Thursday, September 30, 2004

So today I watched the Mariners play the A's. I saw Ichiro get his 256th but not his 257th. Also on the television today was a live feed of arguments from the Washington State Supreme Court, held from the "Temple of Justice" in Olympia. Do they really call it that? So one of the things that struck me while I was watching these lawyers talk was how nervous they looked. And we're talking professional speakers here, people who have chosen a career in public presentation. These people were fidgeting, swaying from side to side, taking off and putting on glasses, stammering, and losing their places in notes that I'm sure they weren't really supposed to be reading.

I had that all in mind tonight while B and I were watching the Presidential debate. I thought both W and Kerry did fine jobs speaking (ignoring substance for the moment). Both were much, much more composed than any of the lawyers I saw speak earlier in the day, and both made their points well.

I took notes during the debate. For the first time in a long time I wrote in pencil, and not a mechanical one, either. I think when I do trial work I'll take my notes in pencil... it's the true analog. It'll be like an anti-technology statement or something.

Overall, in the first three or four questions, I thought Kerry was evasive and non-substantive or off-topic in his delivery. He was asked if he could prevent another 9/11 and how he would do it, and in less than two sentences he was onto Iraq, our casualties, the cost of the war... all good points, ripe for discussion, but nowhere near the actual question. He was asked about the "colossal mistakes" in Iraq (which would have been a good time to address the above and which could have accommodated a lot more criticism), and he started by saying he'd been to Vietnam. Was he really in Vietnam? I wasn't aware...

Both B and I thought it was a clever trick to employ the word "outsourcing" to the fighting in Afghanistan and the failure to capture OBL. Incidentally, as pointed out on instapundit, if the President announces tomorrow that we have OBL in custody, it's not going to be good for about 30% of Kerry's points tonight. Around the fourth or fifth question I wrote in my notes that I thought Kerry was coming on stronger, but he still wasn't offering proposals of his own. "I have a plan," isn't going to make me want to vote for him. "Go to my website," isn't good enough in a debate.
Simply saying that he wants to increase by two divisions the size of the Army, and double the size of our special operations forces is nice. However, there was absolutely no explanation of HOW that could possibly happen. Again, not good enough.

Question 5 was a killer for Kerry. Basically it came down to how has Bush lied to the American people. Kerry, to his credit, pointed out that he has never said "lied." And he was able to list four points on which Bush misled the public. But he lost it when he tried to turn the war in Iraq into the specter of the propoganda-fodder War on Islam. W was able to introduce his major selling point: OBL does not get to decide how we defend the US. That was a critical avenue for W and he spotted it well. True, it doesn't offer a substantive response to Kerry's list of points, and it alters slightly (but importantly) the nature of the question. Hell, maybe it wasn't even that slight. But it was a strong statement, and it will be remembered, probably out of context.

Some of the other questions thrown out were pretty cheap, too. Is Operation Iraqi Freedom worth it in terms of American lives? Jesus. Name Kerry's character flaws. Come on. I give credit to both candidates for resisting the temptation to take a cheap shot at the other. Alternatively, I find fault in both of them for not having the balls to do it on live t.v.

W was weak in the beginning, got stronger as it went on, but let Kerry get away with far, far too much. Kerry said with certainty that OBL is now in Afghanistan. He said that WMD's were crossing the borders into Iraq everday and blowing stuff up. Bilateral talks with North Korea, plus hexa-lateral talks, too. Are we really supposed to believe that Kerry would have us engage in both? Can he be serious when he says it'll work?

W's answers were pretty superficial so far as I could tell, and Kerry let him get away with quite a bit, also. W was asked miscalculations in Iraq, and pointed out that a lot of loyalists laid down their arms, disappeared, and are now back fighting us. I was screaming at Kerry to ask him, "HOW did we allow them to disappear??" Of course I know that in the confusion of war people do get away, but this would have been a great debating point for Kerry to exploit, and he failed. And then in his rebuttal, Kerry seriously played down the contribution of our allies, especially Australia. And seriously, Poland must feel like its status in the international arena is just swelling by the minute. "Not one, not two, but THREE mentions in the US PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE!! Holy shit, Karel, we're like more important than Japan tonight!!"

W also repeated himself far too often, mostly in non-responsive ways. I would have been very frustrated with him, for example, if I were doing cross examination and he kept saying "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time." I understand that Kerry is not consistent (and, incidentally, he could have hammered him for it more than he did, and done so more creatively).

Most annoying for me was how Kerry continually argued that Iraq was not a central point in the war on terror until we made it one. For me, Kerry discounts the facts that the country is NOW a central point in the war on terror and we need to win the battle there, and it calls into question his judgment, since he voted in favor of it, with "the same intelligence" as W pointed out repeatedly. W didn't have much more to support/defend his position, but Kerry was so weak W wasn't required to do much.

Kerry did nail W pretty good when W was asked about how the Iraqi experience (I could just feel Lehrer itching to say "Iraqi failure") would affect US policy regarding possible future pre-emptive strikes. (Here's looking at you mullahs.) W invoked the 9/11 attacks, saying "the enemy" struck us. Then he went back to a discussion of pre-war Iraq, which I think is a weak spot for him. He added that he would not want to be in the position to make that kind of call again, but left no doubt that he pursue the use of the "Bush Doctrine" again if necessary. Kerry got him when he said that the enemy did attack us first, but that W got the wrong enemy in the reply.

Now, I say that Kerry nailed W, but I think so only because W's reply was very weak. It consisted of two points: 1)"I know who attacked us." and 2) he brought up the (valid, I think) point that diplomacy was not going to work in Iraq. Okay, those are good points, but they were totally in the wrong place, and W never really responded to Kerry's challenge. And on this specific point, this has been a fundamental mistake in W's presidency, not just his campaign. He needs to make people understand how Iraq fits into the overall puzzle. It's clear that many, many people already understand. It's a difficult, uncomfortable, unhappy, unpleasant, unforgiving but essential reality that we're fighting a war in Iraq. But we're really fighting a war with dual objectives in Iraq: one to stabilize the country (good for them), and one to establish a platform from which we can exert influence, either militarily or diplomatically, throughout the muslim world (good for us, but much, much more difficult conceptually and practically).

Overall, I thought the W edged the debate slightly, just slightly. That said, it was going to take a lot from Kerry to convince me that he's the go-to guy. He needed to say why and how he could be a better president in terms of foreign policy. Foreign policy is really what matters to me this particular year, and W probably has that one locked up. And by the way, the KGB was never located under Treblinka Square. Treblinka was a Nazi death camp. Good one.

This was only round 1, and B rightfully pointed out that the real killer for W is going to be the domestic policy debate. I think Kerry can really hurt him there. For example, I can see no justification for the federal defense of marriage act. Also, the economy is just not strong enough for W to fend off a serious challenge.

One thing that did come clearer for me though... we have some pretty mediocre candidates. I don't think it'll be the end of the world if either of these guys are in power next year, but I sure as hell don't see any kind of Renaissance coming our way, either.

I have a lot more in my notes, maybe I'll get to it later. I doubt it, though. Even though the debate held my interest and came off a lot better than I thought it would (I was never embarrassed for either candidate, which is a first for W), it's still not going to change much for me. We're still stuck with these two guys, at least I'm not any MORE put off by either of them tonight.


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