Saturday, October 02, 2004

Electoral Elucidations: Kerry: Back in the Game

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Back to politics! Whoo-hooo! These are just some preliminary impressions of Thursday night's debate. Over the next few days, we'll find out what the "talking heads" thought, but more importantly, what the American people thought, as divined with the help of Mr. Gallup.

However, I think anyone not completely blinded by partisanship must acknowledge that John Kerry emerged the victor. Kerry had to convince people that he could be trusted to wage the war on terrorism and he made a convincing case, borrowing a number of arguments I have been making on IVIC now for more than a month, that he could do a better job than is being done right now. Bush on the other hand, had to vigorously defend his record on Iraq. It's what incumbents do. Defend their record. At least if they want to the American people to trust them with second term. Yet Bush focused more on the same old tired attacks on Kerry we've heard all along and appeared flustered and speechless when Kerry didn't meekly submit to Bush's labeling of him. Kerry presented clear, well-thought-out plans, while the President seemed unable to do more than childishly insist that Poland is a vital ally in the Iraq war.

And what was with Bush saying Iraq was "hard work"? Even Bill O'Reiley criticized Bush last night on his show for saying it at least a dozen times in the debate. It sounds like he's making excuses. How's this slogan: Re-elect Bush--Because Being President is Hard Work, So Cut the Man Some Slack, Give Him Four More Years To Get It Right. I'm sorry, you screw up your first term, you don't deserve a second. We can't afford such a steep learning curve...actually, I've yet to see Bush learn from any of his mistakes. Of course, when asked, Bush said he couldn't think of a single mistake he's made.

Going into this debate, one poll showed that 52% of the American people expected Bush to win the debate. In the past, Bush's debating skills were frequently "misunderestimated." He "won" debates against the more experienced Texas governor Ann Richards and Vice President Al Gore. However, modern presidential debates are a far cry from the days of Lincoln and Douglas. Bush's strength was in memorizing a few simple, yet effective phrases, and repeating them endlessly. The essential hollowness of that strategy was, I believe, exposed in this debate. Bush apparently thought he could spend all 90 minutes of the debate keeping Kerry on the defensive, as he has over the past two months, simply by bringing up Kerry's "flip-flopping" on Iraq and forcing Kerry to play defense. Instead, Kerry parried Bush's attacks, acknowledged his own lack of clarity in laying out his position on Iraq, laid it out--plain and simple--and then went on the offense.

The most delicious moment of the evening came when Kerry used the words of Bush's father in his 1998 book, explaining that fears of chaos and an insurgency against the American occupiers were the reasons he didn't finish off Saddam in 1991. As Kerry pointed out, all this has come to pass, leading to the debacle we're in now. Debacle, did I say? When the administration's own National Intelligence Council's estimate predicted a "tenuous stability", that is, more of the current level of violence in Iraq for the next 18 months, as the "best-case scenario", and full-scale civil war as the "worst-case scenario", and when even Colin Powell admits, "It's getting worse", I wonder if "debacle" is too weak a word.

Incredibly, Bush seemed not to have expected a serious debate of ideas and policies. Whereas Kerry seemed cool and collected, even presidential, while Bush talked, when Kerry deviated from the prearranged script of letting Bush win, that famous Bush smirk faded away faster than you can say "Texas Hold 'em". Bush appeared visibly shaken, confused, and annoyed at--God Forbid!--having to actually defend his record instead of relying on negative or overly general sound bites.

On the issues, both candidates said preventing nuclear proliferation was their top priority. Bush claimed to have increased spending for securing so-called "loose nukes" from the former Soviet Union, but Kerry pointed to a recent report that clearly showed that more money was spent on this in the two years before September 11 than in the two years after. Bush also relied on some other unreliable figures. More than 10 million Afghans registered to vote, he said, not mentioning that the estimated number of voting age Afghans is far less and reports are pouring in about the rampant problem of multiple registration and other forms of voter fraud. (But not to worry, Afghanistan still has a full 7 days to fix these "minor" problems before their first presidential election on October 9. No biggie!)

But my point is that, while Bush spouted a lot of numbers, like most of the other statistics this administration has ever released, they just don't add up. Oh, wait, wasn't it Bush who accused Al Gore of using "fuzzy numbers" once upon a debate? My how times have changed! No wonder even Bush's hometown Crawford, Texas newspaper endorsed John Kerry!

Both Kerry and Bush agreed that what is going on now in Darfur is genocide, and although neither candidate went as far as I would have liked (regime change in Sudan, anyone?), Kerry at least said that if military intervention was necessary to end the genocide, he would commit troops. ("not another Rwanda.") Bush, apparently "soft on genocide", made no such commitment. Which is strange, as one of the arguments for the Iraq war was to retaliate for Saddam's gassing of the Kurds--15 years after it could do any good for the dead women and children of Halabja. I guess genocide is not something to be prevented before it happens, but simply to be used in an intellectually dishonest manner if you ever decide for an unrelated reason, years down the road, that it might help to pad your case for going to war. Don't even get me started...

Stranger still, this genocide took place when Bush's father was Vice President. Even after the West learned the truth about Saddam's little holocaust in Iraqi Kurdistan, the White House continued to give military aid to Saddam to fight the Iranians. He promptly used those nice little toys, such as attack helicopters, to disperse more poison gas and strafe Kurdish villages. Of course, American agricultural and corporate interests were turning a tidy profit in Iraq, so who cared if unarmed civilians died by the thousands? Try to follow this logic. Saddam gassing the Kurds = no biggie, not even worth a slap on the wrist or a word of condemnation. Saddam invading a source of U.S. oil imports = unpardonable crime, send in the Third Infantry!! Halliburton, under CEO Dick Cheney, doing business with Iraq in violation of UN sanctions in the 1990s = hey, free trade, baby! Russia, China, France, and Germany doing the exact same thing = those dirty, good-for-nothing, opportunistic, freedom-hating, backstabbing, appeasing traitors; no wonder they opposed the war!!

So, yeah, I had hoped that Kerry would simply be able to stand his own. He gave the better performance at the debate, and I think polls will show Bush's lead start to evaporate. As they've said all along, this is going to be another squeaker. Will Kerry remain clear, confident, and consistent through Election Day? Will Edwards or Cheney prevail in the VP debates? Will Bush get his little brother to stack the deck--I mean, count the votes--for him this time and will his daddy's buddies on the Supreme Court have to bail him out--yet again? Stay tuned.

~Michael J. Smith

P.S.: Akerman, stop playing Sims 2 and post something!