Friday, October 01, 2004

Ding ding...Round 1

Thursday night President George Bush Jr. went mano a mano with Massachusetts Senator John Kerry in the first of three televised debates. Moderated by PBS’ Jim Lehrer both candidates came out swinging as they debated foreign policy issues. As the two mounted the stage I sat in nervous anticipation of what I envisioned to be Kerry’s Waterloo. I had visions of the Democrat’s campaign coming to an ignominious end as he got stomped into the ground like mulch.

Needless to say I was pleasantly surprised. Kerry acquitted himself better than I had hoped for while the President looked at times distracted and sluggish. After an initial case of the nerves Kerry focused and hammered home point after point. President Bush was passionate and unflinching getting in his own flurry of body blows.

For the first time since he won the nomination Senator Kerry actually stood resolute and picked a side. His finest moment of clarity came when he outlined a plan to rid the world of the threat of unsecured nuclear munitions floating around as a result of the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. He pledged to account for and capture over 600 tons of nuclear weapons in four years. He stated he’d activate two new divisions to help in the global war against nuclear proliferation and he promised to double the number of America’s Special Forces. Kerry repeated the fact that the 9-11 commission said there was no connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq before the September 11 attacks and that Bush’s war of preemption was unnecessary. Kerry also cited the fact that the U.S. Armed Forces have gotten little help from our European allies. Kerry was very critical of the lack of logistical support for our troops illustrating the point that many soldiers still are not properly equipped with flak jackets and that a percentage of the vehicles deployed in Iraq are not properly armored.

President Bush was focused and repeatedly derisive of Kerry’s seeming lack of ability to clarify his plan for the war in Iraq. Bush attacked Kerry’s vacillations on the war repeating over and over how Kerry has been consistently inconsistent. The biggest weakness of the Kerry campaign is the constant flip-flopping about Iraq and Bush drove this point home time after time. The President smartly recalled several times when Kerry was blatantly contradictory. Bush was also effective in his critique of Kerry’s strategy for dealing with North Korea. The President was resolute in his contention that direct bilateral talks with Kim Jung IL would alienate China, perhaps the only country with direct influence over N. Korea.

Both Kerry and Bush were complimentary about the other’s character and both stood united in there feeling that nuclear proliferation is the single biggest threat to the country and the world. They also were saddened by the genocidal situation in the Sudan but differed in their approach to solving the problem.

Because Bush looked fatigued and pensive and he was not as effective as he was back in 2000 when he whooped Al Gore’s fanny. In those debates Bush was almost regal and was far more presidential than he was on Thursday. Bush’s demeanor suggested an air of irritation and aloofness. At times when Kerry was speaking Junior looked almost disinterested and annoyed. For these reasons Bush gets a C+.

For the first time Kerry actually carried himself like a leader who knew what he wanted. Even when he was not answering questions Kerry stood bolt upright and seemed attentive the entire time. He stared with interest while the President spoke and what was striking about Kerry was his body language. He displayed confidence and had a bit of a swagger. Kerry’s grade is B+.

The Democratic presidential campaign was in danger of dieing on the vine. A campaign that was once on life support now shows signs of a pulse. What was once a lost cause now seems like a winnable fight. If Democrats take anything from this debate they should be heartened by the fact that Kerry now looks like presidential material.