Friday, October 01, 2004

Keep Hope Alive 

Here are my thoughts on the debate.

I watched the entire debate, and half an hour of the post-debate coverage. When Kerry started off in the very beginning, I winced at his Floridapander, but Bush managed to screw up by not having a much better, more involved counter-Floridapander prepared, and lamely echoed Kerry's remarks.

However, that was the last time Kerry made me wince. After ten minutes, I told Claire I thought Kerry was winning. For the rest of the debate, Kerry was - dare I say - excellent. Every single question, he started with a very strong short answer, and then elaborated. Every statement ended right as time ran out with a closer that left an impression that the answer was firm, consistent, and complete. Kerry spoke calmly and fluidly, with a very strong prosecutorial manner. It was strong, polite, and commanding; he left nothing frivolous for anyone to complain about like in the 2000 debates.

Bush was the opposite, almost immediately he started coming apart. He would start his responses with a pause of several seconds while he fumbled for words. His replies felt like rehearsed pleasantries devoid of specifics, and he seemed surprised by Kerry's performance, holding to a debate strategy that was outdated from the very first question. Kerry wasn't very specific about anything, but he certainly gave you the impression he was being concrete and substantive to the extent that a 2 minute response allows. Bush shifted around, seeming to hold onto the podium like he was on some scary rollercoaster ride at times. Bush kept trying to stick irrelevant barbs in there, to the point that it felt like a non-sequiter; "...oh yeah, and flip-flopper! But anyways..." (Not a real quote). At one point, he started off a reply by highlighting a vague term that Kerry used, and then found himself with nowhere to go with that line of criticism. It looked weak.

And when Bush actually was talking substantively, I got the impression that someone who wasn't keeping up to date with current events wouldn't know what he was talking about. Kerry actually managed the unbelievable feat of talking about policy, and then explaining what it meant quickly, simply, and without any condescension at all. It was shocking.

I thought one key moment that was both good and a missed opportunity for Kerry was when they were talking about building a coalition. Kerry said the obvious, which is that our coalition was a joke. In his rebuttal, Bush talked up our allies, and made a big deal about Kerry's having forgotten Poland in his list (that military powerhouse). Then in his counter-rebuttal, Kerry detailed the countries who are in the coalition and then detailed their troop levels, making obvious what a joke it is. The missed opportunity was his not giving the comparison to the coalition that Bush's father assembled for the first Gulf War.

Kerry made a few minor errors in judgement, I thought. On a few minor points, he leaned on a touchy issue, like Kyoto, which hadn't been mentioned by anyone. He also told an anecdote about JFK trying to convince France about the Cuban missile crisis, which I fear was ill-advised, even if I agree with his point. It came around and ended well, with him pointing out that no one in the world would say to us today "We don't need to see the pictures, your word is good enough." Still, I wonder if perhaps someone could come away thinking he was trying to talk up France the same way he was trying to mention every single swing state as many times as he could.

This was compounded by his "passing the global test" line. I didn't have a problem with the line in itself; the question was about how the United States should deal with pre-emption, and Kerry was highlighting how important that issue was to get right, given how dangerous pre-emptive war can be. Bush wasn't able to do anything with it; as I said above he just drew attention to the line and hit a brick wall. I'm not sure some uninformed voter would get what Bush was trying to point out, but who knows what the magic of campaign ad editing can do.

The losses due to all this were hopefully swamped by what Kerry did for himself on the flip-flopper charge. His demeanor was so firm that he countered it with just his body language and speech pattern throughout the debate. Bush's canned lines bounced off him as if he didn't hear them, and it worked. Then Kerry explained the simple fact that you can be certain and wrong and did it masterfully. A clear, memorable moment in the flip-flopper issue.

However, I don't think any of that is the real issue. Just as the talk of the 2000 debate was Al Gore's sighing, the most important thing to happen in this debate was everything except what was being said. Kerry looked strong and confident, Bush looked defensive and nervous. When Bush was attacking Kerry at one point, Kerry nodded calmly and wordlessly said "I agree," neutralizing the attack while Bush was still in it. In contrast, Bush would often stand there leaning, doing his pursed lips thing, and looking pissed off. ABC's post-debate coverage said that their instant poll had 45% saying Kerry won, and 36% saying Bush won. CBS got similar results, and CNN got an even wider margin for Kerry. I try to be sensitive to those demeanor issues, since they seem to be so incredibly important to people. Still, they're not very important to me, so I don't really trust my own opinion here.

I'm not sure at this point that it's going to add up to a Kerry victory. I have managed to follow this election so far with almost no hope, and I hesitate to get my hopes up now. Everyone knows Kerry won, and the conservative pundits are pushing to make the limited case that "it was a draw." Nonsense, even that limited claim looks ridiculous. For the first time, I felt like I wanted Kerry to be president, and not just that I wanted someone other than Bush. Given the median voter theorem, that's not good enough. Still, I follow politics ridiculously closely and had managed to not see Kerry speak since January. It isn't hard for me to imagine that many swing voters tuned in and saw Kerry for the first time tonight. And it isn't hard for me to imagine them liking him.

Mickey Kaus has some more thoughts here.

Yeah, while watching it I thought "people are now viewing him as our next president." I too was expecting to have to wince a couple of times at Kerry, but it didn't occur once for me (well, possibly when he mixed up the names Ossama and Saddam, but Rumsfailed did that even worse).

Earlier in life, Bush was terrible as CEO, and he hasn't managed to show very much in the way of results for Americans. I now believe "switching horses" is exactly the transformation we need. GE was doing terribly until Jack Welch came in and earned every penny of his amazing salary. My favorate line was when Kerry said something to the effect that, yes, he knows all of those foreign leaders Bush mentioned, and he's worked with them for longer than Bush has. That lent some legitimacy to his whole "I can bring others into this" argument about helping the situation in Iraq.

It seemed odd that Bush kind of stormed toward Kerry's podium, instead of meeting him half-way. I saw it online at c-span.org, so I missed several of the facial expressions, but certainly from what I could see Bush had a defensive body language. (And for when he told the moderator "let me finish!" when he still had some more time left on his timer.)
Somewhere else on Slate there was a pretty biting comment directed toward Krugman: He wrote an op-ed before the debates saying that cable news is going to declare Bush the winner of the debate no matter what happens. His point was that style seems to trump substance in the world of cable.

But, now that Kerry won the body language and style game, the writer wondered what Krugman thought about it now. (I do have to say it wasn't one of Krugman's strong pieces, as it was mostly a complaint and not an analysis.)
kerry managed to stay standing upright the whole time, where as bush kept hunching over, and like you said, grabbing onto the podium like he needed the support or he was being dragged on a ride that he wasn't enjoying.

while kerry did come off immensely strong and impressive based on his candor and calm approach to pretty much everything thrown his way, there were several questions where he noticeably failed to answer the actual question that was posed. the prime example was when asked what is his exact strategy for the war in iraq - part of his answer was "train people quicker."

that's not a real answer. sure, but *how* are you going to train people quicker? what is your mysterious way of training people quicker, and notice he also failed to mention that the increased budget he would allot for the war effort would more than likely be a direct result of increased taxes. how else would he get the money otherwise? it's not like the money he is spending is just sitting around not doing anything at the moment. the annoying thing was, he never mentioned that, or any specifics of his plan like the question demanded.

of course, bush failed to answer correctly with pretty much *every* question, but for kerry to have sealed it in my mind, he should have been able to answer those questions correctly given the ease at which he handled everything else. it made me doubt kerry's plans for the war since he was beyond vague about what he would do, and he could have more than easily squeezed at least one or two specific points of his plan into the amount of time provided.

watching gw was painful. i just love the times he paused, and gawked blankly into the camera, as if to suggest that he was giving a cue to his speech writers to draft something ultra fast and throw it up on the teleprompter. quite pitiful.

i don't care for either bush or kerry. this election is just gonna wank big time.
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?