The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, October 01, 2004

Eleanor Clift - A Win For Kerry

Published in Newsweek Online

A Win for Kerry
The first debate was reality TV, and it was not kind to Bush. Now the momentum shifts to the Dems—and raises the stakes in next week’s veep encounter

By Eleanor Clift

Oct. 1 - George W. Bush didn’t look at his watch the way his father famously did during a presidential debate, but he might as well have. The president had the air of a man who couldn’t bother being there. Response shots aired by the networks captured his smirking dismay at his rival’s answers, much the way Al Gore sighed in disgust at Bush four years ago.

Republicans thought they had the race wrapped up. All their candidate had to do was repeat his road-tested slogans. But 90 minutes of Bush is a long time. There’s a reason why he has held fewer press conferences than any other modern president. He is incapable of conceptual thinking, and he came across as agitated and annoyed that more was expected of him now that he’s the self-styled “war president.” He repeatedly said he is “working hard” and “it’s hard work,” as though that alone should silence his critics.

If Republicans were overconfident going into the debate, Democrats had begun preparing themselves for defeat. Kerry had given up so much ground that he was close to being written out of the race. Voters had absorbed the image of Kerry as a flip-flopper without core convictions. A very different Kerry showed up in the debate hall. He was calm and disciplined while Bush was “slouching and praying for the light to go on so he wouldn’t have to think of anything else to repeat,” said a Democratic strategist.

Kerry spoke crisply and clearly, and he looked presidential. He defended his position on Iraq as consistent—agreeing with Bush that Saddam Hussein was a threat, but saying he would have handled the situation differently. When Bush confronted him with that old saw about how he voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it, Kerry scored big, saying, “I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?”

This was Kerry’s best performance since, perhaps, ever. Like Lazarus, he is back from the dead. He energized his own Democratic base, which had begun to drift away in despair. Democrats now believe he has a chance to win. Standing alongside Bush, he showed himself to be more than up to the task. The contrast could not be greater between Bush, a man who passionately believes in the rightness of his convictions to the point of willfully excluding facts, and Kerry, a man who operates by reason and intellect. Before Thursday night, Bush had made a mockery of Kerry, using ridicule and sarcasm to turn his opponent into a cartoon figure. That will be harder now that voters have gotten a fuller picture.

A single debate probably won’t determine the outcome of the election, but with two more debates ahead, the Bush team has got to be worried. It’s a tactic of Karl Rove’s to create an aura of inevitability about Bush, and he no doubt convinced the president the debate would be a slam dunk. Bush strode onto the stage with his customary swagger, but it was downhill from there. He had that deer-in-the-headlights look for much of the time, and he repeated stock phrases so often, he became a caricature of himself. This was reality TV, and it was not kind to Bush.

Now the momentum shifts. The Kerry crowds will get larger and more enthusiastic, which raises the stakes for John Edwards to be able to replicate Kerry’s performance. Edwards has been almost absent from the national news, dismissed by the Bush team and the media alike as an also-ran with nothing of importance to say on the most critical issues of the election, Iraq and national security. Edwards has to show gravitas when he debates Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday night in Cleveland. He has to press the case Kerry opened against the Bush-Cheney team—that for all the tough talk, they are neglecting homeland security needs because of the strain Iraq has put on resources and because they won’t scale back tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The Kerry campaign team is mindful of how Gore won the first debate in 2000, and then lost it in the 48 hours of spin that followed. The impact of this debate on the overall race will turn on Kerry’s ability to capitalize on his strong performance and Bush’s ability to rebound. Now the pressure is on Bush. His limitations as a leader, and the shortcomings of the policies he mindlessly champions, have been exposed. Beyond saying he was bringing freedom to Iraq, he did not offer much of a defense of the war. Neither man acknowledged the latest attacks in Baghdad that killed at least 34 children. Kerry was respectful, almost gentle with Bush. There were more openings Kerry could have taken, but that might have been seen as piling on.

© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.


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