Friday, October 01, 2004

Debate Counter-Point: Bush Did Surprisingly Well

A loyal Rant Wraith reader who is, shall we say a bit more moderate than I am and who is demographically speaking squarely in Kerry's target audience (professional, highly educated, centrist-to-liberal on social issue, pro-choice, pro-environment, never voted for a Republican), takes issue with my earlier comments. (Thanks for writing. I encourage all readers to email me or leave a comment.)

"I have to say that I disagree with you that Kerry won the debate—even to the casual observer. I was dismayed to see how well Bush did.

I thought that Bush, sticking to his message, managed to make his point stick that Kerry doesn’t know what he thinks about the war in Iraq. I think the “mixed message” is a concept that the average viewer can understand. And Kerry didn’t do a good job of pointing out what he saw as the problems with Bush’s consistency. He did say that he didn’t the war or the peace were sufficiently planned and I don’t actually think that’s debatable. But I thought that Bush reduced the question pretty effectively to a “mixed message” question—without having to talk about his plans.

I thought Bush scored several strong points about the disparaging way Kerry has talked about the coalition forces. It may be true that ideally we want as many nations to buy in to what we’re doing –spread the responsibility etc. It didn’t make Kerry look very good in my opinion.

I thought Bush looked strong talking about N. Korea—even if he wasn’t as strong as he could have been. Kerry kept relying on the phrase “bilateral talks” as a shorthand. I don’t think a lot of the average voters know what that means. But they understand when Bush says that he’s got China and Russia helping to put pressure on N. Korea. People can understand what that means—it’s very clear. And Bush, to me, looked extremely comfortable talking about this relationships with international leaders—Putin, Blair, Allawi, etc.

I think Kerry was an idiot to bring up port security. The money, man power and technology required to perform effective port security is not something that most Americans want to finance, I don’t think, and the huge financial impact of creating delays in the ports is going to weigh heavily against increased security in the ports –that’1s not something that Kerry is talking about either. I thought Kerry’s answer about homeland security—more police and firemen was pitiful. How would that have prevented Oklahoma City or 9/11? It would be purely an after the fact coping mechanism. Not what I call a security measure. He doesn’t want to touch the Patriot Act or immigration, etc.

I do agree that Bush did well enough. And well enough will keep him in the White House for 4 more years. I think Kerry was okay—but I don’t think, unless Bush self-destructs, that Kerry’s close enough to make any significant difference.
"

Part of our differing views may be due to differing expectations. I expected Bush to perform better, thought he would have snappier responses to Kerry's comments, would have been a bit more articulate. Initially listening to the debate on the radio I was accutely aware of the dead air in some of Bush's replies, whereas Kerry filled the time alloted (and he may have a better radio voice).

But our reader is right on the port issue and the Kerry's homeland security answers. Firefighters play defense. Bush wants to stay on the offense and Kerry doesn't.

These are all details for policy geeks (you know who you are) though. The impressions people take away from the debates, the emotional, intuitive feel for the candidates as people, are what matters. That this reader, someone who should so clearly be for Kerry, who's friends and peers probably range from soft democrats to the anti-Bush lunatic fringe, thinks that Bush did well, is the worst possible news for Kerry a mere 12 hours after the debate.

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