What Else Is In Scott's Head?

The blog site for writer Scott C. Smith. Some observations on the world we live in and life in general. And maybe some politics.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Presidential Debates: Kerry 1, Bush 0

Last night's presidential debate, the first of three, ended with a clear winner: John Kerry. The question remains if this debate will have any affect on undecided voters. They're the key to this election, which might be a very tight race. (Read the debate transcript here)

Bush's problem in the debate was that he was on the defensive most of the time, and many times had trouble articulating responses to the questions asked by host Jim Lehrer. You could see Bush taking a few moments to come up with an answer. Kerry, on the other hand, appeared to be ready for any question. I was also pleased to see that Kerry was able to give a short, concise response to the questions, while at the same time leveling some devastating attacks on Bush. Now, the rules for the debates (mostly requested by the Bush campaign team) required, among other things, that the camera focus only on the candidate speaking and not to cut away to responses given by the opposition. Fox News provided the debate feed to the other networks, and Fox wisely ignored the request to not air reaction shots. John Kerry remained calm and poised, while Bush, many times, grimaced in response to what Kerry had to say, clearly rattlted.

To be fair, neither candidate provided details on their respective plans for Iraq, which was the focus of this first debate. Those details certainly will be provided in the upcoming debates.

Kerry was relentless is speaking on the war against terrorism, and invoked the name of Osama Bin Laden in many of his responses, driving home the message that it was Bin Laden and Al Qaeda responsible for the attack on Sept. 11, not Iraq.

Bush provided a Rumsfeld-esque Freudian slip when talking about progress in the war against terrorism:

"We're facing a group of folks who have such hatred in their heart, they'll strike anywhere, with any means.

And that's why it's essential that we have strong alliances, and we do.

That's why it's essential that we make sure that we keep weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of people like Al Qaida, which we are.

But to say that there's only one focus on the war on terror doesn't really understand the nature of the war on terror.

Of course we're after Saddam Hussein -- I mean bin Laden. He's isolated. Seventy-five percent of his people have been brought to justice. The killer -- the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, is in prison."

Kerry was also able to get Bush to say Bin Laden's name, something Bush hasn't done in a long time. Because, under the Bush Administration's new paradigm on the war against terror was to strike against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11, but in Bush's mind, he was the real threat to the United States, not Al Qaeda.

Here's a bit from the debate where Kerry got Bush to say "Osama Bin Laden." Bush was clearly not pleased with this exchange, judging from his body language and defensive tone in response:

"KERRY: Jim, the president just said something extraordinarily revealing and frankly very important in this debate. In answer to your question about Iraq and sending people into Iraq, he just said, "The enemy attacked us."

Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us. Al Qaida attacked us. And when we had Osama bin Laden cornered in the mountains of Tora Bora, 1,000 of his cohorts with him in those mountains. With the American military forces nearby and in the field, we didn't use the best trained troops in the world to go kill the world's number one criminal and terrorist."

"BUSH: First of all, of course I know Osama bin Laden attacked us. I know that.

And secondly, to think that another round of resolutions would have caused Saddam Hussein to disarm, disclose, is ludicrous, in my judgment. It just shows a significant difference of opinion.
We tried diplomacy. We did our best. He was hoping to turn a blind eye. And, yes, he would have been stronger had we not dealt with him. He had the capability of making weapons, and he would have made weapons."

Disarm Hussein? Of what? It's interesting that Bush made a number of references for the need to disarm Saddam Hussein, as if he, Bush, still believed Saddam had stashes of WMDs somewhere.

It will be interesting to see how the other debates play out. This first debate, on foreign policy and the war in Iraq, should have been a slam-dunk for Bush, as these are the areas he mainly is campaigning on. The next debate will cover domestic policy, and Bush knows his record here in the United States is a dismal one. Bush likely will be pounded against the ropes by John Kerry in a debate on domestic policy. It should make for a great debate.


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