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.
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.