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Friday, October 01, 2004

First presidential debate between John Kerry and President George Bush, Thursday, September 30th, 2004.

Full Transcript:

From the moment President Bush and John Kerry stepped on stage together, Kerry appeared more presidential. He appeared taller and seemed more comfortable at the podium. Though he rocked from side to side behind his podium from time to time, he was a model of calm, confident control throughout. And he employed expert control of pauses to emphasize that control.

In contrast to the stately John Kerry, President Bush looked like a miniature talking torso, his arms and hands often completely invisible behind his podium which looked taller than Kerry’s. Tonight’s television appearance found George Bush looking more like Alfred E. Newman than he usually does. Bush not only looked smaller than Kerry, his voice sounded like a whiney little scratch next to Kerry’s senatorial boom.

Bush was on the defensive through a good part of the debate, ironically even while claiming the best defense is a good offense when talking about his strategy in the war on terror. By the end of the first 30 minutes, Bush was floundering, stumbling over his words, nervously swigging on a glass of water while John Kerry referred to his Bush’s own father’s recommendations regarding a foray into Iraq.

Bush may have made a mistake when he said he defensively insisted on his awareness of the facts of the war by saying, “I get the casualty reports every day. I see on the TV screens how hard it is.” If this president is getting his information about war being tough from what he sees on the TV news we’re in bigger trouble than I thought.

Bush went for the emotional jugular with his anecdote about Missy Johnson. What he was doing was obvious, exploiting an individual family’s story of loss for his own political gain. This would have been something President Reagan could have pulled off with seeming grace, but George Bush just appeared to be struggling to insert the scripted remarks his campaign advisers prepared for him.

Kerry managed to plug his website saying more details of his Iraqi withdrawal plans can be found there. Though he seemed more articulate overall on Iraq and terrorism, I was not pleased with his repeated “hunt and kill” phrasing when it came to the routing out of Osama Bin Laden and his followers. I don’t know, but “hunting and killing” no matter how you cut it sounds uncivilized.

Bush caught himself at one point, correcting himself before almost saying, “You cannot lead if you send mexed missages.” Ah, the Bushism that never happened.

The metaphorical group hug initiated by Bush in which he praised Kerry’s daughters and Kerry in return praised Bush’s wife was annoying and unenlightening. It only showed how professional politicians can be, well professional politicians.

Bush finally almost looked like a president in closing statement. (Which reminds me of a remark a former art teacher of mine said about a year into Bush’s presidency when she said he was starting to look "almost mayoral.”)

Kerry clearly won the debate, and most polls already back this up. He was just plain better. But for this debate to have damaged President Bush’s re-election chances--the only thing that really matters at this point--he needed to screw up; and he didn’t. Actually, because neither candidate screwed up, nor were there any moments of shining brilliance, this debate had virtually no highlights and was an almost tediously boring 90 minutes.

I probably shoulda gone to a rock show instead.