Well, the Pilsner Urquell is chilled, the pizza is hot, and I’m ready to liveblog the Presidential debates in Miami, Florida. While President Bush was greeting and talking with victims of the recent hurricanes, John Kerry was getting a manicure. So, in the pre-debate analysis, Bush just showed who he is, and Kerry showed who he is. We’ll see if that’s a trend that will carry through in this debate.
The quick pre-debate analysis: this will be the toughest debate of George W. Bush’s life. Kerry has the most riding on this debate, but Kerry is also the better debater by a wide margin – at least technically. Kerry wiped the floor with William Weld in their debates in Massachusetts with some impressive rhetorical jujitsu. On the other hand, Bush has the common touch that Kerry severely lacks. This could be one hell of a debate, despite the sterilized format. As much as I’d like a Lincoln-Douglas style confrontation, that’s just too risky for both parties in this hypersensitive age.
My guess is that Kerry will go on the offensive, and Bush will try to remain as placid as he can without seeming condescending. It’s a risky strategy for both sides, and I’m not sure I can make a prediction about how this will go without seeing how these two interact with each other at least once.
8:00PM: Jim Lehrer is at the moderator’s desk, and the debate is beginning. We’ll see how Kerry’s manicure turned out…
I actually like the system of lights for time management. It will keep the bloviating to
an absolute minimum, which is good.
8:03PM: Here they are. Kerry’s skin looks normal. Kerry gets the first question – would he be better at preventing another 9/11. Kerry starts with the thank yous before the substance and a shout out to Florida.
Kerry starts out about “alliances.” Bush has a natural point of attack on this with Kerry’s snub of Allawi… does he have the balls to go for it?
Bush rebuts: he’s pausing and looking indecisive. Not an auspicious start. His energy level seems very low. He’s not a very good orator, and it’s showing.
8:07PM: Lehrer asks a very pointed question about Sen. Kerry’s possible victory increasing terrorism. Bush’s answer is interesting here. He’s trying to play up his strengths and show that he has the resolve in this contest. He’s not a natural orator, but I think his short declarative sentences help his case. He’s getting better now, a bit more fluid.
“Vociferously”. Someone’s been giving him elocution lessons.
Kerry rebuts: the typical “Iraq was a distraction” remark. I’m not sure how well this argument will play, but it’s not surprising that Kerry has made it. He’s also playing up his military connections.
Osama bin Laden just got mentioned. Bush is going to have to STRONGLY rebut this argument, as it’s a powerful line of attack.
Kerry is clearly a much better orator. I hate his arguments, but he’s currently wiping the floor with Bush on this issue. Bush has a tough job ahead of him.
Bush nails Kerry on his previous statements on Saddam Hussein. Nice comeback for Bush. Kerry’s reaction looked arrogant – no wonder they didn’t want reaction shots. Bravo to FoxNews for showing it (they’re running the camera pools for this debate). Bush was forceful on this issue, and I think it helped him.
Lehrer presses him for more. Bush’s answer is hesitant. He seems a bit defensive. I agree with his positions, but he’s just not a good speaker. Confusing Hussein and bin Laden was not a good verbal flub – the lefties are going to eat that one up.
8:16PM: Bush finally brings up Allawi. I would have done this earlier as a pointed attack. Bush needs a few seconds to get wound up, and when he does he gets better and more fluid with his speech.
Kerry rebuts again. He uses the lie about diversion of forces from Afghanistan to Iraq. The problem being that Tommy Franks has said otherwise.
Kerry talks about body armor – except he voted against the money to give it to our troops. Bush had damn well better push him on this issue.
Did Kerry just say there were WMDs crossing the border? Not a good flub. Bush responds with the flip-flop argument. I think Bush’s counterargument is a very good counterargument. Kerry’s rebutal seems weak.
8:20PM: New question for Kerry on homeland security. What would Kerry do differently on homeland security?
Kerry is arguing that the Bush Administration hasn’t spent “one nickle” to defend bridges and subways. Pure bullshit.
Bush responds. He starts with taxes. Not a good response. Bush says he’s tripled spending and created the Homeland Security Department. $3.1 billion for fire and police. He then launches into the importance of staying on the offense. I think that’s the winning argument here, but he launches into another subject before he has a chance to elucidate more on the subject. I would have hit on that harder without the digression.
Kerry’s response is pointed and sharp. Bush’s response is inadaquate.
8:24PM: Lehrer asks when we can bring the troops home. A good question. Bush needs to show how he has a plan here. The word we’re looking here is “victory.” Bush doesn’t say it. We stay until Iraq can defend itself according to Bush. That’s an OK answer, but I’d like to see a bit more of the Churchillian oratory here. He gets better just as time ends.
Kerry rebuts – again Kerry talks about how “help is on the way” for the troops. Bush *has* to nail him on the fact that Kerry didn’t follow through on that in voting against the $87B for our troops. Again, Kerry’s responses are very pointed and Kerry’s oratory is not inspiring, but still solid in the way that Bush’s oratory is not.
Bush gets a 30 second rebuttal. I like his argument – and now he nails Kerry on funding the troops. Good.
Kerry responds – invading Iraq was a mistake. Kerry has embraced the anti-war position. I’m not sure this helps him.
8:30PM: Lehrer nails Kerry with a pointed question related to his 1971 testimony. Kerry wants to argue that the war was a mistake, but our troops aren’t dying for a mistake. That’s incoherent, but I don’t think that Bush will call him out on this.
Kerry repeats the myth that Shinseki was fired for calling for hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq. This will be a talking point later.
Excuse me, Senator but the Arab world would *love* a civil war in Iraq. That’s why they’re trying to create one. That statement was hopelessly naive – will Bush nail him on it?
Bush rebuts: Bush has finally hit on the issue of Kerry’s denigrating our allies. A good point, but I’d really like to see Bush hit this much, much harder. Bush is actually getting some good points in logically even if his oratory stinks. Bush seems a bit too defensive still.
Kerry argues only three countries helped out in Iraq. A blatant obvious and odious lie. Bush calls him on it. Good for him. That’s the line of attack he should have made.
8:34PM: Lehrer asks Bush about the “miscalculation” about post-war Iraq. Bush’s verbal stumbles didn’t help him. Bush answer is factually correct, but his delivery of it leaves much to be desired. Again, at the end he finds his voice, but has to cut it short.
Kerry’s rebuttal opens himself up for attack. He’s said the exact same thing that even knowing what we know now he would have voted for the war. He said it in early August. This could come back to haunt him later.
8:38PM: Lehrer gets to the point: when has Bush “misled” on Iraq. Kerry goes through the usual litany that we’ve heard before in this debate. Remember that Kerry made the same arguments. I think that the “flip-flop” argument is Bush’s best counterargument to Kerry at this point.
Bush’s rebuttal is interesting, but I’m not sure it’s an effective counterargument. He does go into what Kerry said earlier. The fact that he gives dates is helpful. It shows that he’s been well coached on Kerry’s record. Will the argument fly? I think it could.
Kerry has “one position.” Yeah, right. Bush does nail him on it. I think the flip-flopper argument is one of Bush’s most potent arguments because the case is so obvious. I actually think Kerry walked into a bit of a trap.
8:43PM: Lehrer asks if the casualties have made Iraq worth while. Bush’s reaction is sincere, and shows the burdens of command. This is Bush’s moment right here. That was real emotion we saw at that moment, and that is what resonates with voters. A very good response.
Even Kerry seems a bit floored now. When Kerry gets off track, he instinctively goes back to Vietnam. It’s his safety net. But can one truly separate the war from the warriors. Our soldiers die for the cause they fought for. Kerry’s answer seems wonkish by comparison. Bush didn’t attack Kerry at that moment, and Kerry did. I think that comparison works for President Bush.
Bush’s response is good, and I think that argument has legs.
Apparently Kerry doesn’t shop at Pottery Barn…
8:48PM: Lehrer asks Kerry about his exit plan. Kerry’s response is more of what we’ve heard from him. Kerry does hit Bush on Fallujah, which is a very solid argument for Kerry. Even I think our blinking on Fallujah was a mistake – but then Kerry abandons it. Substantively, there’s no real difference between Bush and Kerry, and Kerry’s own language is a mirror of Bush’s.
Bush just nailed Kerry on Allawi. About bloody time. This is the argument that nails Kerry, and Bush just eviscerated Kerry’s idiotic statements on Allawi. He lost focus towards the end.
Kerry’s rebuttal is a dodge. Kerry keeps saying “I can do better” without offering any real plan of substance. Again, how will he get the perfidious French from stalling on Iraq. Bush should nail him on it.
8:53PM: Lehrer asks about Bush’s doctrine of pre-emption post Iraq. Bush’s verbal stumbles don’t inspire much confidence. He’s a better off-the-cuff speaker than he was, and he hasn’t made any more major mistakes than Kerry has. Bush should have used this opportunity to mention Libya’s disarmament here which would have butressed his point.
Kerry’s point about bin Laden is one of the standard liberal talking points. Bush needs to hit Kerry on his lie about Afghan warlords in bin Laden and tie Iraq into the larger war on terrorism. Kerry is doing a rather good job at ripping into Bush here, except for the last moments.
Bush’s rebuttal *needed* to tie Iraq into the larger war. He flubbed that.
Kerry’s rebuttal is pretty damn effective. Bush *must* point to how Iraq has made us safer in a later point.
8:58PM: Lehrer asks about the doctrine of preemptive war. Kerry endorses the doctrine of preemptive war here. I would have preferred to have this question be a hypothetical to focus the discussion. Again, Kerry’s better verbal skills makes his argument more pointed. His remark about DeGaulle is rather effective. Again, Bush needs to clearly and succinctly tie Iraq to the larger war. Kerry’s elucidating the internationalist position again, bringing in Kyoto.
Bush’s response is also pointed. He hits on the issue of Kyoto and also on the ICC. An interesting comparison. Remember that the American people have a *very* low opinion of the UN, and I think Kerry’s internationalist leanings don’t help him. Again, Bush still needs to explain why Iraq is a part of the larger war. Right now this discussion is somewhat of a tangent to the major issue.
9:02PM: Lehrer asks about North Korea and Iran. The Bush Administration has done more on North Korea than he gets credit for, with much shuttle diplomacy with China. Bush does mention this, which I think helps him. It undercuts Kerry argument. His sudden pause was a distraction however. As was his misprounciation of “mullah”. It’s not “moolah”. This response wasn’t very strong.
Kerry’s reponse on Iran is idiotic – no way should the United States ever offer Iran nuclear fuel. This was a mistake for Kerry. His attack on North Korea needs to be rebutted. The inspection regime never worked and Kerry’s argument that North Korea just suddenly started when Bush was elected is also asinine.
Bush’s response is not bad. I think this issue will end up being a wash. People aren’t overtly worried about North Korea. Bush would have been smart to mention missile defense here, but he missed that opportunity.
9:07PM: Lehrer gets a pointed question on Darfur to Kerry. Kerry dodges it for the first part. It’s good that Kerry calls it a genocide. However, Bush can undercut him by showing how feckless and impotent the UN has been in preventing the genocide there. Kerry’s plan about two new Army divisions might be good. His argument about doubling Spec Ops forces is idiotic – the reason they’re the best in the world is because we fail so many soldiers in training.
Bush goes back to Iran as well. The best line of attack is to show how our “allies” have been helping arm the janjaweed. Again, this is a point where there isn’t really much debate between the candidate – and I don’t think it’s a big issue except for policy wonks to begin with.
9:11PM: Lehrer asks about character issues. That is a loaded question, as Bush remarks. Bush goes into what he admires about Kerry. This was a big fat juicy piece of red meat thrown to Bush and Bush starts by complimenting the butcher. It’s an interesting strategy to employ before Bush returns to his major theme about Kerry’s mixed messages on Iraq. I think this argument resonates with people.
Kerry eats up some of his own time on the personal comments as well. It helps both of them in a way, a few exchanges of pleasantries before Kerry gets to the red meat. Kerry’s counterargument is rather effective. It all depends on if people believe in who is the stronger leader in the end.
Bush responds by talking about values. Again, this has resonance. Kerry’s response is probably the clearest position we’ve seen him take so far. It almost makes sense.
9:16PM: John Kerry says his priority is nuclear proliferation. Interesting, but I think this response may not have the same impact as it would have before 9/11. Al-Qaeda doesn’t need nuclear weapons to kill thousands. 19 men with box cutters did the job for far less money. Kerry also goes back onto the old nuclear freeze argument – that argument should be left back in the 1980s. Bush has an opportunity to nail Kerry for not talking about the terrrorism issue. I think Kerry went off on a limb.
Bush stumbled on his response. If only he were a better orator. The argument I gave above would be a better counter – but Bush doesn’t hit on it. The bust of the AQ Khan network is a plus for Bush, as is Libya. Now Bush mentions missile defense. Again, Kerry made a very good attack, and while Bush isn’t nearly as fluid, I think his response wasn’t all that bad.
Lehrer asks for clarification. They both agree on the issue that proliferation is the key issue here. If I were Bush I’d give the argument I gave above – but that’s me. Bush is also right on the issue of bilateral talks with North Korea. It is a bad move, and Kerry’s position on it is the DPRK’s position. Not a good place to be.
9:21PM: Lehrer asks a tough question about Putin. Bush and Putin have been close, but Putin has embraced a form of antidemocratic autocracy. Bush bringing up Beslan is a smart move which illustrates just what the enemy was face is like – something that plays well with security moms. Bush rambled a bit here. Again, this is a wonk issue, and I think a lot of viewers probably have tuned out by now. We care about terrorism, not Vladimir Putin.
Again, Kerry’s right about Putin, and what he has been doing is extremely worrying. It’s interesting that Kerry ties the issue to the issue of spreading democracy.
Kerry’s position on North Korea undercuts his own argument about multilateralism, and it’s not a position that really helps him that much.
Kerry just admitted Iraq was a threat. So Kerry wants to argue that if we see a threat, we can only go to war if we do it with the help of France and Germany. Those words will come back to haunt him.
9:26PM: Kerry’s closing statement. Of course Kerry has to bring in Vietnam. Kerry is going the internationalist route and allies. I don’t think that’s a winning argument for him. The American people don’t like the United Nations. We don’t like France. It’s what we do, not who we do it with.
9:28PM: Bush’s closing response. His blinking is distracting. Yet his words do have some resonance with voters. His themes have been coherent and clear. What we’re seeing here is classic Bush. Very steadfast and very clear. Not much oratio but a certain sense of ratio.
My final thoughts in just a moment…