Last night, Senator Kerry stomped all over the hapless Boy-King. In at least one way, the debate was a paradigm for the campaign as a whole. Senator Kerry started off wobbly, meandering from minor point to minor point. The President? Looking strong, sounding strong,, in command. But then…
Senator Kerry started to settle down a bit, and before long (say, after the first 10-15 minutes), found his prosecutorial voice. The President, on the other hand, soon was revealed to have memorized only about 5 minutes of material, so that he quickly seemed oddly repetitive. Soon, Bush fell back to his dis-engaged mode, where he had a hard time following the conversation, and seemed to forget at times even where he was on his own script. Long, awkward pauses. Trying to remember where he was going and coming up with something that didn’t really fit.
By the last 30 minutes, Kerry was rolling, landing solid punch after solid punch. Bush, reeling, out of material, utterly unable to respond coherently.
OK, on to the insta-nalysis.
Bush seemed to be running for President of Springfield High Student Council. He was repeating his straw man arguments as though he were accusing his opponent of being in favor of more homework, while his own view was that homework was bad. Very bad. (“I know how these people think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently.” “I know Bin Laden attacked us. I know that.” “Whew. That's a loaded question.” “And by the way, the breach on the agreement was not through plutonium. The breach on the agreement is highly enriched uranium.” “So I went to the United Nations. I didn't need anybody to tell me to go to the United Nations. I decided to go there myself.” “Actually, you forgot Poland.”
Bush’s logic was the perfect expression of a fascist authoritarian regime. Once the President decides to send the troops into battle, there is no choice but to leave them there, presumably forever if the mission isn’t accomplished. The last time we heard this was from the people that brought us the Viet Nam war, when those who believed that the war was a good idea accused those who disagreed of undermining the troop’s morale. The truth is, those with their hands on the levers of government only gave up in Viet Nam when the troops joined the populace in rejecting the validity of the mission, whether because they disagreed with the mission (creating a free and democratic South Viet Nam) or simply thought it was an un-accomplishable mission (pushing string). The same thing is going on now: Iraq was a foolish engagement, our mission there is misguided, and we will not succeed in creating a free and democratic Iraq by going it alone.
Kerry was terribly presidential. Bush, not so much. Senator Kerry was in command, and showed his raw power and strength. When accused, for like the 49th time, of being weak, inconsistent, inconstant, waffling, irresolute, a wilter, even, Kerry brushed off this nonsense easily. “I have no intention of wilting. I've never wilted in my life. And I've never wavered in my life.” Flip-flopper no more.
The terrible burden of doubt flew from the shoulders of Kerry’s supporters to those of Bush’s in a mere 90 minutes. Coming in, Dems worried that if they didn’t get a big win, they’d be in trouble. Repubs worried that Bush could flub it, but if he just stayed on script they’d all be enjoying some fine Randy Travis tunes in D.C. come January 20. By the time the thing was done, the Kerry camp was beginning to think they might be able to get Bruce for the Inauguration. The Bush camp was clearly troubled by their guy’s miserable performance, and by Kerry’s unwillingness to accept the labels Bush tried to tag on him (flip-flopper, weak). Kerry’s guys were psyched that their guy got the job done, “big time,” and that the President seemed so un-Presidential. Kerry’s camp comes out thinking they’ve got a chance to win, Bush’s camp comes out worried they’ve got a chance to lose.
Cripes but Bush came off like an idiot. He seemed to have no ability to discuss the issues in any way other than to speak off the script. “What you like a cookie, Mr. President.” “Jim, the trouble with my opponent is that he thinks we can send mixed messages, and I know you can’t.” “But what about the cookie, Mr. President?” “It’s just not what a commander in chief does, Jim.”
All in all, I’m feeling heartened that my counter-attach theory (below) is panning out. If this was a sporting contest, like say football or baseball, I’m liking the chances of the team trailing slightly and with a lot to prove against a complacent, smug and under-talented bunch of thugs.