Debate roundup

I've had this discouraging thought before, and tonight's exercises only reinforced it. Namely, that this election has to pit followers against people who consider themselves endowed with even half a brain. Not to say that only the enlightened can be liberal, but simply that if you're not voting for Bush, you have, at some point, decided not to drink the intellectual Kool-aid which is his sole selling point.

***I do think Kerry held his own, contrary to my expectations. That's mostly due to Bush though. His ability to (A) "make shit up" has dwindled it seems, in the last four years, and (B) his stump speech about liberty n' democracy n' not liking terrorism a lot doesn't fare very well when he has to deliver it piecemeal in debate format. In fact, you could watch it disintegrate in real time, as Bush got weaker and weaker as he got further away from his opening remark.

***Josh Marshall notes Bush's ability to succinctly dispatch his opponent's argument with a deft turn of phrase or simplification of argument:

Where he was strong were those few times in which he mobilized what I think is one of his true strengths: an ability to keep his ears open to turns of phrase which can be used against his opponent, ones that allow him to cast himself as a no-nonsense tough-guy and his opponent as either feckless or weak. To me, it's an ear for the cadence of a rancid populism. But that's a subjective view. The relevant point is that it is a strength.

I like to call this the "That is totally gay" rebuttal, and Bush certainly tried to use it to full effect tonight. Trouble was, not all of the time but certainly some of it, that the comeback didn't work. The complete dearth of substance in some of his responses actually resonated in contrast to Kerry's concise, significant arguments. And I think I say that as someone who has a good appreciation for when Bush is really on and really entertaining. Tonight, I found myself fairly bored and anxious during his time.

***I think/hope its fair to say the "less appealing" honor went to Bush (although this is highly contingent on the spin of the next couple days). As others have said, Kerry was able to maintain an initiative by repeatedly forcing Bush to defend his actions with regard to 1) why Iraq isn't going well, 2) how he's actually making America safer. and 3) what he's doing on other terrorism fronts, most importantly the nonproliferation issue. It's hard to gauge who won these exchanges, since Bush was impeccable about responding on message, and obviously that sells, but the important point was that Kerry maintained the upper hand. In contrast, the upper hand Bush was fighting for was Kerry's inconsistency on the war, and that's just not very interesting or engaging anymore. Could it be the Bush campaign has overplayed its most precious hand? Do they have a nefarious Plan B for October that we haven't seen yet?

That's it for now...


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