My Two Cents on Last Night’s Debate: Dazed and Confused

I’m really trying hard to understand this presidential election campaign, but it seems like a losing battle. I know that I’m definitely not part of the target audience of voters for this election, but, gee whiz, most of what I heard last night made no sense. Unfortunately, the post-game “analysis” only made things worse. I thought it might be therapeutic to get this stuff out of my head, so I can free up some space for other things.
So, here are my notes on last night’s debate.
Biggest Revelation
Realizing that John Kerry can best be understood as an example of the “trial lawyer” category rather than the “professional politician” category, as I had initially thought. He reminds me of the lawyers who oppose every single point, large or small, regardless of whether it is in the interest of his or her client to do so.
Strongest Accomplishment
Bush – Hammering the inherent difficulty of convincing other countries to participate in the “wrong war, wrong place, wrong time” and “colossal error of judgment.”
Kerry – Successfully making Bush irritated and angry and taking him off his game,
Second Strongest Accomplishment
Bush – Wrapping himself in the presidency, especially by stressing personal relationships with (in addition to knowing the names of) world leaders.
Kerry – “He speaks so well” – as strong and polished a performance as I’ve seen him do. The contrast between speaking styles of the two is especially striking in the audio excerpts. Bonus points: successfully getting Bush to say “nucular” on multiple occasions.
Biggest Negative
Bush – Leaving me with the nagging feeling that he is preparing to fight the prior war.
Kerry – Leaving me with the feeling that he is willing to say anything to become president.
Second Biggest Negative
Bush – Making me wonder whether he can listen to or take into account any opinion that doesn’t agree with his own.
Kerry – Is there anything he isn’t critical of? When you criticize everything, it’s unclear which points are really important.
Strongest Moments
Bush – 1. The complimentary comments about Kerry, especially about being a good father. 2. Struggling not to say “That’s crazy” after Kerry insisted on immediately opening bilateral negotiations with Kim Jong Il of North Korea.
Kerry – 1. Turning the “body armor” issue on which commercials have been hammering him into a strong criticism of Bush. 2. Finally getting the sense for good ways to use his military background to give credibility to his criticisms.
Weakest Moments
Bush – Not understanding that, even if the rules prevented reactions shots, the reaction shots would still be used.
Kerry – I initially thought Kerry had simply misspoken on his North Korea comments, but he then insisted on taking a position that undercuts the fundamental logic of his criticisms of Bush on Iraq.
Help Me Understand this Stuff
1. Which is it – global summit or unilateral approaches?
Kerry argues that his first move on Iraq would be to call a “global summit” and bring the leaders of the world together. His criticism of Bush’s failure to build a large enough coalition is one of his strongest points. Why in the world would he then undercut the whole argument by advocating bilateral negotiations with North Korea, especially when China, South Korea and others are already involved??? What matters in a president is “judgment”?
2. Pluck?
Did Kerry actually use the word “pluck” in his opening? I’d burst out laughing if anyone I knew used “pluck” to describe someone. It’s so . . . quaint.
3. “We’ve got weapons of mass destruction crossing the border every day, and they’re blowing people up.”
I wrote down this John Kerry quote because I had no idea what he meant. Still don’t.
4. “I’ve worked with those leaders the president talks about, I’ve worked with them for 20 years, for longer than this president”.
I thought Bush was especially effective at one point in detailing his personal conversations with world leaders. Kerry said that he had been working with the same leaders for 20 years. Yeah, right. It’s a debating technique, but why bring your own credibility into question when your goal is to question your opponent’s credibility?
5. Get Out of the 1960s!
Maybe I’m too devoted a reader of John Robb’s Global Guerillas blog, but I don’t get the exclusive priority on nuclear proliferation. I’d like to hear something about the priority of defending against “cascading” infrastructure attacks, multiplying small soft target attacks, “swarming,” bioterror and the like. The focus on Vietnam is numbing to me – are we gearing up to fight the war that was two or three wars ago?
6.” Global Test.”
Don’t they have focus groups to help them avoid the use of terms like “global test”?
What’s My Take-away?
1. Two very flawed candidates.
2. Can either of these guys admit to making a mistake (other than a mistake in word choice)?
3. How do the “spinners” for each candidate sleep at night? Did they get a high enough price when they sold their souls?
My Advice for Debate 2
Bush
- Lose the suit, especially if the next debate involves audience participation. The whole campaign has been done in shirt sleeves and Bush looks uncomfortable in a suit.
- Ask where Kerry’s legislation implementing his plan is? I would have expected that, as a matter of strategy, Kerry would have spent the last few years proposing legislation that he could criticize Bush for not signing.
- Invoke Reagan and the Reagan legacy. The Giuliani convention speech is a good model to study.
Kerry
- Make the “presumptive close.” Begin to talk in terms of what you will be doing when you take office.
- Be positive about something. All I’m hearing is constant negativity and criticism of everything. The relentlessly negative attacks should come from the lieutenants, not Kerry. Again, the Giuliani convention speech is a good one to study. Look out the window – not everything in this country is terrible.
- The winning approach is to acknowledge the common goals, but to suggest better ways to get there. E.g., the common goal is justice, but there is a better way to get there than through John Ashcroft.
How to Tell If the Tide Has Really Turned for Kerry
Watch for the debut of Republican commercials using the video of Bush throwing the first pitch in the World Series and including the amazing video of Kerry bouncing the first pitch of a game from a month or so ago.
How to Help Me Out
Would someone focus on being a uniter and not a divider?