Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Presidential Debate III

by Tom Bozzo

A solid win for Kerry. Bush came into the debate needing a much more solid performance than he gave, given the adverse dynamics of the horse race since the debate season started, and the continuing cruddy news on the economy and Iraq.

I don't see that Bush really stepped up his game on substance. Bush's fundamental problem is that, given Republican control of the legislative and executive branches, there's no real excuse for not passing anything popular enough to muster a working supermajority in the Senate. Either he can't build bridges even to the tune of 10 or so swingable senators, the congressional Republicans are out of control, or some combination of the two. I'm happy to choose the last, but then again I'm not the Republican President.

So he ended up nonresponsively falling back to a surprising extent on not quite signal accomlishments, such as No Child Left Behind, in an obvious sign of weakness. It was news to me that NCLB, which I had previously regarded as being a lot less popular in practice than in theory, could solve so many problems -- retraining of adults displaced by offshore outsourcing?! Wasn't it supposed to be tax "cuts" (*) that were the cure-all (this, seemingly, was a failure of Bush's preparation)?

Kerry was underbriefed on some relatively minor points, such as litigation issues having just about nothing to do with flu vaccine supply. I thought he improved significantly on the 'town hall' in that he better articulated the contents of proposed programs that previously came out in the more nebulous "I have a plan for X" format. Under the circumstances, that funding Kerry's proposals has a bit of 2+2=6 about it is a lot less disturbing than the fact that Bushonomics requires 2+2>12.

As for presentation, Kerry should benefit from being essentially the same guy in all three debates: calm, consistent, and knowledgable. Bush still showed an erratically varying affect, and should regret exaggerating "exaggeration" in upcoming reviews of the proceedings.

Just past the halfway point, I remarked to Suzanne that I thought Bob Schieffer was doing a decent job moderating. The closing softballs led me to mark down my overall assessment of the moderation a bit, perhaps even a good bit. Such as the format of the debates permitted, something on the environment, energy policy, higher education, or really any real domestic issue would have improved on the redundant question on religion, the question about the candidates' wives and daughters, or most likely both.

Overall, though, Kerry's gifts from Schieffer seemed more valuable, as they allowed him to hit at several of Bush's more manifest failures of leadership. Kerry hit an off-note on his marrying-up quip (he's best off with straight answers), but if Bush needs to make people feel fuzzy about his faith and family at this stage of the gang, the President is in big trouble.

That David Brooks couldn't muster the enthusiasm he trotted out for Cheney or for Bush's 'town hall' performance reinforced my view of the event.


(*) Which, since they have simply added to the deficit, are really tax shifts.
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