Debate Highs and Lows

Kerry's worst mistakes: (1) a slip on a “global test” for preemptive war. While he meant that any war must be something we can justify to the world. It will be twisted to mean he'll demand approval from the black-helicopter-UN before sneezing. (2) Somewhat robotic repetition of some of the same talking points.

Bush's worst mistakes: (1) inarticulate, bad body language, sounded flustered by unexpected questions; (2) didn't seem to have a full command of the facts

Kerry's best moves: Great delivery: strong and dignified and articulate (when not repeating himself). Hit key points he had to hit

Bush's best move — suggesting that Kerry's claim the attack on Iraq was wrong doesn't square with his expressed desire to “win” now. (Despite Kerry's later reference to the Pottery Barn theory, which was not a great corrective.)

Things that await the spin: Korea 2-party or 6-party talks? Bush's set-piece about meeting a war widow.

Prediction: The anti-Kerry soundbites will be all the same they were before — why let facts get in the way.

But I mostly heard this on the radio. Did it look different on TV?

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17 Responses to Debate Highs and Lows

  1. Barsk says:

    I was at the shin-dig they threw for the students. While I was not pleased that virtually nobody got to go to the debate (students that is) the gathering/party they had for us was quite nice and a lot of fun (and we got on TV too).

    On TV the body language looked awful for Bush. He had the ‘monkey face’ going quite a lot and on the cut-aways they caught Kerry writing a few times while they caught Bush with a couple odd looks (would I dare call it a scowel) on his face…almsot as bad as the Gore sigh four years ago IMO. The body language was just very, very bad.

  2. Max says:

    Bush didn’t seem to know the cameras would be on him as Kerry was speaking, and so rolled his eyes and smirked multiple times. Even the talking heads afterward on CNN picked up on that.

    Also, in contrast to 2000, there were multiple shots of Kerry right next to Bush, highlighting their height difference.

    They both made two typical body langauge gaffes, with Kerry reaching for his pocket some times while answers (this was visible from the side shot, but not the front on shot) and Bush spending about 70% of the debate leaning on the podium. He’s just the right height to do that, but it also contrasted his height difference with Kerry, as Kerry clearly couldn’t do that and instead looked poised.

    Kerry was also wearing a better suit which made him look more ethereal on the screen, as you couldn’t really make out the geometry of the person wearing it, whereas Bush appeared to have a bit of a hunch in the shots from the side/back.

    My take is that they started out with Bush slightly ahead for being a bit more poised. Then, and there was a real moment but I don’t remember what it was, he paused in his answer, and from then on it was justy yammering and eye rolling and heavy breathing.

    Lerher did a good job, IMHO, good questions.

  3. ed says:

    Not sure how much it counts for…but it sure shows that Kerry won the debate by quite a large margin.


  4. Rodger says:

    Kerry was repetitive?

    Bush made the same 5 or 6 comments over and over. Kerry pretty clearly introduced a much wider range of ideas into the debate. Most of them Bush ignored.

    Kerry probably should have responded to the “mixed message” claim a bit more clearly. How can we fight to win now if it was a mistake?

  5. sigh. says:

    sort of the emperor’s clothes to call these things “debates” when they are really
    nothing more than scripted talking points. it was like pulling teeth to try to get the
    candidates to engage each other, or even answer a question point-blank instead of just
    ignoring it and proceeding to read the bullet points that they have memorized.

  6. sigh. says:

    oh, as far as the visuals go, often there was a split-screen with both candidates shown.

    the networks were very careful to have kerry and bush appear to be the exact same height,
    by including rather a lot of bush’s podium in the shot, but that didn’t alleviate the issue
    of bush smirking and scowling and rolling his eyes while kerry spoke. kerry had pretty much
    perfect demeanor; a poker face except for some smiles now and then at blatent mischaracterizations.
    sort of bland otherwise. everyone thinks their guy won apparantly.

  7. Geoffrey says:

    I think Kerry crushed Bush utterly. More than anything, Kerry simply looked presidential, while Bush looked irresponsible and untrustworthy. Like somebody trying to talk himself out of a parking ticket.

  8. Mojo says:

    I was really disappointed (irate) at Kerry’s initial performance. He let Bush slide on outright lies and misleading statements and responded instead with phrases that he might have thought sounded good but which won’t resonate with voters. But later he seemed to hit his stride and was more willing to contradict Bush’s statements directly. I agree with “sigh” that it was more like side-by-side speeches than an actual debate but they used the extra one minute rule sometimes to make it a bit more substantive. Overall I was disappointed in Kerry not having ready answers to a number of things that anyone could have predicted that Bush would come up with. I also think he’d have been better off calling Bush on his main talking points early since that would have either really highlighted Bush’s stupidity in blindly repeating the same debunked ideas over and over or forced him to think on his feet (not his best trait to say the least). Lehrer did a much better job than in 2000 and I also liked the fact that neither candidate really abused the time limits like some have in the past. I don’t think it was Kerry’s best performance but I do think he came out ahead in the end despite what I saw as Bush’s early lead. Unfortunately, I think he needed to win a lot bigger than he did and it wasn’t so obvious that it can’t be spun over the next couple of days.

  9. Observer says:

    Intellectually, no new arguments were made. Those who have already decided won’t be changing their minds.

    However, the post-debate punditry has now acheived a remarkable consensus that Kerry won. I mean, even Fox is unanimous on the point. The right wingers there are arguing that Bush could have made his points better, but acknowledge he came across poorly and Kerry performed well. The left wingers (not on Fox, but on other channels) are positively beaming.

    How this affects the undecideds will be interesting. There are three factors, all of which favor Kerry at this time:

    1) New information. While everything said was stuff we news junkies know by heart, that’s wasn’t true for much of the audience. And realistically, the longer people think about Iraq, the better it is for Kerry.

    2) FUD. Elections with incumbents are generally referenda on the incumbent’s peformance, and Bush’s approval has been sub-50% for a long time. Like Carter in 1980, he’s an unpopular incumbent. But like Reagan in 1980, Kerry is an unknown about whom a lot of negative stuff has been said, so until now he hasn’t gained much ground. Like Reagan in 1980, he performed very well in the first debate, so a lot of those undecideds will now look at Kerry as “presidential” and will be comfortable voting against Bush as a result.

    3) Likeability. Sadly, a lot of voters make up their mind based on irrelevant trivia, like “likeability”. Most of those voters probably pushed Bush down a lot in their estimation based on his performance tonight. Horrible body language, clearly irritated and angry, and often inarticulate (in a bad, not funny, way).

    So, Kerry gains. The reaction from Rove will be interesting. Look for a major surprise announcement tomorrow followed by intense talk show reinforcement over the weekend. Rove needs to change the topic fast.

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  13. North Korea doesn’t await the spin, professor, its already gotten it. The six nation talks are impassed. North Korea’s not going to the next meeting. This was announced long before we were all told last night that if Kerry talks to Kim Jong Il directly that process will fail.

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  15. Michael says:

    Yes, watching this on television showed how much Bush looked like a high school debate student compared to the composure and air displayed by Kerry. Kerry had Bush on the defensive from about 15 minutes into the debate. And you would not have been able to see Bush in his closing remarks blink his eyes so frequently they looked like windshield wipers in a Florida hurricane. Kerry dominated this one, hands down!

  16. As a former high school debater and later coach and lecturer to high school debaters, I cannot be offended enough at the suggestion that any competent debater at that level would be as poorly prepared and as bad on his feet as GWB was.

    Quite frankly, what he looked like to me was a witness caving on the stand from a bad position, and not knowing where to go.

  17. Michael says:

    Sorry, Christopher. Didn’t mean to offend you or well-trained high school debate students. I should have clarified the difference in my remark. I think your comparison with a caving witness on the stand is very fitting too.


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