Pundits keep saying that there was no knockout punch. Let's keep the boxing metaphor. Here's the rant.
Kerry had the footwork. He moved around and threw a lot of punches but not enough landed to do Bush much damage. To the casual viewer Kerry won (just like in many boxing matches the untrained viewer scores the fight differently from the judges). He was coherent and concise and avoided his trademark Kerryism. He looked good, was poised and focused. Most importantly he didn't come off as the pompous dick he certainly can be.
Bush was slower and didn't show the dodging and weaving of Kerry. Bush has mastered a jab, a straight right and a hook and he threw them over and over. Bush was not quick on the counter-attack and he missed several prime opportunities.
Bush was quite disciplined though and I thought he effectively hammered Kerry on insulting our allies and Allawi. Those kinds of common sense attacks resonate with average voters. And Bush showed that has pretty much masterd Kerry's record. I bet this will pay off in future debates. Bush's disciplined punches only need to land a few times to send Kerry against the ropes. And Bush also has a strong chin. He can take Kerry glancing blows and go for a rope-a-dope if it comes to that. He has the stamina.
Okay, the metaphor is breaking down. Put simply, Kerry did well, Bush did good enough and in Bush's position 'good enough' wins the election. Kerry needs to repeat this two more times.
However, Kerry made a few tactical errors. He claimed, and his campaign maintains, that the war in Iraq is not part of the war on terror. During the debate he said that "weapons of mass destruction are pouring across the border." Later he made a big deal about increasing border control in Iraq, 'closing the border' was the phrase I believe. These comments passed by without a response by Bush, but they clearly play into his claim that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terror; that we are fighting the enemy abroad so we don't have to fight them at home; that the enemy detontating children in Baghdad is the same enemy that wants to detonate children in Tampa and St Louis.
Another Kerry tactical mistake that Bush failed to counter-punch on was North Korea. Bush favors a multi-lateral approach, joined by our allies and China. Kerry favors a unilateral approach. Yet Kerry spent several minutes desparaging Bush for his unilateralism. Bush should have sent him against the ropes on that one but the opportunity passed.
Other examples where Bush didn't hit back strong enough:
- The Clinton administration dropped the ball on North Korea years ago. The initial North Korean nukes were built under Clinton. Bush started on this then moved to a different issue.
- Iranian sanctions. Didn't Carter impose those sanction way back when? If so, is Kerry proposing we eliminate them? If he is, why hasn't he submitted a resolution in the Senate?
- Port security, Russian nukes, etc. Kerry has been in the Senate for twenty years. Bush could have asked where are all his bills to resolve these issue. It's funny how Kerry has lots of ideas a few months before the election and almost no record on these issues for the years prior.
So Kerry won. But this is a series of bouts, not a one-time championship match. Now the expectations for Kerry in Debate 2 (Electric Boogaloo) will go up. It's a town hall forum, which may favor Bush's down-home style.
Tune in next week for Wraithing the VP Debates.