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Final Round: Kerry (barely).

Well, to no one’s surprise, I think John Kerry won again. But, while I’d like to say that the Senator knocked this final debate in Tempe, Arizona out of the park, frankly, he didn’t. In the early going, I thought he seemed tired and slightly discombobulated, and, at times when a concise rebuttal could have scored some serious points, Kerry’s answers often seemed more wordy and circuitous than necessary. On the other hand, I thought this was Dubya’s best performance – he was still smirking and guffawing too much, still distorting the facts, still running from his record, and still demonizing his opponent like the best of ’em, but at least he seemed in full possession of his faculties this time around (perhaps the wire was working tonight.) I did think that Kerry warmed up in the middle third, but he lost focus again during the final questions (Native American blessings? Idears?) That being said, given the relative lack of drama tonight and the playoff baseball on FOX, I highly doubt this final debate will end up altering the current campaign dynamic much.

So there you have it, folks. Barring an October Surprise in the next three weeks, it now all comes down to the ground game, and — given what we’ve been hearing regarding voter registration, given the white-hot contempt towards Dubya held by Dems and the ambivalence with which fiscal conservatives and many veterans view this administration, and given the usual tendency of undecideds to break towards the challenger — turnout is a factor which John Kerry should win handily (barring Diebold shenanigans.) It ain’t over yet, to be sure, but right now I’d say that, despite tonight’s missed opportunities, John Kerry and John Edwards have put themselves in a solid position to win with their cumulative debate performance. The election is too close to call, definitely, but at this point I feel pretty confident our nation will make the right decision on Nov 2.

Round 3: Kerry!

An hour after tonight’s town hall debate in St. Louis, the immediate spin seems to be that it was a draw, mainly because Dubya didn’t scowl and sputter to the extent he did last time around. (The “soft bigotry of low expectations” strikes again.) But it must be a Two Americas thing, ’cause that’s not the debate I saw…most of the time I was waiting for Rove and Cheney to run on stage, hold a light to Dubya’s eyes, and squirt some water in his mouth. As before, John Kerry radiated calm, determination, and a quick, roving intelligence. In a word, leadership. Dubya, on the other hand, was once again all hat and no cattle, trying to shirk, smirk, weasel, bluster, and lie his way through the proceedings. “Flip-flopper,” “global test,” tax-and-spend, etc…Dubya sought to evade every single question about his dismal record with a insult or a threat, even going so far as to throw around “Liberal” desperately, a word still verboten since his Daddy ran it through the mud in ’88.

Kerry’s been surging since last Thursday, and I expect it’ll continue after tonight. But I confess, I really can’t wrap my mind around how anyone could have watched tonight’s event and think Bush would be the better choice between these two men. With the possible exception of the canned Red Sox quip, there wasn’t a moment when Kerry didn’t seem presidential and didn’t hold the upper hand. And, as for Dubya…based on tonight, I wouldn’t trust this guy to run the local chapter of the Elks, much less the Oval Office. No mistakes made at all, Mr. President? Who wants a President so blatantly unreflective about life-and-death decisions? I mean, he could have at least tried to look one up on the Internets. Would forgetting about your timber company count as a mistake?

That being said, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that, when considering the inevitable Supreme Court appointments over the next four years, Dubya has at least promised not to overturn Dred Scott v. Sandford. Phew! Say what you will about Dubya’s godawful judicial nominees, at least we know they’ll hold up the Thirteenth Amendment. (Civil rights and civil liberties, of course, are another matter…) Update: Ok, now I get it. It was a coded pro-life message to the right-wing fundies. (Via Blivet.) Update 2: Tim Noah talks more about Dred.

“Actually, it’s the BBC controlling us from London.”

Sent to me by way of Raza at High Industrial: Is Bush Wired? Hmmm…I see two major problems with this particular conspiracy theory. For one, given how much Dubya is photographed, an earpiece would be extremely hard to hide. For another, if Dubya were being prompted from afar, one would think he’d be much more articulate than he in fact is most of the time. Update: Salon follows the meme.

Round 2: Draw.

Well, to my partisan eye, Dick Cheney proved time and time again in tonight’s sole veep debate that he’s not only an inveterate liar but a major-league asshole. (Yeah, big time.) Iraq (“It’s going great!”), Osama (“We never stopped going after him!”), the homefront (“Things are looking up!”), you name it…the guy just seems to have no compunction about dissembling flat-out to the American people. Said the veep early on, “The senator has got his facts wrong. I have not suggested there’s a connection between Iraq and 9/11.” Really, Dick? How were we supposed to take Saddam “had long-established ties with Al Qaeda” then? Similarly, the audacity of Dick Cheney attacking John Kerry for voting against weapons systems he himself opposed is simply staggering.

From lies to misdirection. How did Cheney try to explain away Halliburton’s sweetheart no-bid Iraq contracts, and the subsequent looking askance at their egregious overbilling of the American people? “Um, John, I’ve never seen you around the Senate before.” (Not true, of course, but nice of Dick to send voters to the Soros-run FactCheck.com rather than FactCheck.org, though.) And, when Edwards skewered the veep with his own voting record from back in the day — no to Head Start, Meals on Wheels, and the Education Dept, no to MLK Day and to condemning apartheid(?!) — what was Cheney’s answer? “Oh, I think his record speaks for itself.” You’re damn right it does, as does yours.

All that being said, I thought Edwards missed a few chances to put the hurt on Cheney in the early going, and should have responded harder to the ridiculous “facing-up-to-Howard Dean” riff. And he didn’t really hit his stride until the domestic-policy-oriented second half, when less-interested swing voters out there had probably started tuning out. (Conversely, I thought Cheney self-destructed for awhile there, mumbling about No Child Left Behind in a question about jobs.) So, while my gut (and the insta-polling) say Edwards took this one, I’m guessing the numbers in the next few days will show a draw, if only because Cheney seemed at least somewhat cognizant of the world around him, unlike his running mate. Next stop: Friday.

The Voice of Reason.

Well, well, look who’s back. Kerry closes the gap over the weekend, setting the stage for this week’s debate double (Dubya?) dip (beginning tomorrow with Edwards v. Cheney.) Maybe now Dubya is finally beginning to realize: going mano-a-mano with Kerry is hard work.

Round 1: Kerry.

Well, to give credit where it’s due, Dubya has clearly improved as a debater since 2000. While occasionally flustered and often seeming petulant, he never seemed as confused and inarticulate as he did in his jousts with Gore…in fact, I’d go so far to say that he even occasionally seemed wily. Still, given the artifice of the format, it’s hard to see how John Kerry could have done much better in tonight’s first debate. After the first question or so, Kerry seemed calm, collected, forceful and resolute, and he managed to make succinct and readily understandable distinctions between he and Dubya throughout. For undecided voters who imbibed all the RNC’s garbage a month ago and were expecting another Dukakis Dem in John Kerry, I suspect they may have begun reevaluating him tonight. And, when you consider that the terrain of this debate most facilitated Dubya’s “9/11, 9/11, 9/11” strategy, Kerry’s got nowhere to go but up.


So, what are you doing tonight? If your name is John Kerry, hopefully the answer is kicking ass and taking names.

Lockbox Quarterback.

Al Gore explains how to debate Dubya. Rule #1: Don’t act like Al Gore

And Can Cheney Hold My Hand?

As with the 9/11 commission, so with the American people. The Presidential Debate Commission tries to push back on Dubya’s attempts to hide from voters. “If any audience member poses a question or makes a statement that is in any material way different than the question that the audience member earlier submitted to the moderator for review, the moderator will cut off the questioner and advise the audience that such nonreviewed questions are not permitted,’ the agreement reads. The men who negotiated the agreement, James A. Baker III for Mr. Bush and Vernon Jordan for Mr. Kerry, did not return telephone calls Tuesday. But several people involved in the debate discussions said most of these details were demanded by the Republicans.”

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