the first debate

Well, I was worried in the beginning but I think Kerry did well, overall. Will it backfire on Bush, him repeating “wrong war, wrong time, wrong place” so often? (I’d love to see a clip of him saying that statement over and over again! How many times?)
The difference certainly (!) seems stark. A vote for Bush is for hegemonic go-it-alone, American supremacy. Period. I liked Kerry’s insistence on alliances, and the notion of a global test. And that he articulated several ways the world is more dangerous now than it was before.
Who else is gonna chime in? Is my preference clouding my judgment?

22 thoughts on “the first debate”

  1. I missed the first 20 mins. but when I first tuned in, I started to feel sick when Bush kept repeating that. On one hand it seemed so unbelievably ridiculous but on the other I kept thinking but is it working on voters? But then it did seem to me (who knows that my preference is clouding my judgment!) that Kerry pulled out of the tailspin. Of course, there’s always the problem of how many tune in for a little then go to bed!
    The 1/2 h. post debate that I watched on PBS was kind of funny. Most were so clouded by their preference it was hard to get any substantive idea of whose performance was likely to be more powerful with the undecided voters. A couple said no change, Kerry supporters said it will give some wind to his back. Most hysterical was the admission by Brooks and one or two other Bush supporters that Kerry is smarter but Bush didn’t blow it so it will work in his favor. If anyone saw Brooks’ last comment, maybe you could post it since I’m not articulating it so well.

  2. Just a quick response here. First, although I do think Kerry did what he needed to do rhetorically tonight, the question is whether he SUSTAINS the image he created over the next two debates. Gore “won” a debate but lost the image war. But I am very pleased with Kerry’s performance, especially since he hit Bush on his strong points and hammered on the idea of lying (although refusing to call it that). And in doing so, the moral prince lost his ground and looked far less like a “leader;” Bush seemed impetuous, unprepared, and even arrogant, and hence the soft-underbelly is revealed. Now the question is whether Kerry can exploit it.
    The problem for me is that the analysts won’t let Kerry win; CNN and MSNBC, although they do seem to imply Kerry won and that “ordinary people” across the nation think so too (first poll from CNN: 50%+ to Kerry; @35% to Bush), nearly everyone of them said Kerry didn’t do a Reagan and therefore Bush didn’t lose. This discourse can be troubling if it continues, because it will play to Bush-as-victim that he utilizes to look like an “ordinary guy.”
    Best after-debate coverage was on the Daily Show. It was phenomenally good in two ways: (1) it was incredibly engaging in actually taking to task the undecided voter, and (2) they clearly came out in support of Kerry as both the winner and as the person with a sense of wit and truth.
    I agree, Steph, with your assessment of a clear choice (America-alone or allies). And I actually think this was a good debate; both took it seriously, the moderator was not slavish, and despite both sides getting in their digs, substantial issues came out. I’m shocked at how impressed I am by what we saw as a serious political form.

  3. Oh, and in case you missed it, MSNBC defined this as the debate between the Cowboy and the Professor. What an interesting twist from the last election, in which the smart one was framed as the “Gore-Bot.” Now just watch the right use this as part of the anti-intellectual campaign…

  4. My fear is that the Bushies are so determined to win at any cost that they will take tiny portions of what Kerry said and create attack ads that make him look bad all over again. The media have not done a good job of holding this president accountable, and I don’t know if one good debate from Kerry is enough to compensate for the screeds of the right-wing talk shows, coupled with the unwillingness of the mainstream media to ask the tough questions of this president.
    I am glad Kerry caught the president trying to conflate Saddam with Al Qaeda again, but will it change the mind of the average American who truly believes Bush is a man of G-d who will keep America safe? Let’s hope this is the start of something good for Kerry’s campaign, but the people who like Bush are so devoted to him that I wonder if *anything* could sway them…
    Aaron Brown of CNN (one of the few truly objective mainstream media anchors) did a wonderful interview with a Seattle reporter yesterday and he commented yet again about how polarised the American public is today and how few of them take the time to listen to the opinions of the other side. Let’s hope more people DID start listening, and that it leads them to do some THINKING too.
    Yours for civility and the exchange of ideas, donna

  5. My interest in last night’s debate was likely more singular in purpose than that of most others in our group — though I’d be willing to bet that I wasn’t alone among moderate Republicans in my approach. For me, it boiled down to three principal questions:
    1. How much was the man that I (admittedly) voted for in 2000 willing to publicly admit/suggest/imply that he had abandoned his “compassionate conservative” (a term, if not a philosophy, that I still have issues with… but that’s for another blog) views in favor of the neoconservative project?
    2. Is there a satisfactory explanation out there to suggest why this shift took place? And if so, what was it?
    3. Was there any hint that years 5-8 of a Bush presidency would bring about anything of a return to more traditional conservative values? (i.e. was the president at least willing to throw a bone to the moderates among us?)
    I’ll be honest in saying, too, that I watched the debate twice. Once in its entirety… and once just for the parts when Bush was speaking (Tivo is such a wonderful thing!)
    Here is what I thought (in brief):
    1. Bush is a man completely (singularly?) obsessed with the neocon project of bringing democracy to the Middle East.
    2. Bush is man who has little or no time for any views beyond those of the neocons. I’m convinced his demeanor, tone and body language would have been the same had he been debating the issue with an anti-war member of his own party. The simple binary choice he tries to conjur up with respect to the war on terror is both laughable and remarkably frightening.
    3. Bush has no true grasp of the larger neocon project. Many on the right who are not neocons have suggested that the presidency has been “hijacked”, “occupied” or “defeated” by the necon movement. While true, I don’t think Bush understands the larger consequences and mission of this movement. The neocons have spoon fed him a very basic rationale which both exploits his simpleton ways and plays to his astonishingly unsophisticated notions of right and wrong. Many of the pundits have suggested that Bush is a person who gets on message and stays on message, often ad nauseum. Fine, that’s a fair rhetorical strategy. What frightens me about W is that it’s not JUST a rhetorical strategy… it’s the sole basis of how he makes (and made) decisions regarding going to war. If Bush and I were throwing a few back at ABC, and I was probing him for a deeper explanation, I’m convinced I would heard the same simple reasons expressed over and over and over again.
    In my last email I revealed that I am wrestling with what to do with my ballot come November, and that I would probably end up throwing up my hands and towing the party line as Kerry is hardly the alternative I’m looking for. After watching that debate last night, I’m no longer sure that that will be what I do. The neocon occupation of this administration may actually be a greater threat to the things that I value than would be a Kerry presidency. I’m also beginning to believe that a Bush defeat may be the antitode for that which is ailing the GOP. It’ll be a bloody revolt, and the Republicans may eventually lose the Congress and the White House for the forseeable future, but the alternative is growing far more dangerous in my eyes with each day that passes.
    To sum it up, this is not the same president I voted for in 2000; this is not the same party I have belonged to for much of my adult life; this is not the direction I think our country should continue to take.
    I’m really looking forward to the third debate re domestic policies in the economy. My most serious questions of the president lie there… just as Bush couldn’t give a satisfactory answer for why we invaded Iraq, I doubt he will be able to give a satisfactory answer for why we squandered the economic prosperity that comes with paying off our bills.
    I’m sure that one way or another he’ll come off as monomaniacal in his response… and in doing so may give me the proof I need to note vote for Ahab as he continues his obsession with the ever elusive white whale.
    Your plain donut,

  6. What wonderful comments. I do believe you’re teaching me to listen.
    I woke up to this line on the radio: “most of the time afterward they spent trying to convince the American people they had each won the debate”. Winning? I didn’t get it, but Bryan helped.

  7. I want to toss in a few things from the post-election show I saw on PBS, while I’m still laughing about the “plain donut.” 🙂 I am so glad to know you, Bryan!
    George Stephanapoulos first comment was that Kerry might have helped himself more by his style than his actual speech. I noted this because of a story in the NYTimes last week about the non-verbals being what tends to convince people moreso than the actual content.
    The other bit that stuck with me was the comment by someone about the body language of the two staff’s post debate. There was a marked contrast on the Bush team from the confidence they projected pre-debate, and the Kerry team was “gleeful.”
    Stephen, no doubt you are absolutely right that the issue now is sustaining momentum for Kerry. The media this morning seems to be acknowledging (if reluctantly) that Kerry actually did well. This via ABC again and the analysis by Purdam in the NYTImes: “Standing Firm for 90 Minutes”.

  8. “It’s one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong.”
    As the great Austin Powers once said – “YEAH, baby!” ! I have to say, I’m somewhat elated after the debate performance last night. Bryan’s 3rd point, I think, nailed it on the head in terms of what’s wrong with Bush’s rhetorical (and actual) strategy – and this line from Kerry last night called him out on it. It’s not quite the same as calling him a liar, but it definately hit Bush on his strong points, as Stephen put it. “I’m resolute” is about all Bush has right now;and this is as great an answer as I can think of.
    Sadly, however, I agree with Stephen that the real question is whether or not the nattering chuckleheads of pre/post debate covereage, and talk shows this following week, are going to “let Kerry win.” Certainly remains to be seen. I taped the first 2 hourse of MSNBC pre-covereage, and almost the entire 2 hours of coverage focused on Kerry: how he was down in the polls and couldn’t screw this up. How he was long-winded, and too boring. How he needed to get rid of his “patrician and elitist attidtude.” How he was probably “frustrated and worried” about the 2-minute time limit, and the flashing warning lights that would be going off in his face every time he inevitably went off on a long-winded tangent. How the race was going to be over Friday morning if Kerry didn’t stand tall and “knock out the champ” (an oft-repeated phrase – I’m not making this up). As a voter, it was hard to watch MSNBC’s pre-coverage and then NOT scrutinize Kerry’s every fidget during the debate itself! I’m telling you – I almost feel sorry for these guys sometime.
    Anyway, in the end, I was happy – even “proud” in some ways, of Kerry’s performance, whatever the media covereage does with it. It was a good first step, and I’m looking forward to the next one.
    But before that, “Dennis the Menace” Edwards vs. Old Man Cheney ought to be fun!

  9. I agree with Stephen saying analysts won’t allow Kerry to win. The 20 minutes that I watched CNN at the Gym this morning, they said over and over that it was a tie. And, their focus group of 22 “undecideds” in Ohio, according to their report, flip-flopped throughout the debate but at 9:30 “came back to Bush.” CNN declares that they don’t know what that means. They ended their report saying where Bush was headed but didn’t mention where Kerry was going. They then segged into a feature about the potential assassination of Bush which looked like it provoked two feelings in favor of Bush: Fear and sympathy. Clearly I’m not a media scholar but I’d say that democracy is seriously challenged when the main media outlets back Bush. But that is also why the public screen model could offer advice for the left.
    But I’m very intrigued with Bryan’s comments. I was wondering whether anybody really changed their minds b/c of a debate but it looks like they (possibly) do. I thought Kerry did an OK job for what he wanted to accomplish but I thought there were plenty of moments when he could have been more “sound-bitey” and gotten away with it. He had a couple that worked “more of the same” and another that I’m forgetting right now. I will probably sound shallow asking for more sound bites but just a couple good ones might have been effective.
    But why couldn’t he have just called Bush on his incessant repetition. Like say, ” simplicy and repetition won’t work anymore with the American people, they want to hear a real plan for how you’re going to fix the anarchy that you’ve created in Irak” (too long and boring?) or “I could get up here and repeat 10 like you do, you misled the A. people, you misled the A. people, you misled the A. people but I’m ….” Or “are you a broken record????” Or “is someone pulling a string behind you’re back??”
    Also, there were times when Bush demanded a second response and I didn’t see Kerry doing that though he usually picked up the point in the next question.
    PBS also made the comparison between John Wayne and XX Stevenson ?–actually I couldn’t hear the Kerry comparison
    Sorry, I guess I’m just blabbing but CNN makes me crazy!

  10. I thought Scott’s comment was right on target. Kerry’s best line of the night was, indeed, “It’s one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong.”
    I would have taken that one step further and said, “It’s one thing to be certain, it’s another thing to understand WHY you are certain. It’s one thing to be wrong, it’s another thing to understand WHY you are wrong.”
    Great comments all around…

  11. A few things, related. The first is whether or not the media will let Kerry win and, as Donna underscores as even more important, hold Bush accountable for something. It’s too soon to tell. If voters move slightly towards Kerry now, I suspect the media will follow just as slavishly as they follow Bush. But it’s not clear that will happen, so while I share your hopes, Scott, I would ardently say it is NOT YET time to be

  12. Oh – hey. I wasn”t gloating about the debate, nor was I elated because I think this one performance is going to send Kerry into the White House.
    It’s just that, unlike many of his current supporters, I’ve always LIKED Kerry, and have been deeply, deeply disapponted by his performance over the last few months (the only thing I’ve liked was his Iowa acceptance speech – way back in Feb, or whatever). The truth is, I’ve had a case of the cringes every time Kerry’s opened his mouth – especially the past few weeks – and I was just getting tired of it. I know it’s Kerry’s game to fight best when he’s down, but I have to admit, I was nervous.
    Then, for the first time in ages, I watched Kerry talk for 90 straight minutes and didn’t cringe once. In fact – I was applauding and shouting at the screen. That’s what I’m elated about. It’s actually going to be fun to watch him fight again.
    Meanwhile, a belated shout-out to Bryan for bringing his honest, and insightful, perspective into the conversation. Thanks for having the good nature to be the “plain donut” in our box full of butternuts!!

  13. Stephen’s posting of the Eisenhower article appears to be faulty (at least it was for me), but I’d encourage everyone to find a way to read it nonetheless. It’s an excellent description of what the party once looked like, and what many moderates so desparately want it to return to.
    Stephen mentioned that he can’t respect Pat Buchanan’s work and I can perfectly understand why. Many of his ideas are no less dangerous to my brand of conservatism than is the neocon project. His rhetoric of hate, anti-Semitism, isolationism, and intolerance (of homosexuals, Jews and others) has no place along the road which many of us now travel — and I say “us” because I’m finding that more and more despondent Republicans now view the world in a similar way that I do. Our focus remains on the individual, on individual responsibility and empowerment, and on a small but strong national government. It is not anti-statist per se, but has a natural fear of new bureaucratic encroachments that threaten personal liberties (the provisions of the Patriot Act among them). It is strict constructionist in that it emphasizes the role of the legislature (as did the founders) and minimizes the power of judicial activism. It is increasingly anti-corporatist, but relishes entrepreneurialism and small business. It favors multilateral responses to world problems, but maintains a healthy level of suspicion of any form of world government (be it large or small). It is engaged in in the world, but is not protector of the world. It breaths the good air of democracy (or really, small “r” republicanism), but is not the guarantor of democracy around the world. It pays its bills. It saves for the future. It invests in the next generation. It realizes that nations, not unlike individuals themselves, have different historical experiences and choose to erect different forms of government and social apparatus in response; that others choose not to folow it rarely means that it is necessarily threatened.
    It proceeds cautiously. It acts humbly. It behaves responsibly. It has a point of view, and it promotes its point of view, but doesn’t try to annihilate the larger field of disagreements — after all, it knowls that what makes us different is what ultimately defines us as individuals.
    It’s underlying notions of morality — of what is right and what is wrong — are minimal, but they are in fact there. They are rooted less in the tomes of religion and more in the pragmatic necessities of our complicated world. It believes that hard work is a virtue, but doesn’t seek to define what that work should be. It underscores the importance of family, friendship and love, but does not wish to determine what those orientations should look like.
    It prides itself on its sense of civility, its promise of mutual respect, and its commitment to ensuring that other points of view are considered. It is naturally resistant to change and new approaches, but does not shut out new possibilities and fresh perspectives. It grows… though much more slowly than others may like… it does have the capacity to change and evolve.
    It puts tremendous faith in the work of individuals. It trusts and relies upon individuals to use their riches, talents and good fortunes to be supportive of others. It believes that individuals should choose to pay a social premium for their success.
    There’s more to write, but those are some of the thoughts swirling around in my head. I’m not sure where this puts me on the political spectrum, but as I’m slowly discovering, notions of ‘right’ and ‘left’ have little meaning.
    Thanks, as always, for indulging me.

  14. I’m really BUMMING that I missed the donut categorization session. Am I a butternut in absentia or do I get to be rainbow-striped and jelly-filled? I sure WISH I could have been there hooting and hollering with you, Scott. (I had to keep it quiet as my roommate went to sleep halfway through, but I also wasn’t confident that my read on Kerry’s performance was accurate.) Any chance of a group event for the next one?
    Camille, I think Stephen’s game is to keep us always guessing – he’s a closet Vygotskian, I think. Trying to find the edge of our “zone of proximal development” by pushing on anything that looks like it might generate a learning. Me? “Surprised” that style counts? Come ON!

  15. Bryan for President! Bryan for President!
    Although this might conflict with an earlier email suggesting that we should all share the position. 🙂 ohmygosh, can you imagine how much fun I’d have with THAT group dynamic?

  16. Now that I’ve put my personal reflections out there, I wanted to mention something more specific for the pure tacticians out there. Again, I have little time for Buchanan’s message, but in one of the final chapters of his most recent book, he describes very thoroughly (and I would even say eloquently) why disenfranchised Republicans will end up voting for Bush. The logic is not as simple as I first suspected. To my colleagues on the left, I’d encourage you to read it. (I feel like I should bring up a Sun Tzu quote about knowing one’s adversary/enemy — I just can’t remember one). There’s good fodder here for how to potentially break the deadlock, motivate a growing number of people who are not so much undecided as they are simply trapped, and ultimately raise the bar (hopefully) for partisan and public debate.
    I wish I could find a copy on-line somewhere, but alas. I actually listened to it last week through Fear not, though, my friends… I don’t spend the long drives back and forth to Amherst listening exclusively to far-right-wing dreck. I like to balance out the dreck to which I listen. The two books I listened to immediately before that were Clinton’s biography and Kitty Kelly’s new book.

  17. Wow – Bryan, after that post, you’ll have to remind me how you wound up on the “right” again?? 😉
    Meanwhile – Steph – you can be any donut you’d like!

  18. Bryan’s description of republicanism reminds me of a moment in my life. OK hold on to your seats. I announced one day at the dinner table that I was a Republican. Now if you remember that I am from NH, you’d think that wouldn’t present a problem; but I am from one of the staunchest Democrat families in NH. So as the silverware dropped and a large silence ensued when apparently my mother and grandfather decided this must be teen angst, I declared again that it seemed the best system of government after comparing systems in history class at school.
    BUT, then when I “went out into the world” and most all of the Republicans I met and continue to meet seem like the most incredibly conservative, racist, arrogant people I have ever met (ie. why Bryan doesn’t fit my stereotype) and seem to have no or laughable concerns for social justice, I began to change my opinion. (( And so you know, I went to business school in NH and worked at Fidelity Investments–I have met a lot of Republicans.)) Bryan says there are a lot of Republicans who aren’t like that and I hope that I start meeting more of them. And obviously I’m generalizing b/c Dems can be perfectly racist, etc. which is part of the reason (though its more complicated than that) that I’m not a Democrat.
    I couldn’t understand why those values that Bryan mentions which seem so great could translate into so many values and actions of hate b/c I do see an incredible amount of racism and hate coming from Republicans (again Dems aren’t innocent but historically they have been overall more inclusive of Blacks, Latinos (except Cubans), Women, Gays,–though that seems to be getting more complicated as well…
    On the other hand, I think that a lot of those republican values are present in Green political theory. I know many Greens may make your stomach turn but believe it or not many of those values that you equate with republicanism exist in the green movement. (The green movement is incredibly diverse in thought and action and so like I have a monolithic (maybe problematic view of Republicans), many have a monolithic view of greens.)
    where am I going with this, I have no idea. Just that as people are saying its incredibly complex.
    Bush, I think (& I know you’ll correct me if I’m wrong) was the first to talk about Palestine as a State or that it should be a State. I believe wholeheartedly that Palestine should be a State. That doesn’t mean that I am anti-Israel. That confused the hell out of me. Why was a Republican the first to do so?? I have some tentative answers to that that I won’t go into but it is yet another thing that pisses me off about the Dems.
    Like Bryan doesn’t believe in the power of a third U.S. party, I don’t believe the Republicans can ever be reformed unless of course the right or neocons are that third party. Likewise, I think the greens are a necessary corrective to the ills of the Dems. time will tell….

  19. one other quick comment. I thought that Kerry’s assessment of North Korea was also another incredibly strong point of his debate, though he wasn’t quite as successful at describing why bilateral talks over the 6 country committee (?) that Bush mentioned but I don’t think that part subtracted much from his overall point about North Korea

  20. Camille, that struck me too – maybe the biggest single gap was that Kerry took a long time coming around to saying that Bush’s assumption that the 6-country talks would automatically fall apart if bilateral talks are resumed with North Korea wasn’t necessarily fated to happen. He could definitely expand on this.

  21. Camille– Guilty as charged. I know surprisingly little about the Greens and Green Theory. But just as I am willing to share, so too am I willing to listen. Send me something to digest and I will do my best to do so… and to perhaps overcome my natural biases of (a) American third parties in general, and (b) instinctively equating the Green Party with tree-hugging and earthy-crunchiness.
    I doubt anyone would ever accuse me of being an environmentalist, but I must say this (which I think is consistent with the philopsophy I tried to sketch out before), I do often choose to take a responsible environmental path… at least as a consumer. Much to Amy’s chagrin, I actually like to pay more for organic produce, more fuel-efficient cars, a cleaner-burning furnace, and a more environmentally responsible home electricity source. But the point is that I value more than anything the CHOICE to do so. The moment someone comes and tells me — through regulation, law, or otherwise — that I have to do something, I get very p.o.’d. I really like to make those choices for myself… and through education I think people can and will make those choices, too.
    Again, I’d appreciate learning more about your Greens (I say “your” affectionately, if not enviously, as I don’t currently seem to have a “my”) and their approach.
    Maybe you could be the person to add a layer of powder or glaze to this dull, plain donut.
    BTW — I really love the way everyone is digging’ the donut motif even though many weren’t in class and thus can’t fully appreciate the reference.

  22. On the North Korea blog-within-the-blog…
    I thougt it very interesting, perhaps even a little ironic, that Bush was positioning himself as a multilateralist vis-a-vis NK, while Kerry was the bilateralist. That position (and positioning) appears to be quite the opposite for Iraq. Hrrrm….

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