Thursday, October 14, 2004

Last Debate Offers a Crucial Test but Not the Final Word

Last Debate Offers a Crucial Test but Not the Final Word

From the candidates' first meeting in Coral Gables, Fla., to their finale in Tempe, Ariz., last night, the debates have been the public's clearest window into just what different people Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry are - and just what different presidents they would be. The tightly structured format minimized Mr. Kerry's penchant for prolixity and magnified Mr. Bush's instinctual impatience. Mr. Bush's certainties clashed with Mr. Kerry's subtleties, and the president's optimism was challenged by Mr. Kerry's skepticism.

As a rule, Mr. Bush summoned sweeping, time-tested labels, as he did last night, to paint Mr. Kerry as sitting "on the far left bank" of the American mainstream in an effort to appeal to core Republican supporters, while Mr. Kerry invoked the language that Bill Clinton used so successfully with swing voters, pledging to support "people working hard, playing by the rules, trying to take care of their kids."

But if both men often played to type, there were times when they played against their common caricatures last night. Mr. Kerry will never be warm and fuzzy, but television is a medium that loves a cool persona and he spoke calmly while Mr. Bush occasionally seemed agitated, as he has, to one degree or another in each debate.

Mr. Kerry has a confessed fondness for nuance, but he gave clear and direct answers last night on topics that Mr. Bush dodged, declaring his belief that people are born gay and that he would not appoint judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade. On the question of homosexuality, Mr. Bush told the moderator, "You know, Bob, I don't know," and on abortion, he twice avoided a direct answer, saying only that he would not have a "litmus test" for judges.

At one point, Mr. Bush, who prides himself on his plain-spokenness, lapsed into Washingtonese, citing the "Lewin Report," a private consultant's analysis of Mr. Kerry's health care proposal, a reference that surely mystified most viewers.

In many ways, last night's encounter was the most subdued of the three, and it will almost surely be the least watched, competing as it did against not one but two baseball playoff games.

Neither candidate made anything that would count as a major gaffe, and neither seemed to score a knockout punch. But Mr. Kerry repeatedly chastised Mr. Bush for lost jobs, the growing gulf between rich and poor, inequitable pay for women and lack of health insurance. Mr. Bush ignored the specifics of many of Mr. Kerry's complaints, instead frequently citing his efforts to improve American educational standards.

"This is one of those classic years where the debates actually did change the direction of the race," said Alan Schroeder, an associate professor at Northeastern University and author of "Presidential Debates: 40 Years of High-Risk TV." "It doesn't always happen that way. It doesn't even often happen that way. But clearly something in that first debate caused voters to take a second look at John Kerry, and take another look at George Bush."

He added, "The question is, are the debates conclusive, or are they just one more chapter in an ongoing saga that has another plot twist or two yet to come."

Bush has a lot to worry about.
When a group that has more republicans than democrats(ABC's flash poll), after your best performance, thinks that Kerry won the debate, his strategy of caricature and misdirection has failed. Oops, he never admits failure does he? A lot of people just noticed that the emperor has no clothes.
con·cept: Last Debate Offers a Crucial Test but Not the Final Word