The Great Debate

Needless to say, Kerry won, but it was close, if only because shrub didn’t freeze or crack. But Kerry was inifintely more knowledgeable, coherent, articulate and substantive. No big surprise there. Still, I wish he’d been more aggressive. He was perhaps a bit too gentlemanly. Chimpy repeated the old soundbites, the shorter version of which is: Kerry’s a flip-flopper. That got tired very fast, and Kerry rebutted it well.

I don’t think this debate will change much. But remember, this topic of national security is supposed to be bush’s super-strong suit. The fact that the best we can say is he emerged in one piece and held his own — well, that to me says he lost big. Now, on domestic issues he can’t hide behind 911. That won’t work when he’s pressed about our failed economy, the folly of No Child Left Behind, the rampant unemployment and colossal debt. Not to mention the obscene tax gifts for the rich.

Chalk up one for Kerry, and prepare for the real pyrotechnics in the next round.

Update: Fine commentary from my 2nd-favorite blogger JoshMarshall hits the nail on the head:

My point isn’t that Kerry clobbered the president or anything. But for most of the 90 minutes I thought Kerry held the initiative, keeping the energy of the debate on questions about the president’s record.

It’s the second point however that is, I think, the really big deal about this debate.

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. And I suspect that most people who were at all genuinely undecided came away from the 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.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 19 Comments

Sorry, I disagree. Kerry is badly trailing, and he needed to do better than he did.

As a former debater from Yale, he was sorely disappointing.

Kerry needed to come out with both guns blazing, make an amazing point for voting for him, and I just didn’t walk away feeling that he did what he needed to. With only three debates, he needed to hammer the differences here.

Where was the master-debater from Yale? He was showed up by a fraternity boy.

September 30, 2004 @ 9:41 pm | Comment

Richard

I can understand your dislike of Bush, but still, some respect for the Office of the President would not hurt your argument. Words like “shrub” and “chimpy” do not add to your arguement, but take away from them.

Otherwise, good blog!

P

September 30, 2004 @ 9:54 pm | Comment

I appreciate the comment. But alas, I have zero respect for our faux president. I tried, I supported him after 911, I even supported him, with some grave misgivings, through out march into Baghdad. But he let me down; in Al Gore’s words, he betrayed me. And sadly, I can no longer speak of him with any repsect at all, only sadness, contempt and a supreme sense of disappointment.

September 30, 2004 @ 10:03 pm | Comment

Jeremy, you are pathetically out of touch. Even Republican David Gergen on CNN just said, “Kerry is now back in the race,” and said it was a major triumph. Have you been watching the polls and the commentary? Of course the Karen Hughes-type succubuses are all fawning over the president’s poise and brilliance and decrying Kerry’s hypocrisy and flip-flopping. But the more sane pundits (even David Brooks) are saying that either Kerry won or it was a draw. And considering the topic — national security — that means there’s no denying that Kerry has emerged the winner. Put that in your poll and vote on it.

WOW — even Joe Scarborough on MSNBC says Kerry has won!!

September 30, 2004 @ 10:10 pm | Comment

Jeremy, you need to come up with something better than parroting the party lines, it’s silly and transparent.

HK PR I essentially agree that the “chimpy” and “shrub” lines are perhaps not appropriate but we’re talking about a man who is so ultimately unsophisticated and unworldly that using these words are comforting and satisfying to use.

Richard, I thought your analysis was great.

September 30, 2004 @ 11:12 pm | Comment

Chinese television broadcasts US presidential debates live

I was pleasantly surprised to turn on my television this morning to see CCTV-9, China’s state owned English language channel, was broadcasting the entire first US presidential debate. I thought I would only be able to read about it…

September 30, 2004 @ 11:38 pm | Comment

My apartment’s got CNN so I watched the debate here in China also. I’d say that Kerry was much more effective than Gore was 4 years ago, but I think most pundits are right saying there wasn’t a clear-cut winner.

Bush speaks more passionately, with good hand gestures and facial expressions that show emotion. Though I find him disingenous, I think that interpretation is subjective and his style is very attractive to lots of voters. Kerry is precise and quite eloquent, he made lots of very good, sharp points. The only problem- he really looks like a corpse when he’s not smiling. I don’t just mean in the sense that he fails to show passion or emotion- I think he DOES have those things- it’s just that the tan and the makeup really DO make him look like a touched up dead body. He needs to smile and laugh more to maximize his effectiveness.

Besides that, the Democrats are being too polite. They need to get worked up and pissed off. They have a much better candidate.

September 30, 2004 @ 11:46 pm | Comment

If the media manages to spin it that Bush won tonight’s debate or it was even a draw, then I truly am living in George Orwell’s 1984. Kerry was by far the more articulate of the two. He was informed, poised and presented a coherent agenda of how he would conduct America’s foreign policy. Bush, by contrast, seemed unable to do much beyond repeat that America is stronger and he knows what he’s doing and that changing one’s mind is a sign of weakness. Oh, and that it’s hard work. And something about putting his daughters on leashes.

And what was that line about how hard it is loving war widows?!

October 1, 2004 @ 1:10 am | Comment

I think Jeremy’s point was not that Kerry is a “flip-flopper,” but rather that Kerry and his people are just not aggressive enough. Like I’ve said before, if they would just turn the energy they’ve put into excoriating Ralph Nader into denouncing, you know, their real opponent, they’d be doing a lot better in the polls. We all know the stuff Bush has gotten away with – why don’t the Dems use it?

I think Kerry probably did win the debate, yes, but come on; the man he was up against is borderline retarded, and K. should have done much, much better than he really did. I also think that while he was OK in keeping his remarks clean, well-structured, and to-the-point in the first part of the debate, he gradually drifted back towards his natural tendency to confused, badly-structured speaking.

(There’s a great article, or maybe op-ed piece, in the NYT a week or so back where s public-speaking teacher compared Kerry and Bush’s speeches and found Bush’s to be invariably better-structured. Check it out; it’s dead-on, I think.)

October 1, 2004 @ 1:15 am | Comment

The fact that the U.S. has troops in Iraq getting shot at and we are at war might act as a natural inhibitor on Kerry’s willingness to really attack Bush more extensively and openly on Iraq and terrorism. I think is shows the maturity and deftness of Kerry as a good, intelligent man, one who will be presidential and a statesman. Kerry got his message across about his position on Iraq and Bush’s inferior abilities. Wait for the debate on domestic policy. Kerry should not be inhibited from a straight forward “march through Georgia,” burning and wrecking Bush’s domestic house of cards and I hope his image as a compassionate conservative.

IMO all of Bush’s noise about “working hard” looks like a set up for the next debates to criticize Kerry for doing little in Congress, while the “man” was carrying the load after 9/11 for America and people.

October 1, 2004 @ 1:46 am | Comment

I’ve compiled results of 36 polls at the time of my post right here

Kerry dominated in 35 of those 36 polls, and still won the other one by about 10%.

Sure, better would help, but this race is still very close and these polls indicate zounds.

October 1, 2004 @ 1:46 am | Comment

Nobody who witnessed tonight’s debate and paid attention can say that Kerry lost or that Bush won.

An honest assesment shows that Bush relied heavily on hollow mantras–such as “a man who says this is the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time is sending mixed messages” and “a man who changes his position constantly is sending mixed messages and is not fit to be commander in chief”–to avoid questions and issues. Mr. Bush stammered and stumbled, frequently exceeding allotted time to answer questions and charges, in an amazing contrast to his reputation as a clear, concise speaker. He occassionally listed specific accomplishments and plans, but for the most part failed to provide substantive answers. Mr. Bush scowled far more than he smiled while his opponent spoke, and he seemed ill at ease.

Mr. Kerry never struck me as anything other than at ease. And on the offense–every question and challenge elllicited a concise and clear answer, in contrast to Mr. Kerry’s reputation as a breezy speaker. His body and verbal language was measured and steady most of the time as he turned everything into a challenge for the President. And yet, Mr. Kerry also managed to provide more specific solutions more often than Mr. Bush, such as claiming he, (Sen. Kerry) had the credibility and the sensibility to get more nations involved economically and militarily in Iraq, the awareness to provide more body and vehicle armor and train more special forces, and the international courtesy to truely make war a last resort and to listen to our allies instead of ignoring them.

In sum, Kerry sounded like a challenger. He was well spoken and well behaved. Bush was defensive, figidy, scowling, stammering. Kerry had more concise and specifice answers, while Bush mostly offered a bunch of campaign rhetoric.

Nobody who paid attention to this televised debate can honestly say that Bush won by himself. He may win as a result of conservative media bias, which may mislead those who ignored or only half-minded the debates. Bush may win because of his fans who stubbornly stick to the Bush story and won’t allow new evidence to show them a different path. But in terms of this debate, Senator Kerry clearly outmatched Mr. Bush.

October 1, 2004 @ 2:28 am | Comment

Even our local arch-conservative rag has a blaring headline over its editorial page, “Kerry scores big!”

I agree with most of the comments, and I also agree that Kerry could have been meaner and tougher. But this was more a re-introduction than anything else, to show people that he can speak and present himself like a true leader, that he can be “presidential” and make a strong case for his beliefs, even if he’s limited to just 2-minute slots. In these respects, he passed with flying colors. So for now, I am thrilled and the smart half of the blogosphere is energized beyond belief. Hopefully he’ll do this well in the next debates, and be a little meaner. But if you carefully assess Kerry politcal situation, it becomes clear that ths was a very big victory indeed. That’s because the entire crux of the bush campaign has been the destruction of JFK as a flip-flopping guy who can never make his mind up, who wallows in indecision and is a windsurfing jerk, too. That’s all that bush as to run on — Kerry’s “flaws,” as cooked up by Karl Rove. In the debate, Kerry showed himself to be eloquent, decisive, and far more relaxed and presidential than our squirming, smirking chimp. The undecideds know they don’t like bush, and they are pretty sure they don’t like Kerry (having been fed a diet of Rove-generated hatred for the past 6 months). Now many will almost certainly realize that, while not perfect, Kerry at least has the qualities required to run the country, certainly more than shrub. And if just a relative handful of undecideds think that way, it can change America’s history forever.

October 1, 2004 @ 10:15 am | Comment

Oh, and in case some here don’t know, the commenter Jeremy is an old friend of mine, and when I refer to him as “pathetically out of touch” I am totally kidding. Well, mostly.

October 1, 2004 @ 10:18 am | Comment

Well, you’re still a Pinko who wants group think. :^P

Brendan got what I was saying – Kerry needed to better than good, he needed to be great on an FDR level, someone that oozed President. Kerry might not have lost, but he didn’t give me a big win either. Show some balls, come out swinging, show you’re presidential. Don’t expect me to love you and vote for you because I’m a Democrat or undecided voter. Give me some reasons.

The first hour, Kerry came out half-blazing (granted, most people don’t last past that first hour). The second hour, I found him to be waning. He’s behind in the polls – well, at least on electoral-vote.com – and I wanted to see him come out guns a-blazing, to be presidential. We both know that Dubya can’t do that, so Kerry should have stepped up. And he did, but not enough.

The fake-bake tan didn’t do it for me. The stiffness didn’t do it for me. The soundbites, they were good. But, as someone that was on the Yale debate team, I expected magic. I got parlor tricks.

And, Varen, my blood runs Blue – to the point that my grandparents were at the Carter inauguration. But, how dare I make up my own mind, huh?

October 1, 2004 @ 10:38 am | Comment

I know exactly what you’re saying, and it’s basically what I sad in my original post. I was more inclined to call it a draw than a big win — at first. But then I realized what Kerry had accomplished, especially reading all the op-eds from his traditional foes. We all wanted that killer moment when he’s take shrub down to size and go in for the kill. I wanted it, too. But Kerry went above and beyond expectations, especially that virtually every media said bush had the upper hand by a long shot. So this was a true upset, and that’s why the blogosphere’s going nuts. He really did “show balls,” as you say, and had the best one-liner of the night (“You can be certain. But you can also be wrong.”) And suddenly the ultimate flip-flop loser is a serious candidate who really may win the election. As for remarks about his tan or his manicure — that’s all horseshit. With the headlines coming in from Iraq, the last things Americans care about — Americans with children, or young Americans who may get drafted — the loast thing they care about is Kerry’s suntan or his fingernails. That sort of talk is beneath you; let Sean Hannity do the stupid sniping.

October 1, 2004 @ 11:55 am | Comment

WOW Jeremy who are your grandparents??? I am so impressed really!!!

October 1, 2004 @ 12:20 pm | Comment

Thanks David. I guess most people would be jealous of people that had a private audience with Golda Meir, beyond the Carter inauguruation.

October 1, 2004 @ 2:25 pm | Comment

Obvious that Kerry won – by performance, by knowledge and data at his fingertips, yet. But.. the conscious part is not often observed. Kerry provides insight and actively participates in the responses as well as questions. Bush can only mimic, and spout out cliché like a tired old nag. Did anyone see him (Bush) wearing the earphone in debate #2? Like he was being coached what to say. See people like Bush are simple minded and wish the traipsings of power… while Kerry truly has the hardware to be a statesman, a leader. Anyone who cannot see this is unable to listen with the eyes and see with his ears. I know China is having a field day with this one.

October 25, 2004 @ 6:26 am | Comment

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