Friday, October 01, 2004

Winging It

At one point yesterday, LS, TP and I were walking back from getting coffee and talking about the coming debate between Kerry and El Presidente. Opinions on the possible outcome were varied but generally, LS and TP felt that Bush was going to win and win easily. When asked for my opinion, I remarked that "John Kerry's biggest ally tonight will be George W. Bush."

The morning after, I think we can see why.

Pundits, polls, and the blogosphere are more or less unanimous today: Kerry won solid debate victory, in large part due to a President who looked lost, out of place, intransigent, and out of touch with reality in Iraq and the world. As Josh Marshall put it on Talking Points:
The key point I think, the key impression, was of a president who was out of touch. Erratic. Without a plan. In a cocoon. Unwilling to admit mistakes. Unwilling to level with himself or voters about what's happening in Iraq. Lost.
El Presidente at times appeared to be "winging it" with his answers, leaving me wondering whether or not he had prepped for it and then returning to my firm belief that "this is the man as he is." I'm not certain why some are shocked - he's been unwilling to admit any mistakes or question his people throughout this whole mess. It's like he views the world with blinders on, like those horrible "President of Beers" ads. He had no response to Kerry's devestating comment about Bush's failure to use American troops to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora and even managed once to confuse Osama and Sadaam Hussein. He seemed to stutter and sigh at times.

Saletan says much the same over at Slate this morning, pointing out:
How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

That's what it all comes down to—this debate, this war, this election. For all the differences between Iraq and Vietnam, the awful question John Kerry posed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971 is the same one hanging over us now.

This time, however, Kerry isn't raising the question. His opponent, the president of the United States, is raising it. Why? Because Iraq is different from Vietnam. We were attacked on 9/11. We thought Saddam Hussein was behind it. We thought Iraq posed the next threat. We don't want to believe that we were wrong, that we've committed $200 billion and sacrificed more than 1,000 American lives in error. We can't imagine asking thousands more to die for a mistake.

Bush can't imagine it, either. So, he offers himself—and you—a way out. Ignore the bad news, he says. Ignore the evidence that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs had deteriorated. Ignore the evidence that Saddam had no operational relationship with al-Qaida. Ignore the rising casualties. Ignore the hollowness and disintegration of the American-led "coalition." If these reports are true, as Kerry suggests, then it was all a mistake. How can we ask our troops to die for a mistake? We can't. Therefore, these reports must be rejected. They must be judged not by evidence, but by their offensiveness to the assumptions we embraced when we went to war.
The President uses words like "duty" to describe why we're still there. Duty to who and what, I ask? A mistake? How many Americans have to die before he comes to this conclusion? It isn't disloyal to the troops - its honest.

Even Kaus, whom I despise, judges the debate a Kerry victory, even going so far as calling him: "shockingly succinct and sharp" and mentioning that Bush "looked like a gargoyle." Daily Kos (no surprise - its a leftie blog) judges it a victory for Kerry, but goes further and gives a rundown of the conservative blogosphere's reaction to the debate, which was almost universally of the opinion that Kerry won either closely or solidly. Also no surprise, Salon scores it a Kerry victory.

More importantly (and you can take these things for what they're worth), most of the panels on the networks and instant polls done afterwards scored clear victories for Kerry. Kerry won 43-28 percent for CBS, 45-36 percent for ABC, 53-37 for CNN/Gallup. The internals on that CNN poll are interesting and (perhaps) bode well in general for Kerry, with the increased favorability ratings for him - a key with undecideds and weak Bush supporters. Its clear this is going to be a close election - both candidates have solid cores. And...we won't see true polling results for awhile (and polls can and do lie). Moreover, there are two more debates left to go and a lot can happen between now and November 2nd. But...I think last night was a very positive result for Senator Kerry and has helped him a great deal. I would be very surprised if he didn't get a modest boost out of last night. Yes - he has his drawbacks. But he's the candidate we've got and our only choice to avoid four more years of El Presidente - God only knows how much trouble he can get us into between now and then...


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