Thursday, September 30, 2004

The First Debate

It's about 5 minutes until 9, and the debate is about to start. I'll be liveblogging as it happens, providing my thoughts and comments as the event unfolds.

I'm watching Fox News Channel at the moment, and Michael Barone is explaining the significance of the "light" controversy to Bill O'Reilly. All the other talking heads agree that Kerry will be "unrelenting" in his attacks on Bush.

And here we go, it's on like Donkey Kong!

9:02-- I think Jim Lehrer needs to be traded in for a younger, harder hitting model.

9:04-- A quick handshake, and the men are now at the podiums. First question to Kerry: "Could you do a better job than Bush at making us safer after 9/11?" He is emphasizing alliances, which he says are "shattered." No veto to other countries though. Reaching out to the Muslim world? He wants a summit with all our allies in Iraq. Lovely, lets all get together to talk!

--Bush's response seems to be slower and more relaxed than Kerry's question, which was a quick laundry list of what he wanted to do different.

9:09-- Will a Kerry presidency make us more likely to be hit by terrorists? "It's not gonna happen because I'm gonna win." It's tough in Iraq because "the enemy understands the stakes."

"This president has made a colossal error in judgment." There's the first real jab from Kerry. "$200 billion dollars in Iraq that could have been used on health care, prescription drugs." Bush's response: Kerry's statements in 2002 and 2003 in favor of war. Nice riposte. 16 failed UN resolutions which Saddam flaunted.

9:16-- We can go after Saddam Hussein AND Osama bin Laden. I'm glad he made this point, that we don't have only a single focus in the war on terror. Nice use of PM Allawi, "He doesn't want US leadership to send mixed signals."

Kerry feints, "President called Iraq a center on the war on terror." Actually, he didn't, he said there were many fronts in that war, and Iraq was one. Kerry is talking about the lack of funding for body armor, BAD move, if Bush can bring up the $87 billion vote. Bush swings back, with Kerry's vote in favor of war.

Kerry is going to try and work in as many domestic policy points as he can during this debate. He's complaining now about no cops, no firemen, and tax cuts for the rich. "We didn't need that tax cut."

"I wake up every day thinking about how to protect America. That's my job." Good line from Bush.

9:27-- "When the generals on the ground tell me the Iraqis are ready to take over their security, then we'll be ready to bring our men home." Glad to hear him put some responsibility on the Iraqis. "A free Iraq is essential for the security of this country."

Kerry's message to the troops: "Help is on the way." Now Kerry says American troops are occupiers, and that the only facilities we are guarding are oil facilities. Again, he wants a summit and renewed alliances.

Here's the $87 billion comment from Bush, nice comeback to the "Help is on the way" comment.

Kerry says he made a mistake on the $87 billion, but the president's mistake on Iraq was worse. Then mentions Vietnam. Sounded slightly childish.

Kerry admits he believed the intelligence on Iraq. Now he quotes Richard Clarke...not sure that's the best person to be quoting in light of the fact that he is a proven liar.

Do any of you remember Kofi Annan offering the UN's help? Bush's response: "That's totally absurd." Now he is naming our allies by name, Blair and the PM of Poland (can't recall his name at the moment).

Great hit by Bush on Kerry's "coalition of the coerced and the bribed" comment. "You can't lead other nations when you insult them." Powerful lines regarding the torture and executions in Iraq.

Kerry is emphasizing troop numbers for his position that we don't have an alliance. Is he saying France and Germany will send troops? Now he brings up the Nigerian yellowcake statement in Bush's state of the union address.

9:40-- Kerry is going on a laundry list of how we rushed to war, so I'll just comment right now, Kerry is attacking consistently here, but I don't think he has landed any serious punches yet. All of his points so far are old news and rehashed talking points which I don't believe most swing voters will be swayed by. He needs to come up with something that Bush can't effectively rebut, because so far every attack has been nicely parried by the president.

Kerry: "I've had one position, one consistent position." I can't believe Kerry said this...expect to see this line in NUMEROUS subsequent Republican commercials.

Very heartfelt moment, with Bush describing his conversations with a widow whose husband died in Iraq. It's this kind of topic that Bush is most effective at, where he shares his emotions with the American people.

Does Kerry really think that a summit is going to win the peace in Iraq? I don't think that summits are what American voters are looking for.

9:58-- Can Kerry give specifics on his plan for getting us out of Iraq? Jim Lehrer wants to know! Kerry actually tries to flank Bush on the right, saying we should have gone in and cleared out Fallujah, as well as closed up Iraq's borders. I happen to agree with him on the Fallujah point, and I'd love to see the borders closed as well (it's not feasible).

Bush's now standard counter to the Kerry alliances position is to bring up every time Kerry has insulted our allies, this time mentioning the insulting comments Kerry made about Allawi.

The tone of this debate is shaking out pretty much as predicted, with Bush presenting the optimistic view and Kerry focusing on the pessimistic.

Bush needs to address Kerry's repeated hits on Osama supposedly getting away in Tora Bora, as well as the charge that Bush allowed North Korea to obtain nuclear weapons.

10:04-- finally, Bush gets into the North Korea issue.

Did John Kerry just say "nucular"?????

Nice clear distinctive moment here, Bush wants multilateral talks, and Kerry wants bilateral talks.

Jim Lehrer brings up the Darfur tragedy, since neither candidate has addressed it. Kerry starts off talking AGAIN about Iran. Says that we are overextended and says Bush is using a "back door draft." Calls for two additional active duty divisions in the U.S., but he doesn't say how he's going to get those divisions. Maybe he would institute a draft himself?

10:17-- Does Bush think Kerry has character flaws preventing him from being president? Bush goes on a very gracious list of character traits that he thinks are commendable, including Vietnam service and devotion to his daughters. He then zeroes back in on Kerry's inability to be decisive and his tendency to denigrate our coalition partners.

Kerry does score some points here where he says "You can be certain and be wrong." This line is one that swing voters could easily identify with. Kerry then goes and dilutes the impact of that line by saying again that his position on Iraq has been consistent. Another byte for the attack ads.

10:25-- Almost into the home stretch now. Both candidates are essentially agreeing over non-proliferation, which does not help Kerry.

10:27-- Last question: does Bush agree with Putin's consolidation of power in Russia? No, but it's important to keep a good personal relationship with Putin. Kerry agrees, then swiftly jumps back to bilateral talks with North Korea. Then Bush brings it back to Iraq.

Kerry's closing statement: Basically a summary of all his main points during the debate, ie building alliances and reaching out to other countries. Oh, and he served in Vietnam

Bush's closing statement: Key phrase, "the transformational power of liberty," "a free Iraq is essential to American security," "we have climbed the mountain, and can see below us the valley of peace."

And that does it. My overall impression: Kerry made only one real gaffe, stating twice that his position on Iraq has been clear and consistent. But unfortunately for him, he did no real damage that I could see to the president. He had to take Bush down in this debate, and I believe he failed in that regard. I'll sleep on it and try to provide some more detailed analysis tomorrow.