Amazing. I’d have to say the latter half of the debate was a draw. But in the first half, which is probably all most voters will watch at 9:00 on a Friday night, Kerry simply cleaned Bush’s clock.
The president came right out with what was, frankly, a rather shocking strategy of combative bluster. He shuffled around like a cowboy, head bobbing, smirking and winking offstage while Kerry spoke, and making with volume arguments that he couldn’t make with facts.
Bush’s statements on Iraq went against the grain of the news of the past week, and it showed. Bush talked at the audience and, in denying reality, he looked exasperated and sounded shrill. In the last debate, Bush gradually lost his poise and composure. In this one he never had any, at one point outright ignoring the rules and seeming just plain unhinged.
Kerry was punchy at times but dignified, such as when he derided Bush’s “compassionate conservative” slogan in response to the “most liberal senator” label. Bush, however, exuded an attitude that he was fed up. Fed up with the process, fed up with John Kerry, fed up with being questioned. The American people, I suspect, are just now realizing who they elected four years ago.
But if the debate was a decisive win for Kerry, the post-debate period may prove more mixed. Favoring Kerry in addition to his performance is the fact that, for “undecided voters,” that audience sure sounded dissatisfied with the status quo.
On the other hand, from here on out, you can expect the Republicans to behave like the Democratic candidates did in December of 2003 toward Howard Dean. There will be unprecedented shrillness. They will be ferocious, tearing into Kerry left and right. The president’s behavior tonight was the beginning of that.
I’ve the feeling that, even though Kerry outmaneuvered Bush on almost every question, Bush’ statements may play better on the news because, unfortunately, strong and wrong works in the media highlight reel. It’s a shame.