September 30, 2004
Insta-pop Debate Analysis
Initial comments, thinking out loud.. I'll probably update a few times as I sort out what I thought.
Funny, I just got an email yesterday about "Bush's daughters on a leash," I guess the folks at porn-pic-palace.com had been reading Bush's debate notes?
How weird was that line? I half expected him to follow up with "Yeah we wanted to give them some chastity belts too, but dadgummit I guess they don't make those no more.."
Barring any momentous gaffes, this type of hyper-regulated "debate" is destined to be a draw, and that's pretty what we got here. Bush was doofy and inarticulate throughout, especially at the beginning, but I suppose Joe Public will continue to find this endearing.. Kerry looked strong and decisive, and not so much like the haughty patrician intellectual we've been trained to expect.
I thought Kerry started off very well, coming straight at Bush on his apparent bout of amnesia regarding Osama and Al Qaeda, which led to this side-trip into Iraq that has nothing to do with any "war on terror." Bush was so blatant about ducking the issue, surely the American public had to notice this? Several questions in a row he totally ignored that Kerry had focused on Osama and Al Qaeda, and jumped right into his Saddam rap, as if trying to prove Kerry's point. Then a little later, seemingly in a fit of frustration, Bush blurts out "Of course I know Osama Bin Laden attacked us!" ..and then proceeds to jump right into his Saddam rap again, as if that first sentence was never uttered! That moment was downright surreal, and Kerry should have pounced on that and kept hitting him on it.
I thought as the debate went on he wasn't clear and consistent enough in sticking to that point.. He should have been much stronger and clearer, from the get-go, in addressing Bush's snipes about his switched vote on the war etc, how Kerry also said there was a grave threat, etc..
Whenever Bush hit those points, Kerry kept nodding and taking notes as if he had a knockout answer ready for it.. which was damn sure a better look than that thing Bush kept doing with his lips while Kerry talked.. What was that?? Looked like he was imitating a toad or something (my mom called it a "cricket face")
But whatever knockout answer Kerry was nodding about never fully materialized.. he should have pounced on that stuff right away and said "Yes President Bush is right, I was not misleading when I said there was a grave threat, I was misled, I made that judgement based on the false claims and faulty intelligence his administration provided."
Bush's biggest advantage was how he basically stuck to one painfully simplistic point the whole time, that "I am steadfast and resolute about Iraq, while Kerry is sending mixed messages to and flip-flopping." Meanwhile Kerry was criticizing Bush's record in Iraq from numerous different angles at different points in the debate. This was a situation where Bush's simplemindedness worked to his advantage.
Any pop songwriter can tell you that the way to get into people's heads and stay there is to take one simple catchy phrase and pound into their heads over and over. Bush did that a little more effectively here, while Kerry was singing a song that had 3 or 4 different choruses.. that is a more intellectually honest approach, and provides a more substantive analysis, but it's just not as effective as a debating tactic in this setting, especially for the post-MTV attention span.
But I suppose it's a waste of time analyzing the actual ideas expressed tonight, because honestly I think most American voters make their choice (to whatever extent they choose based on watching stuff like this) because of the "vibe" they get from a candidate, whether they like the cut of his jib as Mr. Burns would say. They try to get a feel for which one "seems like a standup guy" or "seems like the one I can trust." And in the battle of the vibes, where expectations for Kerry were pretty low, I think he did pretty well.
But I also thought Kevy Kev and Ak B's "Listen to the Man" was a way better song than Rob Base and EZ Rock's "It Takes Two," so maybe I'm not the best judge of America's tastes..