Saturday, October 02, 2004

Kerry and Bush debates

OK, a friend of mine has asked why I've not posted comments on the Kerry-Bush debate. It is the biggest story going on these days and there are plenty of squawking heads discussing it everywhere. When that happens, I need time to gather my thoughts, turn off the news and breathe for a moment. Michael Bérubé posted on this topic and I share most of his sentiments.

To this, I add a note of caution to fellow Kerry supporters: this is one minor win. Oh to be sure, you have reason to be joyous. After listening to the dour and boring eulogist of a candidate for the last couple of months, he actually came out showing signs of life and vigor. There might actually be a race! Break out the bourbon and champagne, toss beads from balconies, dance on tables, and set off fireworks. But as the morning light greets you, wash off the hangover and realize the horrible, ugly truth is that the long march is ahead of you.

See, it was easy to convince loyalists that Kerry had won the debate. All he had to do was show a pulse and keep it short. He did that and more. His answers were succinct (in part because, given the format rules, they had to be short) and to the point. He took some smart jabs at Bush, who seemed to whither at times. He was prepared and confident and he didn't appear too negative. He was respectful to his opponent, but did not waver.

Bush, on the other paw, looked petulant and tired. Clearly, he had a long day and was up past his beddie bye time. Katherine Harris reportedly told an MSNBC reporter that the president was in bed within an hour after the debate. He stuck to his talking points, but as is often the case, he was not able to extemporize well. Still, his supporters, while ackowledging certain problems, think their guy did very well during the debate. They think that they are right in this discussion and, like their leader who won't acknowledge failure in any matter, they think they will win the end game. In fact, Bush supporters think he won the debate.

You know what? Supporters of Bush may be half right. For the question is, did Kerry's performance win over any of the so-called swing voters? If he did, did he win over enough to seal the deal? My guess is that the answer to the first question is "very few" and the answer to the second question is a resounding "no". What Kerry did was show that he had the potential to win. He woke up the swing voter and gave them an opportunity to wash the slime that is Bush off of their bodies and to take a dip into the cleaner waters of the Kerry-Edwards political pool. He also set Edwards up, talking about guarding the oil ministry in Baghdad and bringing up Halliburton, for the vice presidential debate on Tuesday. Still, it wasn't enough to win and Kerry will have to be flawless in the next month and he'll have to survive the slime tossed at him by Karl Rove.

My friends need to keep in mind a couple of things. First of all, most Americans do not pay close attention to politics. To be sure it is discussed more often than it ever has been, to my memory at least, amongst colleagues and friends. But for the average American, rushing from the office to take the kids to soccor, trying to make ends meet with 2 jobs, etc., politics is something you might pay attention to in October and November, then trust your elected officials to do the job right and take that burden off of your shoulders. Swing voters feel a sense of something amiss in Bush country because they hear the loud complaints coming from people who dislike the man and they know the body count is rising in Iraq. However, they also hear loud cries of support for the man and they know that they like him and trust him - especially after the 9-11 adulation from both parties.

Secondly, in order to win these voters, Kerry has got to keep up the pressure and stay on message. Contrary to popular belief, I think the 2 minute format in the last debate hurt Kerry almost as much as it helped him. While it kept him brief, a problem Kerry has when speaking, it also meant that he couldn't hash out his ideas very well. He did mention his website for further insights, but one person commented in the Seattle Times that this felt a bit like an infomercial. As noted, many of the swing voters are not into politics. The discussions on Thursday night probably were lost upon them at times. They will not seek out information, but rather want it fed to them in spoonfuls. Kerry has a long road to travel in trying to get these people to sense a real problem with re-electing Bush as well as trying to get these voters to like John Kerry.

For full disclosure, I do keep up on politics. I'm supporting Kerry, but I don't like him. His views are more in line with mine than Bush's, who I think is very bad for the country. Still, I don't care for the politics of either party, nor do I care for either candidate. As Shawn has heard me say many times, both parties are not arguing differences in foreign policies (the area over which the president has the greatest influence), but rather the execution of that foreign policy. When it comes to domestic policies, both parties are petty and more interested in maintaining power than ideologies, Neither party wants to compromise for fear that it will show weakness at the base and cut into their power (contrary to Republcan opinion, both parties feel terrible beholden to special interests).

So, feel sorry for Shawn no matter who is elected for she's going to have to listen to me occassionally burst into fits of anger at either person. Just support John Kerry and she'll hear slightly fewer bursts. And, if you want to make certain that happens, then demand that the candidate get better at expressing his message and keep focusing on the target no matter what Rove does.

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