Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Kerry 3 Bush 0

It is hard to say this any differently than I put it the first two times: objectively speaking, Kerry won. He had better answers that stayed truer to the questions, provided more details, displayed greater integrity, and perhaps most importantly, looked more presidential.

Both camps will walk away from tonight's events claiming victory, I assume, but to the independent eye, Kerry was more appealing. His strongest points came on the domestic front, evoking a steady diet of Clintonian economics and a progressive social agenda, a one-two combination that carried Clinton to two victories at the polls during the 1990s. He combined the tenets of fiscal discipline, with the priorities of middle class empowerment and relief. He picked up on the Edwards two America's theme by presenting Bush's tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans as a choice between needed social programs and a bigger tax return for the people that need it the least. To the millions of middle class Americans feeling the pinch of higher taxes from states and municipalities, combined with increased costs of goods, health care, tuition, etc., these messages will resonate.

Bush, on the other hand, largely dodged every major economic question, opting to change the subject to a vague rant on the values of education. When talking to the worker whose job was just outsourced, as one question beckoned, discussing the value of education is not going to win many votes. These people need to hear about minimum wage, level playing fields, corporate incentives for domestic production, middle class tax breaks that don't forestall the federal government from contributing to sate coffers to ease the local tax burdens, extension of unemployment benefits, etc. When health care came up, Bush again derided a system by which the government contributes to the efforts of private citizens. For the millions of Americans struggling to pay for health insurance, or doing without it, Kerry's plan had massive appeal.

George W. Bush looked even more out of touch with the middle class than his father did, and that perception spelled defeat for the elder.

It was discouraging to see just how closely Bush adhered to the Cheney doctrine. Both sides had minor discrepancies of facts, but Bush's lies were major distortions that far outpaced Kerry's deceptions in both size and scope. Bush's lies were bold and daring. Not only did he lie in a grandiose fashion, but when he was called on it, he just repeated the fabrications with a sense of righteous indignation.

There was the moment after Bush erroneously claimed, once again, that Kerry had voted to raise taxes 98 times. When Kerry correctly noted that the Bush campaign's tally of his votes was a misleading manipulation and massive distortion (the actual number of votes was about one fifth that according to Dick Cheney's favorite watchdogs, Bush just flat out lied to the American people. He said that there was no playing around with the numbers, Kerry just voted 98 times against tax cuts. It was a shameful display.

Bush also deliberately misled the American public about Kerry's "global plan." In a repetition of the gotcha campaigning tactic that seizes upon one word to build a mountain of prevarications, Bush told the crowd point blank that Kerry would ask the permission of the world before taking military action. Kerry repeated what he has said all along, that he would never wait for the world's approval or give the international community veto power over our national security. Bush was banking on the power of lies over truth. He repeated his claim in the face of Kerry's proclamation. It was a shameful display. The examples abound, and I expect will be busy into the late hours chasing down the many Bush deceptions.

I actually have confidence that the American people will see through the thin performance of Bush in these three debates, to come to the realization that the man in office is out of touch with everyday Americans. That he is the champion of interests that run counter to theirs, and above all, is simply not competent to hold the nation's highest office. Bush is relying on the rhetoric of fear and the ability of lies, repeated often enough and with a sufficient number of bangs to the podium, to sway public opinion. This election, the American people are paying attention like never before. Bush can run, but he can't hide.

[Update: It would only be proper if I once again took stock of the post-debate reaction from Rupert Murdoch's New York Post. The headline for the lead article stuck with the boxing theme (two prior headlines were "Kerry Comes Out Swinging," and "Cheney Comes Out Swinging") and read "Left Jabs And Right Hooks." Although the headline implies that Bush's punches were more potent, the four person panel of undecided voters scored the night a draw, two giving it to Kerry, two to Bush. This is significant because of the various panels of experts and undecided voters that Murdoch's Post assembled, not one majority broke for the Republican contestant. Two times Kerry was given the night, Edwards/Cheney was scored a draw, and the final debate between Bush and Kerry was scored a draw. That means that Murdoch's people couldn't see fit to call any night a Bush victory. That is a testament to the fact that Kerry's (and Edwards') margin of victory in each contest was substantial.

In addition, the accompanying article was a story about Republican pollster Frank Luntz's focus group of undecided voters. Out of the 23 members, 13 scored it a Kerry victory, 10 scored it a draw, and 0, that's right, 0, scored it a Bush victory. In terms of the election, four declared they were going to vote for Kerry, two for Bush, and the rest remained non-committal. And that's from a Republican pollster.

Update II: The "Grand Gaffe" from last night was obviously Bush's sarcastic retort to Kerry's statement that Bush had previously declared his lack of interest in Bin Laden. As I have said before, the big lies that should get the attention often go unreported by the media. Instead, the easy to explain, simple ones get all the focus. And of course, pictures help. This explains the ubiquitous coverage of Cheney's lie about never meeting Senator Edwards prior to the debate. Much to Cheney's chagrin, photographs of the pair together on numerous occasions began circulating around the blogosphere almost instantly, and these were quickly picked up by the mainstream folks. The second Bush/Kerry debate had the timber company flap. Though there weren't any pictures of Bush in a flannel shirt with a chainsaw, his sarcastic response about "wanting wood" and his incredulous admission that it was "news" to him, only made the fact that Kerry was right and Bush was wrong that much worse. Publius at Legal Fiction captures last night's Grand Gaffe better than I:

Bush and Kerry both said a couple of things that weren't true - Bush on the statement about Osama bin Laden, and Kerry on the Congressional Black Caucus. Now, I personally don't consider these falsehoods to be in the same ballpark as the one listed above. But still, the bin Laden line will hurt Bush more than the Black Caucus line will hurt Kerry. That's because Bush was a smartass about it:
BUSH: Gosh, I just don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. It's kind of one of those exaggerations.
Here is what Bush actually said in a press conference when asked a question concerning the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden:

I don’t know where he is. Nor — you know, I just don’t spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I....I truly am not that concerned about him.
Now back to publius with some words of advice worth heeding:

The first commandment of presidential debates is: "Thou shall not say something goofy that can be played over and over again by the media and make you look silly." By being a smartass, the subsequent clip (which CNN played immediately) is even more damning. Yes, Kerry's line was equally wrong. But the video of Bush's earlier statement, coupled with the smartass-ness from the debate, will hurt Bush. In fact, that alone will make it difficult for Bush to claim outright victory. The same thing happened to Cheney. He chose to make the point about Edwards's Senate attendance in the most smartass of ways, and the subsequent picture became many times more damning because of it.
True indeed]

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