Friday, October 01, 2004

First Presidential Debate - 30 September 2004

I was all fired up for my first ever live U.S. Prez debate last night. The Democrats Society at law school was getting together to watch the event but since it started so late (9.00 p.m.), I decided to give the public viewing a miss and go home. I caught the debate, all 90 mins of it. It was exciting and insightful - to the extent that anything political can be. I guess what was so refreshing about the event was that, for once, the candidates were going to speak without cribsheets - for the most part. No scripts, more or less. And it was interesting to see a lawyer beat the pants off an MBA graduate :)

I regret to say, Kerry made the first goof up - "Islamic Muslims". What the ...?! What other kind of Islamic people would u have?? The Islamic Hindus? Islamic Jews? He then followed that up with "... there are a list of things wrong..." It was disappointing to spot the initial mistakes from Kerry - a lawyer, and, in my opinion, the better candidate. But that said, Bush came back with some priceless gems. I didn't catch any bloopers on his part like "Islamic Muslims", but that's mainly because he... took.... his... time... in... answering... questions. He had so many pauses in between his words that they were pregnant, delivered, and begat their own offspring. It was actually painful to see his struggle for the right words.

Speaking of "right" words, what was with Bush's ubiquitous "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time" refrain? It almost seemed like when he didn't have anything decent to come up with, he'd fall back on that mantra. The first time he used it, I have to admit, I thought it was a catchy phrase, albeit a terrible point to make as a rejoinder to Kerry. But when he then proceeded to fall so madly in love with it that he began using it every time his cribsheets failed him, it became exhausting.

Kerry won the debate from the get-go. His responses were precise, more spontaneous, had more flow, and sounded intelligent. He also had poise and sophistication in his arguments, made more convincing because of his firm grasp of facts. Kerry had a neat way of wrapping up every single one of his speeches, be they a direct answer or rebuttal. It was a joy to hear his smooth tyransitions. More importantly, they came across as easy, and not slick. Bush, on the other hand, clearly had been coached repeatedly. He lacked poise - the number of times he sounded like a school yard bully is a disgrace to the Presidency. He came across as an abrasive frat boy who had just had his ego punctured. Classic example:

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 Qaeda attacked us.

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

What was that?? The body language that went along with Bush's reply made it mortifyingly obvious that he got flustered by Kerry's well made point, and had taken it as a personal affront that his confusion of who the enemy was was being shown up on national TV. I could not believe at that moment that that bloke has held the Presidency for as long as has. Yet another example of when Bush let his guard down was when he injected the issue of the International Criminal Court from nowhere.

BUSH: Let me -- I'm not exactly sure what you mean, "passes the global test," you take preemptive action if you pass a global test. My attitude is you take preemptive action in order to protect the American people, that you act in order to make this country secure. My opponent talks about me not signing certain treaties. Let me tell you one thing I didn't sign, and I think it shows the difference of our opinion -- the difference of opinions. And that is, I wouldn't join the International Criminal Court. It's a body based in The Hague where unaccountable judges and prosecutors can pull our troops or diplomats up for trial.

It looks a LOT better in text form than it did when he uttered those words on TV. And that's saying a lot.

To give credit where it's due though, Bush did connect with the crowd just that tad bit more. He had the better sense of humour - when asked what he thought of Kerry's character, Bush responded with an off-the-cuff, "That's a loaded question." He then went on to say, "I won't hold it against him that he went to Yale. There's nothing wrong with that. " That showed a sponeity in him that previously hadn't come through. I shudder when I think of those few excruciating moments when Bush tried to induce some emotion in his voice when talking about troops lives being lost in Iraq. Not the kind of glaringly blatant fake grief one expects to see from the President.

Ultimately, Kerry was the better debator. He never once lost his poise, and yet, did not appear at any time like a smooth-operator. I enjoyed watching him debate - it was an intellectually stimulating dance to some kick-ass music with a great partner who knew what he was doing.

Oh, one final point, it was great to see Kerry take notes wile Bush was speaking, and use his self-made notes in his rebuttal speeches. Wonder where Bush gathered his material from.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention the eye-rolling, smirks and scowls between those impregnating pauses. Puuuuhhh.

If you're looking for a neat satirical encapsulation of this tug-of-war, I can recommend

6:24 am  

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