Showdown at the UM Corral

Well, it’s almost 9, and time for Bush and Kerry to square off. The expectations game has been played pretty thoroughly; both campaigns have been running down the expectations for their own guy, while praising their opponents. It’s actually a refreshing change of pace from them beating up each other.

I think I’m gonna watch it on C-SPAN. I gave them my attention during the RNC, and they did a pretty good job then. Ah, the joys of cable… so many choices.

(Updated as the spirit moves me)


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9:00: OK, just about to start. Popcorn’s almost ready and Elmo, my cat, is standing by to assist as needed. I had to repeatedly promise him there would be no dancing Republicans, unlike at the Republican National Convention. I just hope he can withstand Orange Crush…

9:08: Opening: Kerry dawdles to come onstage, then leans in to loom over the shorter Bush. Cheap theatrics, but sometimes works.

Opening question: Kerry wastes a bit of time sucking up to the audience and Lehrer. Bush on the split screen looks a cross between bored and mildly miffed. Jotting notes. And here come the lights… ending on the red light. Perfectly timed.

Bush also does the token sucking up, but much more concisely.

Ick, Kerry sticks out his tongue when he drinks. Yuck… Elmo looks up to say “even I drink more gracefully than that, and I lack opposablt thumbs.” His skin tone’s considerably more natural. Ironically, Bush looks redder.

Bush is outlining just what he did, and how. Good summation, no response to Kerry.

9:14: Bush is focusing relentlessly on the war on terror. He’s tying together 9/11, Iraq, Beslan… it’s all part of one big thing. No, Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. But 9/11 didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Kerry’s reactions are also appropriate. Thoughtful, attentive, taking notes. But Bush’s timing is better. Kerry ended on the red light; Bush on the blinking.

“Bush outsourced the hunt for Bin Laden.” Not a bad effort, but no barn-burner.

I’m not expecting any major bombshells in this. I can think of only a few instances of major upsets in big debates: Ford declaring there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe; Reagan’s “there you go again;” Dukakis fumbling the capital punishment question; “You’re no Jack Kennedy” devastating Dan Quayle. And in the fourth case, Quayle’s ticket still won.

Bush is using Kerry’s own words on him. He had those quotes memorized, and a bunch more, too, I bet.

Bush kicking the useless UN… now maybe he’ll kick France and Russia for being bought off.

“Pre-September 10th mentality.” That’s a phrase that I think came from the blogosphere… I think it’s become a big thing. I like it.

9:19: Bush keeps repeating his one main theme: terrorists are bad. He’s said it over and over, and he will repeat it again and again. It’s his mantra, his panacea. And it works because it’s true.

More great timing on the lights from Bush.

Kerry: Bush shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. Shoulda stayed in Afghanistan. Iraq wasn’t “the center” of terrorism — perhaps not operationally, but certainly geographically — Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, all surround Iraq.

Kerry just said “weapons of mass destruction are crossing the borders every day.” HUH? I mean, HUH?

9:22: Kerry on homeland security: Bush is doing badly. Funny, I thought the question was what YOU’D do, Senator…

Yes, we know it’s not so great. But what the hell will YOU do, specifically? Christ, this guy’s SUCH an asshat…

Bush just oughta give Kerry his 90 seconds to actually ANSWER THE FRIGGING QUESTION, instead of just kicking Bush.

No, he’s instead pointing out that “the best defense is a good offense.” Don’t just plan for being attacked; plan for hitting THEM BEFORE they hit us. Kerry just can’t seem to grasp that…

9:27: Kerry is making the same mistake a LOT of his supporters are making. They’re so busy giving us reasons to vote AGAINST Bush, and not bothering to give us reasons to vote FOR Kerry. There is a certain element that that reasoning (to use the term loosely) appeals to, but they’re already in Kerry’s pocket — Kerry needs to get people who are leaning towards Bush, but not committed. The most that tactic will achieve will be to drive down the Bush support — not build his own.

9:31: Kerry is using Bush’s father to attack Bush; Bush is using Kerry himself to attack Kerry. I think Bush has the better weapon…

Bush is keeping up on the followups. I think he wants to keep Kerry off balance. Dunno if it’s working, but it’s a good effort. And the “voted for it before I voted against it.” Kerry’s trying to nullify it, but it’s a killer sound bite.

Kerry managed to make it to 9:29 before mentioning Vietnam, and now Lehrer’s asking about Kerry’s anti-Vietnam stance. I’m impressed he lasted this long… guess those advisors telling him to leave it be finally stuck.

9:37: Kerry apparently thinks Chirac and Annan are more valuable than England, Australia, Poland, and all the rest of our coalition. Great move, Kerry. And Bush has the names and places to put the lie to Kerry’s loads of crap.

Both candidates are speaking more about the past than the future. But one major difference: Bush is spelling out just what he did and why, while Kerry focuses on what he thinks Bush did wrong without offering tangible alternatives. This, in a nutshell, is why Kerry is losing. He’s promising to not be Bush. All we can tell about Kerry is that it will be “different” and “better” without saying how or why. I’m not willing to take that chance, and neither will a lot of other people.

Kerry is full of platitudes, notably lacking in particulars. He doesn’t seem to have any.

9:42: Lehrer just gave Kerry a softball, and Kerry missed it. He basically invited Kerry to attack Bush, and Kerry is going for it. He shoulda taken the high road and laid out some of the things he would do, and not just pile on more BS platitudes.

The saddest part is this palooka has been a Senator for 20 years, while I’m a nobody in East Bumf*ck, Cow Hampshire. I can see this, and he can’t.

Bush is again using Kerry’s own words to bolster his own positions. That’s devastating, and Kerry doesn’t even know just how badly he’s being chopped up.

9:44: Here’s another nutshell difference: Kerry defends himself by getting forceful and attacking Bush. Bush defends by citing Kerry’s own words and his own achievements. More points for Bush.

9:48: Bush just got all glurgy by quoting a widow of the fighting in Afghanistan. Now let’s see how Kerry comes back…

Another swing and a miss. Another Vietnam reference, nothing specific. And “separating the war from the warriors?” Is this the same John Kerry who called himself and his fellow veterans “war criminals?”

His first response to fixing the problem: a summit? More talk? Sheesh… and a plug for his web site.

Sheesh, what time Kerry doesn’t spend attacking Bush is spent with vague platitudes and promises. He doesn’t seem to have a single concrete proposal.

And Elmo thinks that Bush looks more orange than Kerry tonight. He’s grossed out, but not as badly as he was by the dancing Republicans. I think I’m safe from having to clean up cat puke.

Now Bush is reminding people that Kerry called Allawi a “puppet.” Way to win friends and influence people on the international stage…

Kerry seems to think it’s a bad thing that terrorists are pouring into Iraq. I disagree — let’s get them all together in one place, far from the US, and then kill ’em all. And if they’re stupid enough to do it, great.

9:58: Commenter Joey says he’s counted 6 Vietnam references by Kerry, and predicts it’ll hit 15. I think that’s a bit high — 8 at the most.

Now Bush is reminding us that Libya had their “come to Jesus” moment on terrorism and WMDs and gave it up, after about 30 years. That’s a hell of a thing…

And Kerry is harping again on the “outsourcing the hunt for Bin Laden.” Hello, Senator, it’s called “the war on Terror,” not “the war on Bin Laden” or “the war on Al Qaeda.”

Bush seems to be getting a mite testy. I think Kerry’s getting to him a little, but Bush does OK under pressure. “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Kerry, you probably shouldn’t keep mentioning North Korea. Your buddy Bill Clinton gave them the opportunity to do so…

10:00: Kerry says it’s solely Bush’s fault that presidential credibility around the world, especially with France? I guess Johnson, Nixon, and Clinton really didn’t have much to do with that…

10:04: Bush on North Korea: In favor of negotiations and sanctions with North Korea, but kicking them for not keeping their agreements. There’s progress there, but it’s tough going. And he’s still saying “nuculer.” Sigh…

God, I hope Kerry doesn’t follow up on the “nuculer.” That would be so juvenile…

10:06: Hello, Senator Kerry. Give nuclear fuel to Iraq, and see what they do with them? Just how stoned are you?

OK, let’s see… Bush the unilateralist is fighting to have more nations involved in the talks with North Korea; Kerry the internationalist wants to start up one-on-one talks. Lehrer was right to pick up on this; it sneaked past me.

10:08: Darfur. I’ve written about this before; it’s ugly, but there’s not a hell of a lot we can do. Let’s see what these two say…

Kerry is mentioning a couple of the main arguments I used, but is citing them as “challenges” he would overcome. And here’s a mention of the draft… wow, he held that one in for over an hour.

Geez, these guys can’t let Iran go, even to talk about Darfur. But they’re right, in a sense — Iran is, globally speaking, a much more important element than Darfur. It’s an ugly truth, but indisputable.

10:13: Bush spots the loaded question on Kerry’s fitness, and starts off praising Kerry. Man has class. “If you’re going to kill a man, it costs you nothing to be polite.” I’m betting Kerry won’t show the same level of class. He’ll say one or two kind things, but they’ll be minor. And maybe he’ll make a hair joke.

10:15: Yeah, I was right. Kind words about his wife and daughters, passing, recognition of Bush’s service, then it’s right into the attacks — carefully prepared ones, too. Most people don’t construct such carefully-crafted attacks on the fly — parallel construction, alliteration, other rhetorical devices.

And now Kerry is on the defensive again. Bush is scoring point after point, and Kerry doesn’t even see it.

10:19: Bush keeps coming up with solid refutations and citations. Kerry stays largely to the abstract. That’s not the way to win, Senator…

I’m glad they both agree that proliferation of WMDs is the greatest threat. No argument there…

10:22: Bush sees a weakness in Kerry, and keeps hammering on it. Kerry keeps saying we need to work with other nations in coalitions, but wants to go along with North Korea’s demands and exclude other nations from talks. Bush keeps bringing up the other nations’ support.

10:24: Kerry just lost points with me for mentioning New Hampshire’s former Republican senator, Bob Smith. Buffalo Bob was one of the biggest embarassments for me, personally…

10:26: Closing statements. More platitudes from Kerry, more generalities, and one final Vietnam allusion. Bush again cites his record and promises to expand on them. The choice is clear, to me: What Bush has done vs. Kerry’s vague promises. Why can’t Kerry run on his achievements? Oh, yeah, over the last 30-odd years, he HASN’T HAD HARDLY ANY WORTH MENTIONING.

10:35: OK, that’s over. I’m gonna dump all the updates to the extended edition and call it a night. But did anyone else that Laura Bush and Theresa Heinz Kerry wore such similar outfits? Wonder if there was any unpleasantness about that…

Good night, people, and thanks for reading along. Extra thanks for those who commented. That’s a big reason I enjoy doing this, and I truly appreciate them.


Deep Thoughts On The Debate Format
John Kerry's Secret


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