Saturday, October 09, 2004

Debate Impressions

I saw the debate, but just got home and missed all of the post-debate coverage and analysis. My impression is that Kerry cleaned Bush's clock. In some superficial ways, Bush was better than in the last debate, but overall he came across as nervous, hesitant, uncertain, testy, out of touch, and ill-formed. On the other hand, Kerry was stylistically as good or better than the last debate, appearing both confident and informed. Substantively, he was much better than the last debate, with no "global test" gaffes, and some great lines, especially about how if Missouri were a country, they'd be the 4th largest country in the Iraq coalition. Bush's response of mentioning Blair, Berlosconi, and Kwasniewski seemed feeble in comparison.

As a result, Bush was on the defensive through the whole debate and with the exception of the abortion question, never got the better of Kerry. To a great extent this was because the questions were stacked against him--for example, the last question asking him to name three mistakes wasn't all that fair since it didn't require Kerry to do the same. I'm sure conservatives are damning Charlie Gibson for his choice of questions. On the other hand, one of the big issues when an incumbent runs for reelection is their performance in office, and it should have been no surprise that voters would ask lots of questions of Bush's record. Furthermore, even if the questions were bad, good teams win despite bad ref calls, and Bush didn't cut it.

Plus, Bush made a number of stupid mistakes. "Internets" was one. And, given what happened in 2000, Bush should not be joking about Supreme Court justices voting for him. Then there was the weird response to Kerry's accusation that he owned a timber company. Rather than knocking it down (if it is, in fact, false), Bush came across sounding like he really didn't know if he owned a timber company. Finally, there was the facial expression of the man who asked Bush to explain his environmental record. As Bush floundered, the man's expression was saying, "What the Hell are you talking about?"

Again, I haven't seen the post-debate analysis by the media, but if they call this is anything less than a clear victory for Kerry, it will only be because they are bending over backwards to appear impartial since they called the first debate for Kerry.

One other point. Bush's discussion of the Dredd Scott case was truly bizarre. First, only about 0.1% of the population knows what this case was about, so it was lost on just about everyone. Bush might as have well made reference to some other obscure 19th Century Supreme Court decisions, perhaps telling us where he stands on Cooley v. Board of Wardens. Also, the Dredd Scott case is a mightly low standard for selecting Supreme Court justices. He's basically telling us that he won't appoint a pro-slavery justice to the Court. Well, that's a relief.


Thomas said...

My thought is that Bush did very well, and Kerry did some serious damage to his campaign tonight.

Kerry's condescending response to the two pro-life questioners wasn't good for him, and his bewildering answer on government funding for abortion likely cost him any chance of carrying MO and WI and hurt his chances significantly in WI.

And his quip that Saddam would "not necessarily be in power" certainly doesn't make him sound like a decisive leader in challenging times.

Regarding Dred Scott: Justice Scalia likes to claim that Dred Scott was the first case of judicial activism--of the supreme court seeking to resolve a contentious social issue by mis-using the constitution. See Scalia's dissent in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Bush's reference was quite clear, to those of us who were listening.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Bush clearly helped himself with that all-important swing demographic--Scalia-loving legal scholars. Given that they were on the fence before, that should move the polls.

Brian J. McGuirk said...

"Kerry's condescending response to the two pro-life questioners wasn't good for him, and his bewildering answer on government funding for abortion likely cost him any chance of carrying MO and WI and hurt his chances significantly in WI."

Condescending? I truly disagree. I love Kerry, but I was waiting for him to fumble that response. I think he responded well, actually, balancing spirituality and the law, as a President should do. I'll give you a little leeway for forgetting that, as we have had 4 years of a President that thinks seperation of church and state was some kind of "liberal activism."

"And his quip that Saddam would "not necessarily be in power" certainly doesn't make him sound like a decisive leader in challenging times."

Why not? Kerry is merely admitting that he can't exactly predict the nature of events, had they played out while he was President. Do we really want a President that will always go to war, not knowing the situation, not being persuaded by facts and reliable intelligence. You should praise him for not being some blind hippie anti-war candidate. I want a leader who is decisive when presented with information, not decisive in wanting blind revenge on someone unconnected with people who, lest you forget, actually attacked us.

Thomas said...

What do I get for watching the debate on tape delay after spending the evening drinking, and then posting comments in the middle of the night?


Second reference to WI should have been to MN.

I certainly didn't mean to suggest that Scalia-loving legal scholars are a swing bloc. Only to say that the reference wasn't bizarre, and some of us knew exactly what he was referring to.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note regarding whether Bush owns a timber company. came through on this, and according to his 2003 financial disclosure form, he owns a part interest in one.

Palooka said...


Bush DOES NOT OWN A TIMBER COMPANY. just got their facts checked. They were wrong.

Bush kicked his ass.

Bush's answer on the environmental question was superb, just because the Dem plant looked unconvinced doesn't negate that.

Dred Scott is not a bad thing to discuss in a question about judges. It is the first substantive due process case. So, it just goes to point out that the "living, breathing" document which today protects sodomy and abortion may tomorrow do something quite different. But he did flounder a bit on explaining it, and I think most were left wondering why he brought it up.

Dorian Warren said...

Phil and all,
Regarding the Dred Scott case, I wonder if Bush's strategy was to "signal" to white moderates and black and latino voters that he is 1) against slavery (LOL), and 2) therefore, he is "sensitive" and tolerant when it comes to race issues. While maybe odd to us (I was certainly confused and surprised), it could have been a very conscious political strategy. I can imagine it was on his "talking points on race issues" sheet.

Palooka said...


Granted that not many (including many of the Polysigh contributors) realize the importance of the Dred Scott case for judicial activism (that is is the landmark case which started it all), but more informed voters knew exactly what he was talking about.

After Dred Scott, there was, of course, economic due process (the Lochner Era decisions). Both the Lochner Era and Dred Scott share the common thread of substantive due process. They are different manifestations of the same flawed and dangerous judicial philosophy. Today the current rage is radical individual autonomy and "privacy" rights, which are the most prominent examples of the descendants of Scott v. Sanford and Lochner v. New York.

Sorry if that point was lost on the Polysigh contributors.

QPRHigh said...

I spent the debate wondering why the principled leader who led us through the dark days after 9/11 and brought the hope of freedom to 50 million people isn't better spoken than the guy who has made no imprint in 20 years in the Senate and who would deny the security of his country and the freedom of millions in the Middle East for lack of a "global test". And let's stipulate something - the use of the phrase "global test" in the first debate wasn't some error of phrasing - it's part of what Kerry's bought into, heart and soul, his entire career.