President Bush began the night with an odd wink at John Kerry as they approached one another for the opening handshake. That was his best moment. Before this debate, I said Kerry needed to convince voters to love him and Bush had to convince voters not to hate him. Both participants exceeded my expectations. Kerry seemed reserved and confident. I thought he could’ve been better, but he was solid. The President seemed to fall victim to some very bad advice and his inability to temper his petulance. I felt sorry for him at times.
As I mentioned during my brief foray into live blogging (below) the President fell victim to a weird collection of foaming spittle in the corner of his mouth. It was a physical reaction that summed up his entire night. The President was on the attack. But his attacks, especially in the first half, were at times wildly out of context. He came off as a guy who needed to get in his jabs. He was on the defense throughout the evening. The President wasn’t as bad as he was the first night, and he had some good moments. But he fell way short in the battle over who appeared more presidential. That’s three straight debates.
W is so much more effective when he’s discussing his faith. He becomes quiet and calm. OK, to some it may seem scary, but he is a totally different person. He stops yelling. I think the faith moments probably helped him. He was also great on the question about the women in his life. Still, isn’t a bit disturbing to see a guy’s temperament change that dramatically in the space of a few seconds.
Several good moments aside, I think that W came off as unstable. He got better as the night wore on. He was great by the end. But he was really out of sorts during the first part of the evening.
W needed to change the momentum, but he clearly did not. He seemed like a great guy to have at your church or at a backyard event, but one who was in over his head. Kerry came off as a guy you’d want in the White House. And that is a strange thing to be saying about a challenger.
A look at the blow by blow.
- Does anyone else hate it when Kerry starts by thanking those behind the debates? Stop wasting time. The hell with the presidential commission. Let’s get it on.
- Bush looked oddly irritated when Kerry said he was glad to be there with him.
- There are times when the President has a weird smirk on his face. I really think he feels like he’s smiling.
- What the hell are these guys taking all those notes on? Doesn’t it sort of ruin your image of Bush when he takes notes?
- The President paused for a moment after he squeezed out the word Exaggerations. He looked like he wanted to get credit for that. And in fairness, I think we should give it to him.
- Bob Schieffer, dude, what was with the flu vaccine question?
- The President is not getting a flu shot this season. Sort of puts Kerry’s tough-guy military record into perspective, no?
- For the record, my ceiling fan was made in America.
- At one point, Bush explained: “His rhetoric doesn’t match his record.” But Kerry was talking about the President’s record, not his own. These were the moments when Bush seemed to be swinging wildly in an effort to tag his opponent with a prepared attack.
- Kerry: “Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country.” Decent line, but Law and Order is of course also the name of a show. I would’ve gone with: Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Jenna Jameson talking to me about abstinence.
- Kerry was good on the outsourcing question. “Outsourcing is going to happen. I’ve acknowledged that in union halls across the country. I’ve had shop stewards stand up and say, “Will you promise me you’re going to stop all this outsourcing?” And I’ve looked them in the eye and I’ve said, “No, I can’t do that.”
Whoa, is that a quality were looking for in a president? If so, sign me up. I can’t do shit.
- Aside from his demeanor, the President’s worst moment was when he talked directly to the American worker:
“Let me talk to the workers. You’ve got more money in your pocket as a result of the tax relief we passed and he opposed. If you have a child, you got a $1,000 child credit. That’s money in your pocket. If you’re married, we reduced the marriage penalty. The code ought to encourage marriage, not discourage marriage.”
The moment called for an “I feel your pain” response. Instead the President told workers how good they have it. These are not good times. W’s attacks on Kerry bled over into his address to workers. Bad, bad moment.
- Did he just say: “Wooooo?”
- Why sell out the buggy and horse crowd?
- Healthcare is boring. Can we get back to hunting and killing terrorists?
- Reality TV show coming later this season: An Invitation to Disaster.
- Kerry could’ve been more specific on social security and other issues. He was better on demeanor than content at times.
- Bob Schieffer: ” I got more e-mail this week on this question than any other question.” President Bush: Laughter. Huh?
- Bush on Osama in 2002 (about the time Cheney saw Edwards): I’ll repeat what I said: I truly am not that concerned about him.
- Kerry: “Women work for 76 cents on the dollar for the same work that men do.” To me that sounds like we’ve got to find a way to cut 24 cents from the pay men get. Pell in 2008.
- Kerry used the word measure a lot. Most effectively here: “You don’t measure it by a percentage increase. Mr. President, you measure it by whether you’re getting the job done.”
- Bush was better on the Iraq part of the debate than he was the first time around – especially when he hit Kerry on his first Gulf War vote. That’s a big window into Kerry’s motivations. Too bad this was a domestic debate and there are no do-overs in politics.
- He hunts. He arrests. He kills. Any questions? Kerry’s best moment was during the assault weapons ban discussion: “I was hunting in Iowa last year with a sheriff from one of the counties there, and he pointed to a house in back of us, and said, ‘See the house over there? We just did a drug bust a week earlier, and the guy we arrested had an AK-47 lying on the bed right beside him…’” I gotta get me one of those. My wife’s getting sick of the canon.
- In a race this close, that Native American blessing could make the difference.
- Kerry on the great divide: “That’s not where we are today. I regret to say that the president who called himself a uniter, not a divider, is now presiding over the most divided America in the recent memory of our country.” Oh those emotional Red Sox fans.
- Kerry said he’s broken up organized crime but he also quoted Tony Soprano. I smell a charge of inconsistency coming from the Bush spin room.