Friday, October 01, 2004

t'o-ron (debate)

I'll leave incisive commentary to the veteran politibloggers, but if today's debate was any indication, Kerry's got the advantage. This was the first time I'd watched Kerry speak at length, after months and months of reading about him.

The bad news for Republicans: JFK's not as bad as all that in terms of stage presence, delivery, etc. Both debaters often ran overtime, but were fairly disciplined about cutting themselves off after 5 or 10 seconds. Bush seemed much itchier on the trigger than Kerry; I was left with the impression that, if he'd had the opportunity, he'd have shouted Kerry down at certain points.

The bad news for Democrats: Bush wasn't as clueless as all that. He did have a tendency to hammer a very narrow set of talking points home; he tried very hard to portray Kerry as a flipflopper, but there were a few crucial areas where Kerry danced out of the way of some land mines. One such area was Kerry's avoidance of declaring that our troops have died in vain-- one of the better questions from Jim Lehrer early on. Kerry was also good to point out that we shouldn't confuse the warriors with the war: his riposte to Bush's attempts at painting Kerry as somehow working against the troops.

Bush stayed on-message a bit too doggedly when it came to the issue of "the message we send our X." At several points he brought up the importance of presenting a solid, united front for the benefit of our troops, for coalition members, and for leaders like Allawi. A good point, to be sure, but one he made a bit too often and in some arguably irrelevant contexts. That question, "What kind of message are we sending to our X when we...?" was overused.

Unfortunately, I couldn't sit and watch for the whole 90 minutes; I had a couple classes to teach and so missed out on large portions of the debate. Also, I haven't checked out what the TV and online commentators are saying (CNN is on at our office around the clock)... it'll be interesting to hear their reactions.

Strike that-- I just heard some CNN fact-checkers reviewing the debaters' claims. There's some question about Kerry's contention that bin Laden is in Afghanistan, and some clucking over some of Bush's stats as well.

I cringed when Bush used the phrase "fighting vociferously" or something similar: it's the kind of malapropism destined to get a lot of air play. Bush's long, time-wasting pauses at some moments also gave the impression he was struggling either to think up an answer or to put his answer in articulable form. Either way, not good.

I just saw two commentators go over Kerry's admission of being wrong in how he'd phrased his voting for/against the $87 billion dollars; it was also pointed out that Bush was appropriately humble when he spoke about having to face a family that had lost a loved one in this war. Points to both for their Moments of Humility.

I liked the debate format. The announcer said at the beginning that the format was the result of negotiations between both sides; it was well-paced (loved the 30-second responses!) and kept my interest. Alas, both Bush and Kerry had moments where neither was really debating, and was instead pandering to their voter base. Shameless stuff. I suppose content-free utterances are to be expected from politicians (and don't you visit my blog for its pleasantly content-free nature? of course you do!).

I'm tempted to do some meta-commentary, i.e., commentary on whatever commentary is currently going on, but there's simply going to be too much material out there, what with news media and the entire politiblogosphere on the case. So that's all for now. If I had to pick a winner for today, I'd say the debate went easily to Kerry. Poise and conviction-- and he was surprisingly-- refreshingly?-- hostile: he had his own set of talking points to drive home about Bush, and he did this well, dispensing with civility early on. He doubtless surprised his fans.

Two more debates to go.


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