Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 13, 2004
POLITICS: The Closer Gets Rocked
Yes, even with two classic baseball games on, you knew I had to watch the last presidential debate. Now, I called the first debate a narrow Kerry victory and the second a clear but not decisive victory for Bush.
Maybe I've just let my biases cloud my judgment. But I really thought Bush cleaned Kerry's clock tonight, regularly outmaneuvering him, projecting superior charisma and humor and landing a number of body blows that Kerry really wasn't able to react to, while Kerry stepped in a bunch of holes on social policy that he really wasn't even forced into.
From the top:
Kerry always does this long throat-clearing opening that means nothing; Bush gets right to work.
Wow, Kerry's forehead is enormous.
X-raying cargo holds . . . Kerry is in reruns.
Reagan again! When will Bush smack him for embracing Reagan today after denouncing him in the 80s?
Bush is giddy when Schieffer and Kerry mention foreign policy, so he can talk about Afghanistan's elections.
Kerry voted against the Homeland Security bill? Even I didn't know that.
Kerry is becoming a big Tora Bore. Bush has obviously decided never to respond on this. But it draws the first Bush smirk of the night.
Flu season? Schieffer decides to make the night's second question about flu shots? Bush gives an answer that's good public health and bad politics . . . until he decides to blame John Edwards. Kerry sounds hoarse, decides to just blame Bush for everything. Wellness? Remember the Department of Wellness? I guess Bush won''t mention that.
Bush: A plan is not a litany of complaints. Good line.
Kerry: The Jobs Fairy is coming! Jobs for everyone!
McCain-Kerry, Kerry is slipping into Washingtonese again. Dingell-Norwood, anyone?
Bush is calling for the Fiscal Sanity Fairy. Nice try, George.
Bush again: "Here's some Trade Adjustment Assistance money" is not a winning slogan. Keep moving.
Kerry compares Bush to Tony Soprano. Classless move, doesn't accomplish anything.
Kerry says he supported a Reagan tax cut?
"Far left bank of the mainstream - makes Teddy Kennedy the conservative Senator from Massachusetts." Amazingly, Kerry essentially lets this stand with just some flapdoodle about Gramm-Rudman. It's all he's got.
My wife points out that Bush isn't always using his whole time. Yeah, but he says one thing and then stops. By the end of a Kerry answer, just try remembering what he was talking about at the beginning.
Homosexuality. Bush has an even-handed answer he obviously prepared. Slams decisions made by judges. Kerry jumps on Dick Cheney's daughter. Why that again? Kerry talks about gay people living in straight marriages. Did anyone not immediately think of Jim McGreevey? This is a train wreck for Kerry.
Rebuttals? There seem to be no rebuttals.
Abortion. Kerry says choice involves woman, doctor and God. Who's missing from this picture? "I will defend the right of Roe v Wade". Kerry should hope that polls well, because he's unambiguous on this point. Harks back to JFK - when abortion was illegal!
Kerry says 56 bills, not 5. Does that include commemoratives?
The jury will disregard Bush's potshot at the networks, when he starts to slam Kerry for relying on network reports and then drops the point. Point is made.
Rationing healthcare. Bush is doing the best he can on this. Also mentions health savings accounts. He'll lose this issue, but he's battling.
Social Security - better ground. Bush preempts the attacks by saying they said checks wouldn't come 4 years ago, and they came just the same. Problem in the trillions - status quo not an option. Bush promises to front-burner this issue - dare I hope he means it?
I missed - did Kerry say Greenspan supported the Bush tax cut? Why admit that?
Kerry may like saying "tTop experts in the country" but I doubt it warms the heart of swing voters.
[Phone rings. Miss some immigration stuff].
Kerry wants to speed up border crossings by fingerprinting everyone?
Minimum wage hike. Bush fudges rather than point out how this would harm small business.
Kerry on judges: "Yes, I'll have a litmus test."
[Phone rings again]
Bush drops the hammer on the 1991 Gulf War. Kerry fails to respond. Stop the fight!
Bush blames Tom DeLay on assault weapons ban expiring. Not a high point.
Affirmative action. Kerry goes for his base, to heck with people who don't like it. Both candidates agree to lie and pretend Bush is against quotas.
Bush says nice things about aetheists. Good answer on faith and prayer. Kerry's "faith without works" line will play well with Northeastern Catholics, not so well with Protestants.
The Daschle hug is defended! Kerry plays team!
More campaign finance reform? No!
Bush draws laugh from audience deprecating his English. Kerry says he married up, has to say it twice to get anyone but Schieffer to laugh.
Closings. No minds changed here, just closing the book.
UPDATE: Why do I think Bush won? On style, he was just more accessible, while Kerry seemed tired and hoarse. On substance, Bush wanted to define Kerry as a conventional liberal, and Kerry offered little resistance and helped Bush's case by giving a number of conventional liberal answers. Bush is much more at home with social issues, and he's less apt to fall into Beltway-speak on how programs work.
The voters, of course, will be the final judge. But Bush did about as well as I could have hoped, and in a number of cases Kerry gave worse answers than I would have expected. That's how I scored it.