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September 30, 2004

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nah. Bush seemed petulant, discombobluated and defensive for much of it. he got killed on the Homeland Security question - it's like when the sci-fi computer overloads and starts spitting out random phrases. Kerry seemed calm and controlled.

on content, they both did OK. but Bush lost the body language score.

I actually thought there were several moments when Bush seemed to be wondering, what on earth am I going to say for two whole minutes? A bit lost and disoriented. I thought Kerry was better, but no slam dunk. There was, however, one amazing misstatement, which I will blog sometime soon.

Bush was tired, uncomforable and surly tonight, the worst i've ever seen him in a debate. Kerry was towards the top of his game, i've seen him better but not by much.

ABC News poll: Kerry 45, Bush 36
CBS News poll: Kerry 46, Bush 26

Too quick polls. We'll see what the numbers are tomorrow. Bush got murdered by the cutaways, much like Gore before him, petulant, pissed off, and confused. Pundits are offering a cautious Kerry Wins. Friend of mine listened to right wing talk radio on the way home from my house. Panic the general tone.

Moolahs.
Mex missages.
And a single defining concept of the job he holds. It's hard work.

But most important of all? Kerry was hurting the last few weeks. He needed a win tonight, and he didn't need it for the base, he needed it for the voters in the middle. He got what he needed.

And he was better on Sudan for a country mile.

I think Kerry did a pretty good job answering the inconsistency charge. Bush certainly did a poor job of making it stick without an army of sympathetic pundits and supporters to chant the F-word for him. And "Bush's Plan: More Of The Same" needs to be made a central Kerry campaign theme. It puts Bush's "stay the course"/"resolute" theme into the ugly context of just how badly things are on the ground right now.

For Bush, the difference between speaking off-the-cuff and using a prepared text really is like night and day. I'm surprised he agreed to debate at all.

Not sure I agree. I am more in the camp that this was, after digesting and taking off partisan filters, a good, civil substantive debate. Kerry made factual and rhetorical mistakes. Bush looked like Bush, for the good or the bad.

In the end, politically, will this debate persuade anyone to make up their minds or change their minds? I would think the answer is a conditioned no...as it depends on the post-debate spin. Either way, at best, a small itty-bitty blip for Kerry. We said prior to all of this that Kerry needed a KO to make anything happen, and I didn't see it tonight.

Hizloy makes a good point up there too...re: Bush looking like he couldn't stretch his thoughts out into two minutes...too concerned with saying something off-message.

With the polls this close all Kerry needed to do was offer a creditable alternative to the incumbant and he achieved that and more on ground that Bush supposedly owned.

Slamdunk!

Surprisingly, I hold the same political opinions and preferences I did 8 hours ago.

Just. . you know. . more drunker.

The most one-sided major debate since Benten-Quayle. And Kerry coming across as strong and confident knocked the pins out from under Bush's campaign, which has been almost entirely based on ridiculing Kerry--if you don't believe me, just check out www.georgebush.com.

Josh put it well:

If you look at the dynamics of this race and the small but durable lead President Bush has built up over the last month, it comes less from people becoming more enamored of President Bush or his policies as it has from a steep decline in confidence in Sen. Kerry.

To put it bluntly, the Bush campaign has created an image of Kerry as a weak and indecisive man, someone that -- whatever you think of President Bush -- just can't be trusted to keep the country safe in these dangerous times.

Often they've made him into an object of contempt.

Whatever else you can say about this debate, though, whatever you think of his policies, I don't think that's how Kerry came off. I think he came off as forceful and direct. I suspect that most people who were at all genuinely undecided would come away from that 90 minutes with that impression.

If President Bush's current lead is built not upon confidence in him or his policies but in a simple belief that Kerry isn't solid enough to be president, then I think this performance could help Kerry a good deal.

Ugh, I hated them both. Kerry is still engaging in his international help in Iraq fantasy and Bush can't admit his missteps in Iraq. Why can't I vote Jeanne Kirkpatrick? She isn't that old is she?

Except for the part about agreeing more with Bush than with Kerry, I thought Andrew Sullivan was spot on:

It was, as I hoped, an enlightening debate. No, it didn't include any real logical breakthrough and on the issues, I found myself agreeing more with Bush than Kerry. But from the very beginning, Kerry achieved something very important. In tone and bearing, he seemed calm, authoritative, and, yes, presidential. I watched the C-SPAN version on a split screen, and in that context, it was particularly striking. In stark contrast to the Bush-Gore debates, it was Bush who was grimacing, furrowing his brow, almost rolling his eyes and at the very beginning, looking snippy and peevish. He seemed defensive throughout and because his record was front and center - and Kerry's long record in the Senate almost unmentioned - he was actually on the defense. He seemed physically smaller and more mobile than Kerry - and more emotionally alive. Their voices were contrasts too. I can see now for the first time why Kerry has a good reputation as a debater. It wasn't, I think, because he debated well. In fact, he debated poorly. He failed time and again to go in for obvious kills, failed to exploit gaping openings, failed to do what he really should have done, which is skewer Bush's conduct of the war, not his decision to launch it in the first place. But his tone was strong, clear, unwavering. And in some ways, this was critical to undermining Bush's constant assertion that Kerry is unclear, wavering and unreliable. In fact, Kerry didn't have to prove logically that this was the case (which would be hard to do); he refuted it merely by his tone and manner. For many people, who have only heard of Kerry from Bush ads or sound-bites or from droning campaign speeches, it will be the first time that Kerry seems strong. In the simple, symbolic man-versus-man contrast, Kerry seemed the bigger guy in every respect. That strikes me as a big deal.

By the way, did anyone else hear Bush say the A.Q. Khan network was brought to justice?

I couldn't believe that Bush made yet another attempt to link Iraq to 9/11, but when I checked the transcript, there it was when he weaselworded about how "the enemy attacked us."

On an entirely other note, congratulations to you both on the engagement, Moe.

No slam dunk.

Poll results on who won the debate...

CNN/GALLUP
Kerry: 53
Bush: 37

CBS
Kerry: 44
Bush: 26
Tie: 30

ABC
Kerry: 45
Bush 36
Tie: 17

Just wondering....what kind of numbers would you require for it to be a slam dunk?

Or was the no slam dunk just a personal comment that ignores the opinion of the rest of the country?

My personal opinion: Slam dunk.

The proper question for a slam dunk is "How many people changed their minds"? I think Kerry may have done better than Bush in the debate, but he didn't change my mind. (Which is expected since I've been following them both for more than a year). The real question is what did the debate do for those who were wavering?

The proper question for a slam dunk is "How many people changed their minds"?

I think the more proper question yet is, how many people ever change their minds after a modern Presidential debate? I'm afraid the answer is likely to be "vanishingly small"...

I am so glad I missed the debates (It seems I didn't miss much). A hot spings in the mountains beats any debate six ways from saturday.

Great commentary, Moe. Some times I just have to wonder - is this really the best our parties can do.

Reread the whole transcript of the debate just now.

To those that would still support a second Bush term...only one question.

Good lord...Why?

FWIW, I thought Bush did better than I expected. Not as well as he did against Ann Richards in 94(?) but less wince-worthy than on Russert or in fielding hostile questions from reporters. I thought Kerry did better than I expected, mostly by not trying to do too much. I wondered why he didn't press Bush more (Abu Ghraib, Bush I's coalition, the Bush campaign wrote Allawi's speech, Green Zone incursions, al Qaida metastasizing, Khan _not_ brought to justice, ...) but perhaps that's strategy. Lehrer also did better than I expected - he sometimes seems to work so hard to stay out of the light that he vanishes all together, but the questions were ok and the moderating was seamless.

I went to bed before the debates started. Looks like I didn't miss much... ;-)

felixrayman: Just wondering....what kind of numbers would you require for it to be a slam dunk?

Given Moe's predilection for ignoring information about Bush that he doesn't like, it wouldn't matter what the numbers were...

"Given Moe's predilection for ignoring information about Bush that he doesn't like, it wouldn't matter what the numbers were..."

Jes, do yourself a favor next time and actually read the liveblogged debate thread before you comment on my supposed sins, 'kay? Because otherwise all that cheerful half-drunk cynicism of mine went to waste, and I spent an hour and a half of lifespan on that.

As to felixray's question: if by the time of the second debate Kerry's poll numbers are consistently better than Bush's, then he'll have won this one. First- blush polls are nice, but whether they reflect reality or reality-right-now is another issue entirely.

Because otherwise all that cheerful half-drunk cynicism of mine went to waste, and I spent an hour and a half of lifespan on that.

I went to sleep before the debates started. (I've been feeling really tired the last few days, due to work-related stuff meaning I wasn't ever getting enough sleep: and there's a limit to what coffee can do. However, I have slept well and heartily, and am now craving homemade apple PIE, thanks to you.)

I agreed completely with the very first comment on the 77-comment thread: Hey, for those of us following along with no access to TV or radio, could you maybe specify who's saying what? I can't make heads or tails of what you're writing at the moment.

Okay, I just read to the end of it. Fair point you made at September 30, 2004 11:18 PM - but reading through the whole thread just makes me think of a few parties I have attended where I was the only sober person and everyone else was having a wonderful time. But hey: half-drunk cynicism is intrinsically a good thing. ;-)

he refuted it merely by his tone and manner

I have no idea what this means, aside from the fact that Sullivan clearly fails to understand the function of debate.

"...but reading through the whole thread just makes me think of a few parties I have attended where I was the only sober person and everyone else was having a wonderful time."

Been there, done that, wasn't fun for me, either.

Anyhoo, my morning-after assessment (pre-coffee) is still that this is up in the air. If the above debate numbers port over into poll numbers in the next couple of days, then Sen Kerry won the debate - and I'm not saying that they will or they won't; this stuff doesn't resolve itself instantly. We'll have an idea by Sunday and a really good one by Wednesday.

Moe

PS: Sorry about the pie jones - and don't forget the ice cream.

Icky as it may be, I agree with Sullivan's thesis. Kerry presented a far more forceful perception of being presidential than Bush.

And let's be clear--this wasn't a debate as much as a beauty pageant. Lawyers and campaign consultants from both parties ensured a debate wouldn't happen.

Nor was the purpose of this exercise to 'change people's minds;' if that happened, it's a happy byproduct. The whole purpose is to sway the relatively small number of undecided voters. As such, perception is paramount. Consider the Kennedy-Nixon debate; people who heard the debate on radio pegged Nixon as a clear winner--however, those watching on TV had a different take. Same with the Gore-Bush debate, reading a transcript of that event would have Gore as the apparent winner. But, on TV, Gore came off badly.

You are the true embodiment voice of moderation.

Why can't I vote Jeanne Kirkpatrick?

Sebastian,

I strongly encourage you to cast a write-in vote for her.

I think its going to be hard for anyone here to have an objective opinion on who won and who didn’t. Someone mentioned that this debate was targeted for the swing voter - and I assume by from the way most of you discussion your personal politics that you do not fall into the swing voter category.

That said - I think Kerry did a fantastic job of shoring up his public image as others have mentioned. And he may have finally found something to really base his campaign on – Bush equals four years of more of the same" and the ugly picture Kerry painted of that, or something new that will at the very least try to repair the our reputation in the international community while accomplishing lord knows what on the ground in Iraq. Iraq is a mess that Bush or Kerry will both struggle mightily with. But there are other things we can attempt to correct while finishing what we started.

Anyway - if swing voters actually watched the debate, something I question, then Kerry may have impressed them. More likely, however, is that the swing voter gets their information from commercials and the Bush PR machine will remain as effective as always.

I kept being struck by the logical flaw at the heart of the Bush appeal: It is certainly true that at the margins a war can be lost by irresolution, or mixed messages. Avoiding these things, however, is far far from an effective stratgy.

In our time, can a more resolute war time leader be imagined than Hitler? A government spokesman less prone to mixed messages than Goebbels?

It's all very fine to stick to the basic principles, so lon as realiy is kept in mind. However, in our stuggle with AQ, there is no basic principle other than "we must defeat them utterly." Certainly we will work with any regime -- no matter how undemocratic -- to accomplish this. So there's no basic principle here, really, about democracy or freedom. (The notion that if given an opportunity to vote, people will uniformly reject Islamism is untested, to say the least).

However, to defeat AQ utterly, we have to avoid driving undecideds their way. Do those undecideds respect strength an resolution? Quite likely. Do they also resent the humiliation of Western dominance of any Muslim area (including Palestine)? We know this to be true.

* * * * *

OK, I'm going back to Cahill's recent book about the Greeks. Best discussion of Homer I've ever read. Can one fairly say that the Bush faction's outlook is more like Achilles (I'm thinking of the petulant hero of the Iliad, not the wiser shade in the Odyssey) and the Kerry faction looks more to the model of Odysseus?

I know Moe and Sebastian dislike my if/then statements but:
If Bush has some disgruntled supporters thinking of pulling their support and they watched the debate, they probably feel more comfortable today.

OK, I've thought about it a couple of minutes, and wonder if Bush dreams of being Achilles while Kerry dreams of being Odysseus.

As the "Penelope" in this scenario, I have to say I have a preference, and can dream myself of how nice it would be to get those "suitors" (Rove, Limbaugh, Coulter etc etc) out of my house.

Forget for a monment that Bush is currently president and try to put yourself in the position of an 'undecided', difficult I know but try.

Bush was creamed, he wasn't even in the same league as Kerry who looked and sounded presidential, informed, knowledgable, confident and capable. Bush evinced none of these characteristics, the man is so bland and vacuous his supporters attempt to dress him rhetoricaly in any number of clothes that simply don't wear well on him.

It's not over by any means, republicans will move heaven and earth in an attempt to rehabilitate the president. As allways they will do a good job of confusing the large element of the public too lazy to think thro the issues at hand and willing to cast their support behind the handfull of simplistic moronic soundbite slogans the GOP are good at channeling.

But this time they have their work cut out for them because Kerry gave the undecideds what they most needed a credible alternative to 'more of the same'. This race just got interesting.

" kept being struck by the logical flaw at the heart of the Bush appeal: It is certainly true that at the margins a war can be lost by irresolution, or mixed messages. Avoiding these things, however, is far far from an effective stratgy."

That's the truth, but resolution is crucial in any non-traditional war, and a lack of mixed messages is necessary in this war unless you are willing to level a couple of countries (and I mean pretty much level, unlike what we have done in either Afghanistan and Iraq). That makes this election so depressing. Kerry is sending the wrong messages and is signaling a lack of resolve in Iraq, while Bush goes beyond those minimal steps but no further.

Sebastian

Resolution to what end? Freedom? Democracy?

We can't give Iraq freedom or democracy they have to take it for themselves all we can hope to do is create the right conditions. Kerry was resolute in making the case that he will do that by offering the kind of leadership the task requires. We need to re-evaluate our position on the ground and come up with fresh ideas for a resolution, Kerry offers exactly that last night while Bush offers 'more of the same'.

Piss or get off the pot George!

Years ago when the soviets introduced the TU-144 (concordsky) all the know knothing pundits offered the observation that the soviets must have stolen the blueprints of concorde because they looked the same. Truth was they looked the same because the laws of physics and aeronautics determined that a long thin fuselage and a delta wing were the only practical design solutions available, see the B1 bomber, was that a copy of concorde too?

Same thing with Iraq, the solution as determined by political and physical constraints will look the same from both camps Democrat or Republican. The difference is leadership. Kerry put down a favourable marker with the US electorate that he will be a credible leader.

That's all he had to do and he did it masterfully.

"We can't give Iraq freedom or democracy they have to take it for themselves all we can hope to do is create the right conditions. Kerry was resolute in making the case that he will do that by offering the kind of leadership the task requires."

And aiming to remove US troops starting 6 months from now is not the kind of leadership the task requires.

Pretending that Europe will be sending troops (as Kerry did repeatedly) is not the kind of leadership the task requires.

Sebastian
Iraq is a lot closer to Europe than the United States.
It's possible that Kerry could go to the leaders over there and say, "I'm going to begin pulling troops out. You guys want to make the transition easy or do you want your doorstep to get bloody."
The main thing is you don't telegraph negotiating strategy unless that's part of the strategy. And if the aim is to get Iraq settled enough to get troops home then talking about wanting to get troops home is not a contradiction.

One last thought. Since Kerry made that particular statement the circumstances in Iraq have gotten even worse. He's made it clear that he will deal with the reality in the field over artificial constructs.

Sebastian Holsclaw: And aiming to remove US troops starting 6 months from now is not the kind of leadership the task requires.

Whereas claiming that everything is just fine and there's no problem at all is?

"Iraq is a lot closer to Europe than the United States.
It's possible that Kerry could go to the leaders over there and say, "I'm going to begin pulling troops out. You guys want to make the transition easy or do you want your doorstep to get bloody."

Brilliant strategy. Kerry threatens the EU with, I'm pulling the troops out and letting Iraq go to hell, you better increase your deployable troops from 10,000 to 200,000 in the next 6 months.

Can we all note that if I had accused Kerry of having such a ridiculous plan, there would have been piling on of 'straw man'?

This from a Kerry supporter? Sheesh. I hope that isn't his secret plan.


"Whereas claiming that everything is just fine and there's no problem at all is?"

I believe if Bush thought that he would have pulled all the troops already.

I believe if Bush thought that he would have pulled all the troops already.

I don't pretend to know what Bush thinks, Sebastian. But he's certainly claiming that everything is going just fine.

Sebastian
I believe I said right after that quote:
"The main thing is you don't telegraph negotiating strategy unless that's part of the strategy."

Carsick, I fail to see how you telegraphing comment helps your case.

If Kerry's intention is as awful as you say, I wouldn't blame him for not telegraphing it--I would blame him for thinking something so stupid.

Well, just to add my (probably overvalued) $.02: I would definitely score the 9/30 debate a "positive" (IMO, "win/lose" isn't quite a relevant comparison) for Sen. Kerry.
We all know that these "debates" are formatted to provide the candidates, basically, with a live-audience infomercial opportunity, and that (especially) in this election, the level of electoral polarization is such that there are relatively few "undecideds" out there to be swayed. What is left, IMO, is not so much a forum for "debate", per se, but on the general appearance and presentation of the two candidates, and in this case, purely on the visuals, Kerry "won" hands down.
As has been stated elsewhere by more eloquent bloggers than I, Kerry's biggest problem was not so much as to try to sway voters to his side, but to remove doubts among those who dislike Bush, but were not convinced that John Kerry was truly presidential material.
Of course, there is a (big) ABK core out there who will never agree, but for me, there is NO doubt whatesover who looked, by far, more "Presidential" up there on Thursday night.
(Hint: it was the taller guy)

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