Review: Bush-Kerry I

October 5, 2004

Hey, look at that: I'm getting my review of the first presidential debate up just in time for the veep debate. That's still technically on time, right?

Short version: Kerry still looks like Herman Munster, but had his shit more or less together. Bush still looks like a chimp, but stopped just short of flinging poop at Kerry. I would've paid to see that.

Long version: Bush came on pretty strong rhetoric-wise, but I think he was a little nervous. Some people think that his walking over to Kerry's side to shake hands at the beginning was a way of asserting dominance; I just thought he looked like he wanted to get it over with and get behind his lectern. Kerry seemed a little unsure at the start, but found his rythym pretty quickly.

It was obvious Kerry'd been practicing what he wanted to say -- on the first several questions he finished up right before he got the red light or a couple seconds after. For someone who tends toward long-windedness that probably required quite a lot of practice to get it right.

Bush seemed to be going for a shoot-from-the-hip style, and that is what suits him best. He didn't seem like he was able to remember what he was supposed to be talking about after the first half-hour or so. It was actually kinda frustrating to watch; the Leader of the Free World falling back on the old axiom of "this job is hard" isn't something I really wanted to see.

As far as the actual content goes, I think both candidates spent too much time smacking each other's arguments around. Bush, especially, harped on "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" every chance he got, and Kerry pulled out Bush's mistakes more than a couple times each. For such a limiting format -- two minutes to open, 90 seconds to rebut -- I think both candidates' time would have been better-spent focusing on what they were going to do, not playing the did-too-did-not game.

On the whole I'd say Kerry came off as having been better prepared for and more serious about the debate. Bush, apparently, went fishing the day before instead of preparing. I know he tends to take vacations and time off at inopportune times, but you'd think somebody in his campaign would have pointed out the importance of not getting blindsided here. Kerry also avoided making the mistakes that Gore and G.H.W. Bush did -- where Gore looked downright smug and Bush I looked bored Kerry was attentive and taking notes. Bush (II), on the other hand, almost looked like he was pouting. I know not everybody is going to be able to keep a poker face when the opponent zings you, but something tells me that instead of giving Bush the stink-eye, Kerry was looking down at his notes long enough to write "DIEDIEDIE" a few times instead.

Kerry's "global test" was more of a verbal miscue than anything; in a foreign-policy debate "global" is going to mean "worldwide" rather than "all of us Americans", which is what the comment means in context. It's Kerry's only real verbal gaffe that I can recall four days after the fact, and Bush's team is trying to hammer it for all they're worth. I'm not so sure about Kerry's omission of Poland from the list of allies; it's been public knowledge for a while now that Poland's unhappy with the deal, and it now looks like they'll pull their troops from Iraq after the January elections. Makes the guy look a little precient now.

In the last few days, Kerry's received a bounce from the debate -- one of the most widely-watched, if not the most -- and is once again running in a tie with Bush. I think the momentum here is Kerry's to lose; if he maintains his mannerisms in the upcoming town-hall debate he may be able to take Bush down another couple pegs. Bush, on the other hand, needs to shine in the seconds debate, both in rhetoric and appearance. He needs to pull off a coup in addition to needing Kerry to misstep.

Tonight's vice-presidential debate should also be interesting; we have Evil Incarnate in the form of Dick Cheney (I swear this guy could sound evil saying "good morning") vs. Our Favorite Ambulance Chaser, John Edwards (the guy who talks to dead people has no "s" in his name). Edwards is the one with the fewest ties to Big Money, and he's the only one acting the populist in any convincing way. This one ought to be good; Cheney's definitely the more articulate member of the Republican ticket and Edwards has plenty of practice of winning people over from his days as a trial lawyer.

It's about damn time politics got interesting.

October 4, 2004October 7, 2004