. . . Friday October 8, 2004

Debate Two: Power to the People

You want the results from the latest debate. Here they are.

The American media lost.

The questions asked by the citizen-interviewers were better than any questions I’ve heard asked in the past debates. They were dead-on and to the point. Charles Gibson’s rare follow-ups were either off the point or useless. This was a huge win for the American voter and brings up huge questions for those who are usually tasked with representing us in these settings.

A few of the questions:

- Senator Kerry, after talking with several co-workers and family and friends, I asked the ones who said they were not voting for you, “Why?” They said that you were too wishy-washy. Do you have a reply for them?

- Mr. President, yesterday in a statement you admitted that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, but justified the invasion by stating, I quote, “He retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction and could have passed this knowledge to our terrorist enemies.” Do you sincerely believe this to be a reasonable justification for invasion when this statement applies to so many other countries, including North Korea?

- Senator Kerry, you’ve stated your concern for the rising cost of health care, yet you chose a vice presidential candidate who has made millions of dollars successfully suing medical professionals. How do you reconcile this with the voters?

- Mr. President, how would you rate yourself as an environmentalist? What specifically has your administration done to improve the condition of our nation’s air and water supply?

- Senator Kerry, would you be willing to look directly into the camera and, using simple and unequivocal language, give the American people your solemn pledge not to sign any legislation that will increase the tax burden on families earning less than $200,000 a year during your first term?

Now what’s so hard about that?

Big story tonight: This debate format confirmed what we have all suspected this election season. The age of citizen journalist is here. And that’s good.

OK, what about the candidates…

Overall, I though W did a whole lot better than he did last week. He wasn’t great, but he was better and that should help his cause. He was better, but he wasn’t (as I saw it) presidential. Kerry was pretty good, but not great either. Here’s something to think about. If you were a visitor from outer space (or an undecided voter just flipping over from the ballgame), which guy would you think was the president and which the challenger?

Here are a few of my takes:

- Bush was more forceful than usual. But he was also yelling. One wants to occasionally build to a crescendo during a debate. He yelled. And yelled. And rarely looked into the eye of the person who had asked the question. He whined a bit. Not sure why? He was funny and thoughtful in the last few minutes, but I wonder how many viewers stuck around.

- Both guys picked at each other too much. Too much granularity. Not enough vision. I think that hurt both. But it hurt Bush more because he is the President.

- Kerry started out well and took my advice from last week. He explained the tactics that Bush is employing. That was good. He said: “Cheryl, the president didn’t find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so he’s really turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception. And the result is that you’ve been bombarded with advertisements suggesting that I’ve changed a position on this or that or the other.”

That was a good move. But Kerry didn’t back up this strategy at two key moments. First, he let Bush get away with the global test distortion. Then he let him get away with the remark about Kerry’s desire to call a summit to deal with threats. This was his chance to have the “there he goes again” moment and he missed it.

- Bush went after Clinton once or twice. It’s Friday night. We’re stuck at home and this was getting boring. We were dying for Clinton.

- “Hard work” was replaced by “Not Credible.”

- When people say the word vehicle with a hard H it scares me.

- “I’m a good steward of the land.” That must have been an almost impossible line to squeeze out. Even if true, at best it makes you qualified to be a shepherd.

- Not scared enough by terror and Saddam? “He’s gonna tax everybody here.”

- Let’s tax Charles Gibson at 100% and then the rest of us can party.

- As the night wore on, I saw Bush getting more testy and targeting Kerry more. It was forceful, but I just had a feeling it was leveling the playing field and he was giving up the Oval Office advantage.

- “Need some wood?” Proof again that Wonkette has changed politics forever. This will be interesting. If Bush does own timber, he is deep trouble. Uh oh…

- Nancy Reagan and Michael J. Fox in the same answer.

- Embryonic research destroys a life. Lie. I’m the first president ever to fund stem cell research. He was the first to have the option. This embryo destruction discussion was sophomoric and misleading and Kerry should’ve done better. It’s garbage or science for the embryos we’re talking about. Destruction either way. Kerry mentioned that but wasn’t clear enough.

- Kerry on abortion: “I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith.”

- After Kerry gave what I thought was a thoughtful and understanding response the abortion question, Bush jabbed at him. I thought in general that this tactic was overdone by Bush. Not if he had been challenger, but because he is president.

- The it’s “never quite as simple” exchange really defines this race.

Overall, this debate didn’t have the fireworks of the last one. I thought Bush was better and used humor effectively. Kerry was good, but just good. For the second time straight, he was more presidential. He could’ve used a couple of Red Bulls.

Bush was terrible on the mistakes question. But Kerry missed an opportunity by not answering that question with a list of mistakes he himself has made. That would have been a difference maker. He should have started his response by saying: “I’m not afraid to admit I’ve made mistakes and I’m going to tell you about a few of them right now.” Instead he went back to Iraq but that point was made. This was a really big moment and an opportunity that may not come again.

My gut says this debate doesn’t move the polls or change current trends much. It might stop some of the bleeding from Camp Bush. W improved his performance but not enough to overcome the facts that face him both on the economy and in Iraq. The post-debate chatter will matter less than in the other debates because it’s Friday and we’re sick of this right now.

Full Transcript Here…

Concentration is important!