I just finished watching the 1st Presidential Debate. As you know, I wasn't at all confident about Kerry's chances tonight, in fact, I thought he risked blowing the entire election.
Now? (drumroll please...)
Kerry drilled it (it being the debate and Bush).
Kerry: Loved how he came out swinging. He clearly knew his stuff, and he nailed Bush on SPECIFIC programs he was neglecting, which I thought was great. I thought especially that his emphasis on proliferation, chemical plant security, and port security, was a dagger to the heart. If he can keep the focus on those issues, Bush will be beat. Also, Kerry finally gave an answer that strikes at the heart of his whole consistancy deal on Iraq. Hussein was a threat, there was a right way and a wrong way to disarm him, and we picked the wrong way. This isn't a binary, you can agree on the problem and see many different solutions. Kerry also laid out his Iraq plan, which is important. I'm not sure how I feel about the summit idea, but at least its a fresh idea. Add it to internationalization and iraqification, and suddenly you've got a bona fide solution. "Outsourcing" line about Bin Laden and warlords a bit over the top, but it got the point across. Best line of the night was when Kerry said "I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?" That's huge. Still some rambling issues and clarity problems, but much improved there too. And while at times Kerry made his positions explicitly clear, in general his discussion of them might have been too complex and confusing. However, the overall aura Kerry gave off was calm, in control, and Presidential. GRADE: A-
Bush: Stuck to message about consistency, which was good. However, Bush just repeated the same rhetoric over and over (if I heard "mixed messages" one more time I was going to put a hole in the TV), which makes it seem like this was a script, not him actually listening to the debate. Some evasions of the questions, especially when he was trying to make the answer fit into his preconcieved narratives. Saying "I'm going to win the election" doesn't answer the question "Will the country be more likely to have a terrorist strike if Kerry wins the election," and then Bush goes off on his resolved schtick. When Bush was forced off-message, he looked very vulnerable, alot of long pauses and stutters. That's actually worse than it normally would be because it directly harms his "resolute commander" image. I've been reading on some Conservative blogs that Bush looked "authoritative" and "resolute," and I can only believe that they are on cocaine. Normally I'd agree that Kerry is a worse speaker than Bush, but not tonight. I was glad that Bush didn't take the SBVT bait on the "character question," surprisingly classy. Oh, this is important: When the allegation is that you don't have a real alliance, saying "you forgot Poland" is NOT a good response. One GREAT point was how does Kerry expects to convince the world to help us in this "colossel failure of judgment" and "diversion?" That deserves an answer. Overall weak responses to Kerry's specific allegations on port/nuke/chem security, which is unfortunate, especially considering he agreed that non-proliferation is the most important issue. And to top it all off, he looked HORRIBLE on the cutaway shots, like Gore in 2000. He's going to have to improve big time. GRADE: C
Very few distortions on factual matters, though Bush's statement that the funding for securing loose nuclear material has risen 35% raised red flags. That doesn't mesh with what I've read on the matter. One true distortion was Bush's statement that 100,000 Iraqi soldiers are in uniform. That's TECHNICALLY true, but of that 100,000 only 22,700 have enough training to be even minamally effective. In my opinion, that doesn't count. It certainly makes Kerry's Iraqification point on the need to accelerate training more salient. Other than that, the facts didn't seem in much dispute.
Commentary by Powerline, Daniel Drezner, Kevin Drum, Victory Briefs (featuring some of the best debate critics in the business!), and Andrew Sullivan. Full transcript of the debate here.