Kerry 1, Bush 0
Democrats across the country probably heaved a sigh of relief late Thursday night after the first Bush-Kerry presidential debate. In our opinion, Sen. John Kerry was the ‘winner.’ He went on offense and took it to the president, who spent most of the night trying to defend his weak foreign policy record. Kerry came across as better prepared, more presidential, more confident. He held himself very well and demonstrated a strong command of foreign policy issues ‘ the general subject of the first debate.
Bush, as he often does, came across as nervous, irritable, struggling hard to remember his talking points and ‘stay on message.’ He spent most of the 1-1/2 hours on the defensive. He repeated himself often, jumped nervously from subject to subject, and tried to pin the ‘flip-flop’ and ‘indecisive’ labels on Kerry. It didn’t seem to work. Obviously, public debates before neutral audiences are not Bush’s strong point.
By attacking Bush’s awful record on rushing our country to a needless war and insisting that he has a plan to save Iraq with more troops, more accelerated training of Iraqi security forces and with plenty of help from other countries around the world, Kerry resurrected his standing and pumped new life into his campaign. He may have surprised and reassured people around the world that he has a sane approach and doesn’t want America to be isolationist, neocolonial superpower.
Kerry scored when he accused Bush of missing a huge opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden when he ignored U.S. Special Forces and ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghani warlords, who, for some reason, weren’t successful.
The next debate will be Friday night in St. Louis, and it will be exceedingly important. It will be a town meeting format, not a debate. Bush will have a chance to be folksy and charming in his down-home Texas style. Kerry is more patrician and stiff, but he, too, can relate to people one-on-one.
We would like to have heard more details from Kerry as to how he would locate terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden, defeat the insurgency in Iraq, establish a representative democracy there and extract our highly vulnerable troops from a bloody mess, which, despite what Bush says, appears to be getting worse by the day.
Bush constantly criticized Kerry for sending damaging mixed messages to our troops, the Iraqi people and the enemy. He said that only hurts our efforts there, although our view is that things are going so badly in the Bush-Cheney war that something drastically different must be done before Iraq descends into civil war and completely falls apart.
Bush stubbornly vowed to press ahead with more of the same in Iraq, which has to hurt his support. Kerry wisely reminded Bush that it’s one thing to be certain, but you can also be certain and dead wrong at the same time.
Precious little was said about the increasing nuclear threat in North Korea and Iran, except that Kerry would start a diplomatic dialogue with the North Korean dictator while Bush said that would only encourage him and disrupt the multi-lateral talks already underway with Russia, China, Japan, etc.
Both candidates, responding to questions by veteran PBS news anchor Jim Lehrer, were given the opportunity to attack the other’s character. Thankfully, neither fell for that trap. There was no mention of Bush’s National Guard record and no attacks on John Kerry’s Vietnam service record.
That was a huge step in the right direction and a demonstration of real leadership by both candidates. We hope the campaign stays on the big issues and away from all the fear and smear.