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Debate impressions - Peter Hentges

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October 14th, 2004

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01:18 am - Debate impressions
This was, I think, the closest of the three debates. Both candidates did reasonably well. I think the biggest difference here was how strikingly poor the moderation was. The questions seemed to be chosen from the topic at hand (domestic policy) at random. It kept the candidates jumping from point to point without being able to build up a story. It forced them to bring up irrelevant topics because they couldn't be certain that they would get a chance later.

I think the President's biggest failure was to deflect any question about jobs with an answer about education. Yes, education is important as a part of a policy to encourage growth in the economy and to provide business with the best possible workers. No Child Left Behind, however, is not going to get unemployed Americans back to work. I was disappointed that Kerry didn't call him on this.

The Senator's biggest failure was in coming up with a clear message through the whole proceeding. We heard a couple of snappy bites, but I didn't get a "repeat this on talk radio" kind of message from the Senator. Also, his closing statement was a bit unfocused. "I ask you for your trust. I ask you for your help. I ask you to allow me the privilege of leading this great nation of ours, of helping us to be stronger here at home and to be respected again in the world, and most of all to be safer forever." vs. "I want to thank you for listening tonight. I'm asking for your vote."

Where I think the Senator did well was in addressing some of the direct questions to him. He was clear and direct in responses, more often than not staying with the topic of the question. In rebuttal, however, he seemed to lose that focus. While Bush was similarly using his rebuttal to whip out his talking points, his were phrased to seem more a response to what his opponent was saying.

On point that has struck me through the entire debate process is one of respect. While both candidates have spent a long time attacking their opponent's positions and some time attacking each other, I recall more instances where Mr. Kerry has complimented the President on one aspect or another of his service in office. The Senator said, tonight, for example, "Let me pay a compliment to the president, if I may. I think -- in those days after 9/11, I thought the president did a terrific job, and I really was moved as well as impressed by the speech that he gave to the Congress." I do not recall the President initiating saying something similar about Kerry. On the question of character, I have to give the series of debates to Kerry; he's shown a truly American view of disagreeing with your opponent but respecting him in spite of those differences.
Current Mood: impressedimpressed
Current Music: Color Me Impressed--The Lolas--Left Of The Dial - Tribute To Replacements

(10 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:October 14th, 2004 04:03 am (UTC)
I think Kerry did well, all in all, in style -- with the exception of giving Saturday Night Live another chance to play around with the mentioning of Mary Cheney. (I'm with Morton Kondracke on that one -- I think it was deliberate, and intended to use as a wedge issue that the Kerry/Edwards campaign sees with the religious right. I think it's pathetic -- and I do wish that Bush would have said something like, "Yes, Senator, as Senator Edwards kept harping on the other night, Mary Cheney is a lesbian. I'm not sure why you two keep mentioning that, and I'm also not sure that she needed for the two of you to mention that, repeatedly, on national television, but there's certainly nothing wrong with her being a lesbian, and I'm proud that she's campaigning with her dad for Dick Cheney and me.")

Kerry's in a tough spot. He clearly doesn't respect much of anything that the President has done, but showing that in a debate would seem to show disrespect for the office. So, quite reasonably, he took the opportunity, at least twice, to show respect for Laura Bush and the rest of the family, so he could get the "I'm a respectful guy" idea across.

I'm not going to hold that against him.

That said, I think it was clearly a win for the President -- and that's buttressed by Kerry supporters like Kevin Drum declaring it both boring and a tie.
[User Picture]
Date:October 14th, 2004 04:56 am (UTC)
I think Kerry's three "Mary Cheney"s cancel Bush's three "Ted Kennedy"s. I think both references are cheap and weak.

I didn't get to see the second debate, but was glad this debate was fair and even. Good for both of them.
Date:October 14th, 2004 02:44 pm (UTC)
Each to his/her own. I don't think the two things are comparable, really. I strongly disagree with Kerry's spokeswoman that Mary Cheney is "fair game." I do think that the legislative activities of a professional politician like Teddy Kennedy are fair game.

I'll settle for even, easily; I think Kerry needed to hit a very long ball to be in contention for other than a close loss, and he clearly didn't.

In Minnesota, by the way, Bush is almost certainly ahead, demonstrated by the Strib's Minnesota Poll having Kerry up only five points.
[User Picture]
Date:October 14th, 2004 02:49 pm (UTC)
I sit corrected. You're right; politicians are fair game, because they put themselves out there. Mary Cheney's only involvement is that her FATHER put HIMSELF out there, and by extension, her as well.

You're correct. References to Mary Cheney were out of line. "At any cost" is not the way I want to see any candidate run a campaign.

Jeez, I'm not usually such an asshole.
Date:October 15th, 2004 02:49 pm (UTC)
I don't think you were being an asshole; I do think that you were wrong. You seem to have been persuaded of the second -- can I talk you into agreeing with me on the first?

I think that it was a pretty crude ploy, by both Kerry and Edwards, and I think it was based on a misunderstanding of part of Bush's base. I know some very conservative folks who are, to one extent or another, homophobes -- but they love their gay friends and relatives. (By way of contrast, my father -- a classically squishy-left liberal Democrat, kicked his favorite daughter out of the family when she came out, quite privately.) The assumption, I think, was that by mentioning that the Veep has a gay daughter, it would alienate at least some of them from the Bush campaign.

I think that's going to end up being counterproductive, and the hasty backpedalling from the Kerry campaign -- and the hysterical defense of it; see http://examinedlife.typepad.com/johnbelle/2004/10/omg_notgay_have.html for a particularly good one -- show that they're getting that.

Meanwhile, for a fairly typical -- albeit well-written -- response (complete with one tone-deaf comment, that I trust you'll spot as quickly as I did) see http://powerlineblog.com/archives/008186.php.
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Date:October 14th, 2004 11:55 pm (UTC)
I generally agree with you re: Mary Cheney; it's not a place I would go if I were running. That said, if, as you say, she's campaigning for her father and the President, how is she more off-limits than any other campaign worker? If she were unrelated to the Vice President would mentions of her be pathetic?

What I find silly is that Kerry isn't doing the, "So you're a strong leader? Then why have members of your cabinet publicly said things that run contrary to your policies? If you can't keep your own administration in order, how are you supposed to lead this country?" tactic.
Date:October 15th, 2004 03:26 am (UTC)
Oh, I think Mary Cheney's political activities as the coordinator of her father's campaign are utterly legitimate to comment upon. But she's not the lesbian coordinator of the campaign; she's the coordinator.
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Date:October 15th, 2004 03:18 am (UTC)
And to jump on one of your favorite hobby horses: The assault weapons ban. Yes, it probably does little if any of what it is intended to do. The thing that struck me as odd was the President's response, "But the best way to protect our citizens from guns is to prosecute those who commit crimes with guns."

Doesn't that seem a bit like closing the barn door after the horses are out? I mean, isn't the best way to protect out citizens from gun violence to keep the guns from getting into the hands of those that commit crimes in the first place? Again, I was surprised that Kerry didn't take that tack in his rebuttal. I was also surprised that neither brought up the decrease in overall gun-related violence over the last few years (which I think you've discussed before). So, to me, it seemed that the President lost the opportunity to promote the meaninglessness of the ban and Kerry lost the opportunity to exploit the President's weak response (albiet on the back of a weak argument).
Date:October 15th, 2004 03:47 am (UTC)
Doesn't that seem a bit like closing the barn door after the horses are out?
Sure. And if we could know in advance who is going to be a criminal, we could, I suppose, lock those people up before they commit their crimes. I don't think I'd have any problems with that -- the difficulty is that we don't know in advance, of course.

I think it would be great if there was a way to keep guns out of the hands of people who will, subsequently, commit crimes with them, and if you can come up with a way of doing that that doesn't disarm law-abiding folks, I'll support it whole-heartedly.

In practice, what gun control does is to disarm the law-abiding, and not affect criminals. Look at Washington DC, where we have a complete civilian handgun ban -- and a huge number of crimes committed with guns.

As to the meaningless of the ban, I certainly agree that it was meaningless, but I doubt that that's an argument that would have much appeal to the President, given that he promised to sign it if it ever reached his desk.
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Date:October 14th, 2004 04:54 am (UTC)
I'm with Drum. Boring and a tie.

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