Friday, October 01, 2004



No, that's not my nickname for what happens when you try to pleasure yourself to naked pictures of Whoopi Goldberg.

That's my opinion of tonight's debate.

Before I pick a "winner," let me just clear the air. We have been offered a stark choice:

One man spoke gibberish, but has a clear stance.

The other man spoke clearly, but his stance is gibberish.

Sheesh, this sure is a great choice, huh?

Now, the debates are irrelevant to my choice in November. I've already done all the research and analysis I need to do. I know where both candidates stand (or don't stand), and I believe I have a fair approximation of where either candidate would take us over the next four years. More importantly, I know where *I* stand. So, basically, I watch the debates for the political theater. Sure, I'm still cheering for "my" guy, but for the most part I watch the debates pretty impartially, almost like a technical exercise.

Given that, the definition of "winning" is nebulous. I feel that the only way for a candidate to win such a structured debate is to achieve their own personal objectives-- shore up a weak area, charm the audience, sound competent, come off warm & friendly, etcetera. Using these criteria, it's possible for both candidates to "win," just as it's possible for both to "lose."

Tonight, I think John Kerry won the debate, and George Bush achieved a very marginal draw.

As this was the "national security" debate, Senator Kerry had to sound clear, focused, and hawkish. I think he came off strong in the "clear and focused" department. He spoke surprisingly well, much better than his meandering stump speeches or his dreadful DNC speech.

The hawkish part is more difficult for me to judge, as I can not judge his statements in a vacuum. I've already listened to John Kerry speak for months. I'm unable to be convinced that he's a "new man" because of one-- or even three-- debates. However, if I were new to this race and paying attention for the very first time, I would likely find Kerry's confident performance appealing.

In the end, I think Senator Kerry achieved what he came to do: appear focused, deliberate, and most important of all consistent, or at least consistent within a 90-minute presentation.

As for President Bush. . .

I'm used to him being an awful speaker. He does well-- sometimes really well-- in prepared speeches. Put him in a situation like this, and he slumps, smirks, and grabs for words. So, that aspect of Bush's performance was no surprise to me, and I doubt it was to anyone else. It's simply who he is, and you either hate it, or tolerate it.

That said, I was frustrated by the President's lack of focus in getting his message out tonight. A lot of repetition of weak rhetorical points ("Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time"-- we got it, George). An inability to condense thoughts in the time allotted. And lots of painfully obvious pauses as he tried to figure out what to say.

C'mon, you know the issues ahead of time. You build a block of data to use when and where you need it, and plug-and-play to the appropriate question. Kerry managed to do that all night long; Bush did not.

The only reason I give Bush's performance a draw, and not a loss, is that, again, he's a known quantity, and he's ahead in the polls. He only had to do no harm. His performance didn't help, but I'd be surprised if it had much a negative impact.

In the end, we still do have a stark choice, albeit a choice that was imperfectly clarified this evening.

President Bush wants to win the War on Terror.

Senator Kerry wants to avoid losing the War on Terror.

Nuanced? Yeah, sure. But after months of watching these guys, that's the only logical conclusion I can reach.

The problem with winning, of course, is the definition of victory, and whether fighting to win makes us any safer in the long run. Avoiding defeat is a valid strategy as well, but it may carry its own costs. The dilemma for the voters is understanding what each approach entails. Tonight's debate was of little help in resolving that dilemma.

This posting was made on my personal computer.

Bush wants to win the war on terror.
Kerry WANTS to win the war on terror.
EVERYBODY wants to win the war on terror (except the terrorists themselves)

There are many distinctions between Bush and Kerry. Don't invent one by saying Bush wants to win and Kerry wants to just avoid losing. What the heck does that mean anyway? What happens when you avoid a loss? You win right? Or can you "marginally" draw a war like a candidate can a debate?
Dear Anonymous--

There is a difference.

Bush has defined the war in a way that a "win" represents not only a temporary cessation of attacks against the United States, but a permanent change in the Middle East that creates a permanent cessation of attacks against the United States. That strategy involves spreading liberty to the Arab nations, whether their regimes like it or not. The strategy requires that we "win" the war in Iraq.

Kerry has defined the war in a way where avoiding losing is more important than the Bush definition of winning. Hence, his focus tonight on Osama Bin Laden, and Iraq as a diversion from that focus. Kerry argues that fighting in Iraq makes us less safe, which ergo means he wants to find a way to stop fighting in Iraq. This doesn't necessarily mean we have to "win"-- status quo of violence is acceptable, as long as it's the UN's problem and not America's.

"Winning" the war on terror means the end of radical Islamic militancy. Period. It does not mean capturing Osama Bin Laden, it does not mean elections in Afghanistan, it does not mean a stable and free Iraq. John Kerry would be satisfied with those achievements and call it a day. George Bush believes those achievements are necessary conditions for the larger strategy of dragging the Middle East into the 21st century.

The question is whether "winning" makes us safer in the long run, or "not losing" makes us safer. That's the choice we're being offered.

Thanks for writing in.
I was astonished by how similar last night's debate was to the 2000 debates. Kerry/Gore, so polished and forceful. Bush, so fumbling but sincere.

What is the obvious implication?
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