In an effort to conduct an unscientific poll, I’m curious to know what everyone thought of the debate. (You did watch, didn’t you?) I think Kerry won, though only with a slight edge. He was more forceful and consistent with his ideas than he has been in the past. He responded to some of the criticisms lobbed against him by the Bush campaign over the last few weeks/months. He looked more “presidential” than he ever has in the past.
Counter that with Bush’s refusal to articulate much further than “I’m right” and his often strange body language and brain locks. As the night wore on, Bush seemed to devolve into “You’re with me or you’re against me”, which he clearly intended to imply his usual argument of patriot vs. non-patriot. Unlike all of the nonsensical arguments thrown at Kerry, that is the only concept I heard last night that wasn’t “presidential”.
From Andrew Sullivan, consider this:
Still, there were major weaknesses. If you believe, as I do, that the Iraq war is beginning to spiral downward, Bush was not reassuring. He seemed as out of it as ever. When Kerry rightly pointed out the failure of Bush to revamp the CIA or to secure Soviet nuclear material, Bush simply and sadly responded that every morning some guy comes in and briefs him on national security. Now I feel better. And you don’t want to be the president who is forced to say, “Of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us.” Moreover, his fundamental critique of Kerry – that by criticizing the war, he had made himself unworthy to be commander-in-chief – was dumb and border-line offensive. It implies that if you’ve ever criticized the president’s war conduct, you cannot succeed him in office. Huh? By that logic, the only credible alternative to Bush is someone who has agreed with him every inch of the way. Memo to Bush: we live in a democracy.
With that said, Kerry blew multiple chances to cripple Bush’s argument that change would be bad. Kerry made it clear that he believes Bush made mistakes in planning for the war but not the peace. Valid, but not enough. He should’ve pointed out examples of Bush’s mishandling of the situation in Iraq and Bush’s unwillingness to adjust during the war. Every time Kerry let Bush re-iterate that change sends a bad message to our troops and our allies, that ludicrous belief gained credibility. He needed the instinct of a boxer with his opponent on the ropes. The champions don’t wait for the decision from the judges; he knocks his opponent out. Consider this, again from Andrew Sullivan:
Kerry was effective, however, in detailing the relatively small contribution of most of the allies. But why oh why did he not mention the obvious parallel of the vast coalition Bush’s father put together for the first Gulf War? If I were a debate judge – and I’ve had my fair share of debate experience – I would have flunked Kerry on the spot.
To his credit, Bush showed class, ignoring the opportunity to attack Kerry personally when asked to do just that. He generally performed in the manner we expect. He has appeal as more of the “every man” than Kerry. Anyone who doubts that this appeal can carry a candidate needs to review the political life of Bill Clinton.
So I think Kerry won, but not by much. What do you think?