I think I’m required, by statute, to comment upon the seminal political event of our times: the most cordial debate in Florida last night. And what a debate! It was filled with bon mots, with snappy comebacks, with deft verbal takedowns. Oh wait, it wasn’t. No “Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”:http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/analysis/back.time/9610/09/index.shtml No “Who am I? What am I doing here?”:http://www.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/conventions/long.beach/perot/political.fray.shtml. No, these were the boring debates. Bush stuck to his script, mostly, and Kerry stuck to his. It was like paralell speeches; in four years, I suggest the candidates debate at remote locations, by telephone, without hearing each others’ positions at all. In fact, all of the responses could be pre-recorded, except that would remove all of the fun of hearing Bush go “um, uh…” and, most classically, “… … … …”
Now, I may have a different view of what went on, becuase I listened to the debate on that great innovation of the early 20th century, the radio. History fans out there may remember that, in the 1960 debate, people who listened on the radio thought Nixon kicked Kennedy’s butt while those who watched the debates on TV felt that Nixon was a sweaty, bearded monkey, and too stinky to vote for.
What I heard on the radio was a lot of dead air, all of it coming from the President. He’s always been good at being brief and to-the-point when speaking about complicated issues (yes, they do teach you that in b-school), but he took briefness to new levels; I can’t remember hearing any other debate in which the participants didn’t need every single second they had to expound on their various points and messages. Now, Bush’s responses weren’t all bad, and they were always on-message, but the silence did not help him look smart and prepared.
When the President was not being quiet, he was being stubborn. He continued to not take responsibility for, or even acknowledge, that he might have made any errors at any time. I’ve always been surprised that he’s taken that approach, because Republicans have been all about personal responsibilty in the last two decades and, frankly, I believe that the Commander in Chief has the leeway to say “I made the best decision I could at the time for the safety of the American people and, while later events have shown us that we might have taken a different approach, I certainly don’t regret having prioritized this country’s security and moved quickly and decisively to confront a threat.” But Bush doesn’t, which I don’t think helps him appeal to swing voters. Bush was certainly most fixed in his dismissal of negotiations with North Korea, an issue on which I believe Sen. Kerry is entirely correct.
So I was pretty shocked when the NPR analysts started telling me that George won. I was prepared to believe it was a tie, but, from my perspective, Kerry came off brief, cogent, smart, and consistent. It wasn’t until I saw the Daily Show later that night and watched Rudy Giuliani talk about how Bush had kicked Kerry’s butt that I realized the GOP was in full-on spin mode. The President lost! The question: will Kerry’s bump in the polls survive? Or is the Republican spin machine too pervasive and skilled to let the dialog slip away from Bush’s hands?.
The President should be concerned. With a future debate set for domestic and economic issues, and another designed with a Town Hall format, Bush has missed his chance to win where he was favored. Can he survive the debates? Maybe not. Will he get elected anyway? Jeb Bush and the folks at Diebold will sure do everything they can to see that he does!