Friday, October 01, 2004

Debate # 1...

(Note: this commentary also appears on the website)

I watched what passed for a debate this evening between John F. Kerry and George W. Bush. I was seriously disappointed.For the benefit of GW, I have a piece of advice: wake the hell up! You gave the man a small window of opportunity to sneak back up on you, and that wasn't good. As for what went right, the repeated attempts (mostly successful!) of making Kerry dine on his own elocutions worked, until it began to sound repetitious. What I would have asked you to do better was to hammer home a very simple point -- ask for specifics.

On several occasions, Jim Lehrer asked Kerry to explain, specifically, just what his super-secret plans were in all areas of foreign endeavor. What we got were generalities, a few remarks about international treaties, lip service to the U.N. and some gobbledegook about North Korea, that was technically excellent, grade-A, political horse dung, but not one single, solitary iota of utterance that could reasonably pass for explanation. Next week, when kerry is asked for specifics, do NOT let him dance. A simple "Senator, I did not hear you answer the question", should suffice.

As for Kerry, one can easily see why he's sliding in the polls. What we got was another fine exhibition of soft shoe, stuffed to the rafters with lots of technical mumbo-jumbo and short of actual ideas and plans. I will say he looked much more lively than he's ever looked before, even with the fake tan removed, the phony chuckle and the manicure. He kept his Vietnam references to a minimum (referring to it three times by my count, but never by name).

Here are a few specific things I noticed during the debate that I think have some kind of meaning or are moments when Bush should have pounced on Kerry.

Specific thing #1: I noticed that Kerry is now doing the Clinton "thumb-pointing" thing, possibly a subliminal message. An attempt to remind his voters of the "good old days"?Specific thing #2: Kerry stated that he planned to add two more active duty Army divisions and double the number of special forces troops available. However, he did not state just where these soldiers were going to come from, and whether or not the military can actually train that many special forces.Specific thing#3: Kerry tied the unpopularity of the United States in some international circles to failure to adopt the Kyoto treaty and to join the International Criminal Court. Kerry called these things "Global Tests", which Bush deflected quite well (even ridiculing the phrase "Global test), but there was room to wield a sledgehammer here. Bush was correct in his statement that he would not allow Americans to be tried in international courts that were answerable to no one (the ICC), but passed up a golden opportunity on the mention of Kyoto. The Kyoto treaty was voted down in the United States Senate by a vote of 95-0. Bush should have asked Kerry what his vote was on this. Either Kerry voted against it or abstained from voting. Either way, Bush could have made hay by asking Kerry a direct question on where he stood on something that he claims is vital to gathering friends and influencing allies.

All-in-all, a bad night (but not fatal) for the President. He missed opportunities to give his opponent the kiss of death, and his flip-flop mantra, although truthful, began to sound tired. However, Kerry did not emerge from this confrontation appearing as an elder statesman of Churchillian statue either. It's clear that he still lives in the pre-9/11 fantasy world that liberals created for themselves, a world where everything in the world would be just like a Coke commercial if maybe we just weren't sooo American. Somehow, next week, Bush must expose ths fantasy world for what it is: a fantasy. And to do that he has to put Kerry on the spot everytime he opens his mouth by challenging the Senator to list specifics.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Debates? What the heck for?
In two days George W. Bush and his hapless opponent, John (wish I was a Kennedy) Kerry will square off in the first of three (count 'em!) televised debates in Miami. The negotiations for the set up of these debates has been laughable; everything from lectern height, to the kinds of pens allowed, to the temperature in the room has been argued over to the nth degree by both campaigns and finally decided upon in the last week.

Actually, the most interesting parts of the debates, to this point, might actually have been the discussion and wrangling over the pens. Bush's camp, I assume, wanted a classic, ball point pen to convey the message of strenght and reliability, while Kerry's camp probably argued for the felt-tip kind that wouldn't be a safety hazard. Nerf candidate, nerf pen. It fits.

The format is even more intriguing: the candidates will be discussing only one issue at a time. The first debate is on foreign policy, and only foreign poicy. Why this should be is both easy to guess at and confusing. The easy part is that Kerry can probably only concentrate on one subject at a time, and needs the week inbetween debates to gauge the wind to help decide what his opinion will be when the next debate comes up (which I assume will be domestic policy). So, he doesn't want any other questions to come along and destroy his carefully crafted, fence-sitter-approved foreign policy of surrendering without actually coming out and saying so. It's confusing because we already know both candidates foreign policy, so why not discuss other things?

Bush (on foreign policy) : we have nasty people out there that want us dead. We have to go get them, and any help we get is to be appreciated and welcomed. If you're not with us, you're against us.

Kerry (on foreign policy): I served in Vietnam. We need allies, not the 29 or so countries in this "fraudulent coalition", who are allies-of-a-sort, but not the right kinds. Allies are defined as the artsy-fartsy, soft, continental Europeans (except the Poles and Italians) who no longer fight their own wars, let alone someone elses. We should surrender if the French and Germans advise us to. I served in Vietnam. I more popular amongst people who wouldn't give us the time of day overseas and who can't vote here, and because I'm popular there, I say they're right and we're wrong. After all, most Americans wouldn't know a good chenin-blanc if it was fed to them via enema. That makes us a laughing stock on the other side of the Atlantic. My wife says so. I served in Vietnam.

Neither candidate can address the other directly. That must also be a Kerry wrinkle. God forbid someone should have to rebut something during a debate! What a tragedy it would be if someone had to deviate from a script to perhaps be clever, present his opponent with a moral or logical conundrum or perhaps make points on personality. So, what we'll get is a shot of Bush giving the same stump speech he has been giving for three years and Kerry giving the same one he stumbled upon last week. No interaction. No exchange of ideas. No debate. Can't have a debate with actual debate in it, can you?

What does this tell you? It tells me that Kerry is frightened out of his wits. It tells me that Kerry cannot think on his feet. It simply screams fear and hesitation. It also tells me that Kerry is STILL formulating his opinions (or rather, his staff's opinions) at this late stage. The man has had 18 months to make his points and set his tone and all we've heard is Vietnam (both the real Vietnam war and the attempt to frame the current war as another Vietnam. Which worked well in 1991 and in Afghanistan in 2001, if I recall). Now when his back is to the wall and he has to produce, we're limited to one issue at a time.

It's also a purely defensive strategy; Bush cannot make comments about Kerry's voting record from 19 years in the Senate (only on Iraq). Bush will not be able to bring up Swift Boat ads, travel to Paris to talk to the North Vietnamese, Kerry's repeated votes to gut national defense and intelligence, the fact that Kerry can only point to three (3) pieces of legislation with his name on them. However, there is a danger: Kerry will now have to explain his foreign policy ideas. He will have to speak in concrete terms instead of vague generalities. Now all the "secret" strategies must be aired. He has no choice now.

The debate itself will be incredibly boring, if you ask me, since Kerry himself is in it, but moreso because there will be no genuine exchange of ideas. No delineation of the differences (except the scripted talking points) between both sides. Bush will show himself to be the steady, stick-to-the-plan type of guy he is, and Kerry will be attempting to lob brickbacks with no fear of reprisal. The only intersting part will be to see whether or not Kerry sweats, ala Nixon.

By the way, was it just good fortune that Bush gets to debate in Miami, in a state that has just suffered four hurricanes in six weeks, and that he arrives at the head of a vast federal relief effort, or are we going to hear democrats blaming Karl Rove for the weather too when Kerry gets his behind handed to him?