I don't watch debates. They remind me too much of trials, which I don't enjoy either. I also find it annoying to listen to attacks and arguments I can't respond to. Nor can I really say who is winning or losing, because I'm not an undecided voter. I found Hugh Hewitt's scorecard
quite useful, but I'm sure his assessments of who did better are about as accurate as mine would be.
I also dislike things like this that are about as dissimilar they can be to the reality of the job. Debates are more like tryouts for a press conference than they are like being president. They remind me of bar exams, which determine whether one can practice law by asking them to answer legal questions without having any reference material or research. No president should govern in the way we ask them to debate. Presidents have counselors and advisors. They discuss things and have time to mull them over. We already watched two conventions and heard their positions. Why do we need debates? The only test is whether they can get through a high-tension questioning without falling through a trap door.
I think James Lileks
From a reading of the questions asked, I don't think there was anything new that either one hasn't said before this. Bush's best arguments are not the kind of things you can state in a debate, since they mostly consist of examples of Kerry's erratic positions. All you can do is to just stick to your explanations and point out that it's easy to claim you'd do everything better, as Kerry does, but real life has a way of throwing you curves. The only way to know what Kerry would do is to give him enough rope to prove what he'd do, but can we really afford to turn the keys over to someone who has no track record? Instead of trying to anticpate all the questions and coaching him on how to answer them, his team should help him to patiently explain matters as he sees them, and just keep pointing out that Kerry's points are all claims without anything in his record to persuade anyone that he'd really do what he says he would. Look at his votes on things. Look at his prior statements. Kerry can't vouch for himself overnight, let alone for four years.
Update: I've been hearing clips from the debate since last night, and it seems to me that Kerry is promoting a policy of national selfishness and shortsightedness. He has always had a tendency to make bold charges without providing proof. He complains about fire stations being closed and not enough cops in this country, but his party and his liberal philosophy have contributed to breakdowns in law and order and made it more difficult to fight crime and terrorism. Kerry wants more cops but not the Patriot Act. He says he wants a lot of things that he has consistently opposed in the Senate. Apparently his polls are telling him he still needs to sound tough on national security. How else can you account for his continuing to cite his short stint in combat over 30 years ago? But his attacks on Bush don't offer any reassurance. I think that people are starting to understand that by fighting in Iraq, we are choosing the battlefield of our choice, which is outside of America. I'm surprised Kerry doesn't understand the tactical advantage that gives us against terrorists.
He said he wouldn't cede the right to defend the nation from attackes, but then he contradicted himself by arguing for "a global test," where we have to explain ourselves to the rest of the world. Bush did that, so Kerry apparently thinks it wasn't sufficient to explain; he seems to think we need their approval. Also, using the Cuban Missile Crisis and mischaracterizing how Kennedy handled it didn't make a lot of sense. His description of Kennedy's ending an envoy to Charles DeGaulle and France as a precedent is unlikely to be persuasive. Basically, all that story proved is that what France thought of it was irrelevant.
The most important threat to us is nuclear proliferation? What has Kerry or his party done to stop that? Oh, yeah. They made an agreement with North Korea, which it promptly ignored, then they fiddled around while Saddam pursued nukes. Of course, Bush's father also followed a foolish policy by letting the U.N. control our handling of the Gulf War, but Bush hasn't made that mistake.
He promises to shut down our program to develop nuclear bunkerbusting weapons, such as we might use in, say, Tora Bora. When the enemy builds tunnels and bunkers underground, shouldn't we have weapons that let them know it won't work.
His critique of using warlords as allies in Afghanistan seems kind of screwy as well. Isn't bringing these groups together the basis for the emerging democracy in that country? I remember thinking at the time that it was smart not to try to occupy the country as the Soviets did. Instead we developed a coalition to drive out the Taliban while our troops stayed inside a strongly defended base, sending out sorties as needed to attack the enemy rather than subjecting ourselves to guerrilla attacks like those that drove the Soviets out.
Iraq was not that easy, because we are trying to rebuild the country, and we had to occupy the country, in order to rebuild it and to train local security forces, both of which expose our troops to guerrilla attacks. Still, I don't think things are as bad there as the conventional wisdom indicates. When there were riots in various cities in the 1960s after Martin Luther King's murder, most of the country was peaceful, but to watch the news, you'd think it was in flames everywhere. Just as the Tet Offensive was misinterpreted by the media as a vast defeat, our success in Iraq is being ignored.
Bush may have ceded too much of the time to Kerry by not having enough material. He ended up repeating himself. However, that is more a critique of the the 90 minute format than of Bush's performance. He has a simple forthright policy. It doesn't require a lengthy speech to explain it.
Kerry seems to have done some twisting of history as well, by arguing that Bush didn't explain why we were going to war in Iraq to the people. He's relying on the viewers to assume that Bush knew ahead of time that there weren't any WMD, which neither he nor the Democrats knew.
When you try to follow Kerry's arguments, you find that they're tautological and assume things that either are false or infantile.
Kerry has mastered the art of making absurd positions sound better by forceful delivery. I hope Bush's campaign will use Kerry clips like the "global test" and point out how silly they are. Kerry wins on style, but what remains for Bush's campaign to do is hang the substance of his position around his neck.