John Forbes Kerry won the televised duel with George Bush in
Jim Lehrer, who has never asked a tough question of anyone in his three decades of national broadcasting, reminded us what an unhappy format this joint press conference — I refuse to call it a debate — really was at the top of the evening, when he intoned that “I was selected to enforce their rules on them.” Indeed.
The truncated time frame for responses scarcely allowed for real
thought — they were kept to just 90 seconds, approximating the length of the American attention span when it comes to the country’s governance. This corporate-controlled event, concocted by the paymasters of the bi-partisan duopoly, was designed to shield both candidates from being probed in any depth, not to allow for a genuine educational experience. I lived in
But, if the bar was set awfully low, little George Bush couldn’t even manage to get his chin over it. Bush, with his limited intellectual capacity, ran out of gas rather quickly: he came to this 90-minute show with only 35 minutes of material, as Howard Fineman cracked afterwards on Chris Matthews’ show. He was repetitive, mendacious, and annoyed. Very annoyed.
The Shrub lost the battle of the cutaways: during Kerry’s responses, the cameras kept catching King George — unused to having his imperial presidency questioned — scowling in disdain. And, as the evening wore on, Bush seemed to be the incredibly shrinking president, increasingly slouching and draping himself over the lectern for support as Kerry stretched his long frame into a straight and taught, quasi-military erectness. As the media clichÃ© has it, Kerry “looked presidential.”
Kerry’s best moment came when he quoted Bush’s father against him — citing the first President Bush’s memoirs declaring that he didn’t want to invade Baghdad in the first Gulf War because he didn’t have an exit strategy. But, of course, neither does Kerry. JFK’s proposals for what to do in
Kerry reiterated his support for the war over and over. When Lehrer asked him (quoting Kerry’s now-famous
Bush’s greatest blunder came when he asserted, in response to Kerry’s claim that the
those Americans who get their news from television, a significant majority still believe that Saddam had something to do with 9/11.
Only 27 percent of the country has a college education — Kerry’s subtleties may have been lost on many of the less educated.
The flash polls immediately following the 90 minute face-off all showed that Kerry had “won” it. But they also showed that, apparently, it hadn’t changed voters’ attitudes toward the two candidates all that much. NBC had a focus group of six undecided
Scoring points is not as relevant in televised events like these as the
feelings about the candidates they evoke. The ultimate lesson on this score comes from the very first televised presidential “debate” in 1960: the polls back then showed that those who saw the debate on the tube thought John Kennedy had won it, but those who only heard it on radio thought that Richard Nixon had.
Kerry desperately needed a knockout punch in
If Kerry loses this election, history will record that he lost it on the day he voted the Constitution-shredding blank check for war in
Kerry has a chance to do better in the coming “debates” on domestic issues, on which — the polls show — Bush is weakest. But how many voters will be watching those next two exchanges? The first debate is always the most-watched. Moreover, as the Wall Street Journal reported at the beginning of the week, early voting is now so wide-spread that some 25-30% of the electorate — particularly in the battleground states — will have already have cast its votes two, or three, or four weeks before Election Day. And that means many will have voted before those final “debates” have taken place — some, in places like Ohio, have even voted before the Miami event.
Kerry’s performance in
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article appeared Oct. 1, 2004.