Adam Rice

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Debate reaction

I wasn’t thrilled with Kerry’s performance, but he did a better job than Bush. Bush was frequently agitated and occasionally at a loss for words. Kerry, who is usually at a loss for brevity, was cool and reasonably concise. Since the value of these debates is as much in the visceral reactions that people have as in the policy points scored, Bush lost ground.

In terms of policy points, commands of facts, etc, one’s analysis almost gets reduced to a question of “who do you want to believe?”. This is, of course, ridiculous–as if there is no objective reality–but partisans will believe who they want to believe, and undecideds will make up their mind based on gut reactions. Both sides exaggerated or mis-stated numbers. The post-mortems have not taken the president to task for the bigger problems in his points–his continued insistence on the Iraq/Al Quaeda links, though Kerry did. Kerry missed an obvious scoring opportunity when discussing the run-up to war: Bush repeatedly insisted we needed to go into Iraq to remove the WMDs. Kerry never asked “what WMDs?? (in The Daily Show’s wrapup, Jon Stewart did ask). Bush has to run on his record–talking about what he will do invites the question “why aren’t you doing it now?”. Kerry has the luxury of talking about what he will do without really being held to account. The tack that he took, of engaging more closely with allies, doesn’t seem likely to gain traction with most people.

The post-debate wrapup (we watched the debate on NBC) struck me as absurd: the network invited each side to give its own spin. This is not acting as a news organization: this is acting as a clearinghouse for press releases.


  1. I thought Kerry was masterful, for the most part, despite a few slipups. Obviously he is now paying a price for his “global test” remark. But overall he was superb. Whereas Bush looked like a gargoyle and sounded like a flustered parrot.

    To the extent that our best intel at the time was that OBL was at Tora Bora, Kerry did not misspeak when he said that “we had him surrounded”.

    OTOH Kerry couldn’t go after the WMD issue because he himself is on record as stating that Saddam had them, and he sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. If he had tried to split hairs, he would have come off as flip-flopping again. He was wise to avoid the issue.

    It is true that Bush has to run on his record and Kerry mostly doesn’t; but then every election in which an incumbent runs is, more or less, a referendum on the record of the incumbent, so long as the challenger comes off as plausible. Tonite, Kerry proved himself to be more than plausible. And Bush’s record is, for the most part, indefensible.

    Agree about the post-debate wrapups. But then talking heads have to eat too, I guess.

  2. Actually, I think Kerry could have gone after Bush on the WMD issue. I thought Saddam had WMDs, too. But I was not in a position to declare war on him (technically, neither was Bush, but Congress shirked their responsibility on that). If the president is going to commit troops, he needs a higher standard of proof than “we just assume he has them.” At any rate, Bush clung to the absurd position that he had to disarm Saddam when their were no arms.

    Kerry could have also brought up Sy Hersh’s Stovepipe article, ie, Bush (and the rest of us) were getting exactly the intelligence he wanted.

  3. Have you heard the conspiracy theory that Bush wore an earpiece through the debate, presumably with Karl Rove at the other end telling him what to say, and that that accounts for some of his poor delivery?

    It’s probably nonsense, but it’s entertaining nonsense. The theory is older than the debate but here’s one Bush-earpiece story which purports to identify I place where he got confused and spoke to Karl directly.

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