Everyone has advice for John Kerry going into the three debates. Even Al Gore has chimed in:
But more important than his record as a debater is Mr. Bush’s record as a president. And therein lies the true opportunity for John Kerry – because notwithstanding the president’s political skills, his performance in office amounts to a catastrophic failure. And the debates represent a time to hold him to account. For the voters, these debates represent an opportunity to explore four relevant questions: Is America on the right course today, or are we off track? If we are headed in the wrong direction, what happened and who is responsible? How do we get back on the right path to a safer, more secure, more prosperous America? And, finally, who is best able to lead us to that path?
… The debates aren’t a time for rhetorical tricks. It’s a time for an honest contest of ideas. Mr. Bush’s unwillingness to admit any mistakes may score him style points. But it makes hiring him for four more years too dangerous a risk. Stubbornness is not strength; and Mr. Kerry must show voters that there is a distinction between the two.
If Mr. Bush is not willing to concede that things are going from bad to worse in Iraq, can he be trusted to make the decisions necessary to change the situation? If he insists on continuing to pretend it is ‘mission accomplished,’ can he accomplish the mission? And if the Bush administration has been so thoroughly wrong on absolutely everything it predicted about Iraq, with the horrible consequences that have followed, should it be trusted with another four years?
The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record. And I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: ‘The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined.’
Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it’s enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.”
Gore is right about the Bush record. But I wonder if his advice is enough. If you look at the numbers, it’s already pretty clear that a majority of Americans want a change of direction. While many of us (myself included) have offered Kerry advice on the many ways to attack the Bush record, I think the 90 minutes on Thursday night will be more about the messenger than the message.