Friday, October 01, 2004

The morning. . .er, afternoon, after

All right, now that I've had some time to think about it, I don't think Bush's performance last night was the tragedy that I might have made it out to be last post. Could've been better, to be sure, but not bad overall. And all it took to change my mind? Just sleeping on it last night.

For starters: Kerry HAD to do more in this debate. He HAD to assume the national stage across for the President and show that he belonged there; he HAD to show the ability to act Presidential; he HAD to show knowledge on a myriad of topics; and he HAD to clarify his positions on Iraq. All Bush HAD to do was not screw up too much. Anything more than that for either side and it's a big victory--but the most important thing was to accomplish the basics.

Report card for Kerry:
- "belong" on a podium talking about Presidential things--check;
- act Presidential--check, and maybe even a check plus;
- knowledge on a myriad of topics--a check, but one with a head-lean-to-the-side, if you know what I'm saying;
- clarify positions on Iraq--some subsections of this overall category will get a check, but I'm not sure we get a "big" check here. Still just too much "stuff" without a clear overlying message. Will Kerry fight to win the war? Yes, no question. Does Kerry want our troops safe? Yes, no question. Are those two positions mutually exclusive for him? Or which is more important--the safety of the troops or the winning of the war? I don't know! And again, lots of talk about bringing more allies into the game without even talking about how he'll do it. Or why he thinks that more allies will affect the outcome in Iraq for the better--at the same time that he doesn't think the 30-odd nation coalition already in place isn't worth the paper the names are written on. Too much murk for me--especially when the President is anything BUT murky on the battle in Iraq.

Bush report card:
- not screw anything up too much: check.

Now that's what they HAD to do. As for what they COULD have done, last night was a huge wasted opportunity for Bush. He could've won not just the talking points but also the "style" points last night by slamming the door shut on some of Kerry's preposterous foreign policy ideas. He didn't do that. He chose instead to keep constant with the "wishy-washy" stances of Sen Kerry, which is a talking point that I just don't like too much BUT may end up paying off dividends in the long run. We'll just have to see. . .

The real "effect" of the debate will be how it plays in the media for the next 4-plus weeks. In that regard, I think Bush will win. There are plenty of positions that Kerry took that can--and should--be exploited by the conservatives. Start with the "global test", throw in a little nuclear- materials-for-Iran-to-DETERMINE-what-their-real-intentions-are, sprinkle in some "not a real coalition" doublespeak against our allies, and finish the whole thing off with some "bi-lateral AND multi-lateral" talks with the North Koreans, and you have a recipe for Kerry Disaster. Bush had nothing like that for the Kerryists to jump on--they'll say he's one-track minded, that he's not eloquent and that he can't bring the U.S. to a respected place in the world. A) Yes, he's one-track minded--but most of America likes that track, which is to be strong, steadfast and determined in taking the fight to the enemy; B) not eloquent is so "no duh" that it won't be a talking point for long; and C) the U.S. IS in a respected place in the world--it's just not a place that France wants to share with us. Germany's playing with us now to some degree, Russia understands the reach of this war, and other valuable allies like the U.K., Australia, POLAND, and others enjoy taking every step with us. "Respect" should not be confused with "like", and Kerry seems to be more interested in winning a popularity contest in Paris than in securing our future against the hatred of the militant Islamists. Yes, there's much more material here for the Bush team to play with than the Kerryists.

But HERE'S the BIGGEST REASON I'm not so down on the debate today: one of my friends, possibly the most middle-of-the-road guy I know with regards to politics, took a vested interest in the debate last night. Before last night, he was leaning ever-so-slightly Bush, which is how he voted in 2000 after voting for Clinton in both '92 and '96. He hasn't followed the campaigns too closely, so in no way, shape, or form would I consider him a "junkie". He watched the debate last night. . .for about an hour, and then he was done. Not too tired, or even too bored--he'd just had his fill. His biggest complaint: "90 minutes is too long". Two things from this: a) that first hour was Bush's finest. Not his finest ever, mind you--but if I (and most Bushies, I suppose) had to choose one 30-minute refrain of the night for middle-of-the-road folks to miss , the last 30 is the winner hand's down; and 2) I don't think my friend will be tuning in to much of the next two debates, if at all. Kerry had to do something--as in present something new--to pursuade this guy last night, and the performance fell short.

And I'm just guessing that my friend is not alone in this regard.


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