view unless Karl Rove tells him to.

  5. tgirsch says:


    Whatever you’re smoking, please share! Bush absolutely did not stay on topic; he parroted talking points whether or not they were relevant to the question at hand.

  6. Katharine says:

    One thing that I noticed that I haven’t seen anyone else mention yet was Kerry’s effective use of body language (and Bush’s embarrassing hunching — I wanted to stick my foot in the small of his back and yell “Posture!”). I detail some of the methods Kerry employed here.

    Bush . . . good grief, man, Kerry is taller than you already — don’t make it worse by cowering behind the podium! It looked just terrible. This is how he presents himself to other nations as the leader of the free world on our behalf? And there are people who want four more years of it? Are they out of their minds?

    And thanks for reminding me about the web address. I’d meant to mention that in my review, and forgot.

  7. citizenjim says:

    Nice recap.

    I loved Bush’s “Karl Rove told me to alway ask for 30 more seconds” moment, but then he looked like a deer in headlights when he didn’t really have anything to counter with.

  8. Trey says:

    I’m not sure what debate supajames was watching.. but anyway…

    I swear if I took a drink every time bush said “it’s a hard job” i would’ve been drunk by the end. (and two drinks for every time said it with a sigh)

    If it is such a hard job for him, perhaps he should let someone more up to the task take over.

  9. Fool says:

    I liked the use of “It’s a hard job!” too. It almost seemed a concession: Like, I know I’m not doing so well, but “it’s a hard job…”

  10. Tim Who? says:

    Bush is a spoiled, petulant, impetuous rich frat boy that pouts, whines and smirks his way through life. Thus far it has served him well. It has in fact (with the aid of Rove’s bag of dirty tricks) gotten him into the White House.

    However as THE President of the United States he is expected to act accordingly. Some of our more famous “frat boy” Presidents, (Kennedy and Clinton come to mind) were able when the time came to put aside their childish antics and act Presidential. Bush was not able to. Bush looked scared, bored, irked, and battered. He looked like he wanted to be anywhere but there. He winced at questions, as if he was thinking, gee….these are really hard questions. He stood there smacking his lips as if to say “Damn I need a drink right now”. And he showed the world exactly what he is.

    A spoiled little brat in way over his head.

    Everybody wave bye bye to Bush…..Bye bye.

  11. Rick says:

    I think Kerry DID win the debate, if you are grading on looks and how well he speaks. But the key issues are his points, and that, he didn’t carry off.

    Also, did Kerry change a lot of peoples minds? Probably not. CBS has a poll of undecideds that has Kerry ahead by 7 points….pretty good….except that he was ahead by 12 before the debate.

    1. Kerry apparently didn’t know we had sanctions on Iran already.
    2. Kerry must not have read the statements from France and Germany that they WILL NOT send troops to Iraq.
    3. Kerry said he visited Treblinka KGB HQ in Moscow…except that Treblinka is in POLAND

    just to name a few.

    I liked the fact that Lehrer didn’t ask Kerry many tough “what did you accomplish in the Senate?

  12. hope says:

    I’ve been flipping around the blogosphere to see reaction to the debate from both sides. I find it worrisome that most everyone – from both sides – highlights the mistakes the other guy made but are more or less silent in terms of critiquing their own guy.

    The Washington Post had an interesting fact check article yesterday, but I think my favorite so far is ast

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