...and that's on a scale going from -5 to 5.
I was watching it with a bunch of Democratic grad students of the UM phil dept, and many of us were worried (not least my buddy Ira, one of the more politically astute folks I know). Kerry clearly didn't say the awesome things that many of us hoped he'd say. Lots of his time was spent in mumblytalk about alliances and global tests (can't you see the next GOP talking point?) and junk like that. But he had a few solid moments that genuinely advanced the ball. He explained his stance on the war: we both thought Saddam was the threat, but we had different ideas on how to disarm him. He criticized Bush for prioritizing Saddam over Osama, which led to an amusing Bush error where the two got conflated. And he saved his most pointed terms of criticism -- "colossal error of judgment" -- for that criticism. That's some astute media strategy right there. It's his most intensely worded criticism and it's what the papers will pick up on since he used his toughest words there. I'm glad to see that getting into the press, since I think the American people at least recognize the greater 9/11 significance of Osama over Saddam.
Bush, on the other hand, failed to get anything done. He just repeated the same tired "mixed message" talking points, and when Kerry failed to provide a stark example of a mixed message, the talking points seemed empty. Kerry even managed to turn the points against Bush on the North Korea issue. Bush had plenty of minor bloopers -- Saddam/Osama, the weird "tax gap" junk, and for the love of God "Poland!" -- which count against him. Worst of all, he seemed to stumble at the beginning of every question and didn't seem a bit like the strong leader that his campaign desperately needs him to appear as.
But if there's one thing I have to leave you with, it's this: the polls prior to this debate have Bush over Kerry in the solid double-digits on Iraq and terrorism. Just by standing up there and not saying anything disastrous, Kerry had the power to close that gap. Given that he outperformed Bush in a foreign policy debate, he's shored up perceptions of himself on the issue where he was weakest, and this bodes very well for him in the broader context of the race.
note: This post has been brought to you by several local Michigan brews, Captain Morgan, and a super-smooth Irish whiskey called Bushmills.
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