Sep 29, 2004

Preparing for Debate #1

Interesting articles in today's NY Times. I'll just recap a little here from the best ones... The first speaks of Kerry's prowess as a debater, and more importantly, his reputation as a good closer. It's interesting that the Bushies are spinning again, as they did 4 years ago, to send up the image of their David in the art of locution facing Kerry's Goliath. Don't be fooled. Bush may not be adept at stringing together coherent sentences, but he's a good debater in his connection to the audience, and in his ability to seem likable. The New Yorker had an excellent piece in a recent issue that highlighted his quick wit, physicality in his speaking, and command of colloquial wit that allows him to get away with not answering questions head on and testing our interpretative skills when he goes off script. Let's not forget that he has excellent speechwriters as well.

A Fast Finisher's Reputation Now Faces the Ultimate Test

Published: September 29, 2004

...Mr. Bush's aides have gone out of their way in recent weeks to talk up Mr. Kerry's prowess as a debater, with the president's strategist Matthew Dowd calling Mr. Kerry "the best debater ever to run for president," and "better than Cicero." In fact, the record shows that Mr. Kerry, so often windy in prepared speeches, can be succinct in spontaneous exchanges.

In his second debate against Mr. Weld in 1996, Mr. Kerry interrupted him at one point by saying, "There you go again," Ronald Reagan's famous line against Jimmy Carter in 1980.

"I knew Ronald Reagan," Mr. Weld replied, echoing Lloyd Bentsen's invocation of his acquaintance with John F. Kennedy in putting down Dan Quayle in 1988, only to have Mr. Kerry shoot back, "So did I, and we don't need another Ronald Reagan type in Washington."

In their first debate, with the mother of a police officer who had been killed in the line of duty sitting in the audience, Mr. Weld demanded that Mr. Kerry defend his opposition to the death penalty and explain "why the life of the man who murdered her son is worth more than the life of her son."

Mr. Kerry, a former prosecutor, replied quietly: "It's not worth more. It's not worth anything. It's scum that ought to be thrown in jail for the rest of its life." But, he added, in an unmistakable reference to his service in Vietnam (a war that Mr. Weld had avoided on account of a bad back), "I've been opposed to the death penalty. I know something about killing. I don't like killing. I don't think a state honors life by turning around and sanctioning killing."...

The Man elected President in 2000 weighed in today as well, with the following op-ed contribution. Although in my rash desire to put something to HTML, I had an earlier bit of soothsaying, I haven't learned my lesson and now have my prediction for this debate, after reading a few pieces. I think that it's going to be close to a draw. I think that they will both be careful, and that Kerry will come across less arrogant than people expect, and more direct, but that there won't be anything earthmoving in this first debate. Bush will be very careful, and won't attack Kerry that directly for this first one, because he's in the lead, and doesn't want to seem "impresidential."

I think that it's going to be fairly measured, as the teams of both have obviously been skimming the news that we're seeing, and know that at least in the media's analysis, which people are reading, the debates are supposed to make all the difference in the way that people think about this election. If that's the case, truly, then they will be careful here, and then let loose when they get closer to E-day. I would love to see something of a surprise in the way that they get into it, and I'll be watching with a play-by-play on IM if anyone's interested. Alas, though: we do not have cable. Or TiVo for those lovely Bush moments that we all are sure to remember and laugh at come November 3rd and the end of this regime.

September 29, 2004
How to Debate George Bush

This year, as usual, the dominance of attack advertisements on television has made it hard to get a clear picture of where the candidates stand. But the same media revolution that brought us the 30-second commercial also brought us televised presidential debates - and ever since the first of them 44 years ago, they have played a crucial role in shaping voters' opinions of the candidates.

America has long been devoted to the clash between opposing advocates as the best way to evaluate information. In this era of media clutter, it is all the more important for voters to have this moment of simple clarity when the candidates appear before them stripped of advisers, sound bites and media spin.

My advice to John Kerry is simple: be prepared for the toughest debates of your career. While George Bush's campaign has made "lowering expectations" into a high art form, the record is clear - he's a skilled debater who uses the format to his advantage. There is no reason to expect any less this time around. And if anyone truly has "low expectations" for an incumbent president, that in itself is an issue.

But more important than his record as a debater is Mr. Bush's record as a president. And therein lies the true opportunity for John Kerry - because notwithstanding the president's political skills, his performance in office amounts to a catastrophic failure. And the debates represent a time to hold him to account. For the voters, these debates represent an opportunity to explore four relevant questions: Is America on the right course today, or are we off track? If we are headed in the wrong direction, what happened and who is responsible? How do we get back on the right path to a safer, more secure, more prosperous America? And, finally, who is best able to lead us to that path?

A clear majority of Americans believe that we are heading in the wrong direction. The reasons are obvious. The situation in Iraq is getting worse. Osama bin Laden is alive and plotting against us. About 2.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. Forty-five million Americans are living without health insurance. Medicare premiums are the highest they've ever been. Environmental protections have been eviscerated.

In the coming debates, Senator Kerry has an opportunity to show voters that today American troops and American taxpayers are shouldering a huge burden with no end in sight because Mr. Bush took us to war on false premises and with no plan to win the peace. Mr. Kerry has an opportunity to demonstrate the connection between job losses and Mr. Bush's colossal tax break for the wealthy. And he can remind voters that Mr. Bush has broken his pledge to expand access to health care.

Senator Kerry can also use these debates to speak directly to voters and lay out a hopeful vision for our future. If voters walk away from the debates with a better understanding of where our country is, how we got here and where each candidate will lead us if elected, then America will be the better for it. The debate tomorrow should not seek to discover which candidate would be more fun to have a beer with. As Jon Stewart of the "The Daily Show'' nicely put in 2000, "I want my president to be the designated driver.''

The debates aren't a time for rhetorical tricks. It's a time for an honest contest of ideas. Mr. Bush's unwillingness to admit any mistakes may score him style points. But it makes hiring him for four more years too dangerous a risk. Stubbornness is not strength; and Mr. Kerry must show voters that there is a distinction between the two.

If Mr. Bush is not willing to concede that things are going from bad to worse in Iraq, can he be trusted to make the decisions necessary to change the situation? If he insists on continuing to pretend it is "mission accomplished," can he accomplish the mission? And if the Bush administration has been so thoroughly wrong on absolutely everything it predicted about Iraq, with the horrible consequences that have followed, should it be trusted with another four years?

The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record. And I hope that voters will recall the last time Mr. Bush stood on stage for a presidential debate. If elected, he said, he would support allowing Americans to buy prescription drugs from Canada. He promised that his tax cuts would create millions of new jobs. He vowed to end partisan bickering in Washington. Above all, he pledged that if he put American troops into combat: "The force must be strong enough so that the mission can be accomplished. And the exit strategy needs to be well defined."

Comparing these grandiose promises to his failed record, it's enough to make anyone want to, well, sigh.

Al Gore, vice president from 1993 to 2001, was the Democratic presidential nominee in 2000.

1 comment:

burnedouteyes said...

getting ready... debate's starting now!