Saturday, October 09, 2004

THE MASTER DEBATER FALLS
By
Michael Marriott



The second Bush-Kerry debate held October 8 in St. Louis is now history. As I sit here on October 9 listening to the political wags grade the outcome in favor of Kerry, I shake my head in disbelief: George W. Bush thoroughly pummeled the hapless Senator from Massachusetts. Bush was stylish, forceful, commanding, fact oriented, humorous and glib; by contrast Kerry was halting, stumbling, dour, uninspiring, unspecific and mendacious. Kerry, the purported master debater, has fallen on his rhetorical petard.

If Bush was a racehorse his lead out of the gate was by lengths. Highly animated, he took the fight directly to Kerry, as when the first questioner expressed concern over Kerry’s inconsistencies (the questioner framed him as “wishy-washy”). After Kerry gave a rambling, incoherent answer about Bush’s campaign being a “weapon of mass deception” (so that’s why Kerry can’t keep a consistent position!), Bush put Kerry’s flip-flopping succinctly: “I can see why people at your workplace think he changes positions a lot, because he does.” Bush understands that A is A, that a thing or person is what it is.

Bush continually scored points as the following sample indicates:


Non-homeland, non-defense discretionary spending was raising at 15 percent a year when I got into office. And today it's less than 1 percent, because we're working together to try to bring this deficit under control. Like you, I'm concerned about the deficit. But I am not going to shortchange our troops in harm's way. And I'm not going to run up taxes, which will cost this economy jobs.

And here he says he's going to be a fiscal conservative, all of a sudden. It's just not credible. You cannot believe it.

Now, he says he's only going to tax the rich. Do you realize, 900,000 small businesses will be taxed under his plan because most small businesses are Subchapter S corps or limited partnerships, and they pay tax at the individual income tax level. And so when you're running up the taxes like that, you're taxing job creators, and that's not how you keep jobs here.

MICHAELSON: Mr. President, if there were a vacancy in the Supreme Court and you had the opportunity to fill that position today, who would you choose and why?
BUSH: I'm not telling.
(LAUGHTER)


You're right, what does matter is a plan. He said he's for — you're now for capping punitive damages? That's odd. You should have shown up on the floor in the Senate and voted for it then. Medical liability issues are a problem, a significant problem. He's been in the United States Senate for 20 years and he hasn't addressed it.

Yes, I mean, he's got a record. It's been there for 20 years. You can run, but you can't hide. He voted 98 times to raise taxes. I mean, these aren't make-up figures. And so people are going to have to look at the record. Look at the record of the man running for the president. They don't name him the most liberal in the United States Senate because he hasn't shown up to many meetings. They named him because of his votes. And it's reality. It's just not credible to say he's going to keep taxes down and balance budgets.


One may disagree with President Bush but at least it is possible to disagree since his positions are clear, reasoned and unequivocal. Kerry, however, has a distinct problem in his responses. His generally tepid answers rarely are reasoned beyond blaming Bush for any and everything. The master debater is far from a master: indeed, his modes operandi was to avoid direct answers while continually sniping at Bush. Here are a few samples of his technique:


GIBSON: The next question is for Senator Kerry, and it comes from over here, from Randee Jacobs.
JACOBS: Iran sponsors terrorism and has missiles capable of hitting Israel and southern Europe. Iran will have nuclear weapons in two to three years time. In the event that U.N. sanctions don't stop this threat, what will you do as president?
KERRY: I don't think you can just rely on U.N. sanctions, Randee. But you're absolutely correct, it is a threat, it's a huge threat. The world is more dangerous today..And what's interesting is, it's a threat that has grown while the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn't a threat.


GIBSON: I both — I heard you both say — I have heard you both say during the campaign, I just heard you say it, that you're going to cut the deficit by a half in four years. But I didn't hear one thing in the last three and a half minutes that would indicate how either one of you do that.
KERRY: After 9/11, after the recession had ended, the president asked for another tax cut and promised 5.6 million jobs would be created. He lost 1.6 million, ladies and gentlemen. And most of that tax cut went to the wealthiest people in the country.


BRONSING: Senator Kerry, we have been fortunate that there have been no further terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11. Why do you think this is? And if elected, what will you do to assure our safety?
KERRY: Thank you very much, Ann. I've asked in my security briefings why that is, and I can't go into all the answers, et cetera, but let me say this to you. This president and his administration have told you and all of us it's not a question of when, it's a question of — excuse me — not a question of if, it's a question of when. We've been told that.


GIBSON: Senator Kerry, we got several questions along this line, and I'm just curious if you'd go further on what you talked about with tort reform. Would you be favoring capping awards on pain and suffering? Would you limit attorney's fees?
KERRY: Yes, I think we should look at the punitive and we should have some limitations. But look, what's really important, Charlie, is the president is just trying to scare everybody here with throwing labels around. I mean, "compassionate conservative," what does that mean? Cutting 500,000 kids from after-school programs, cutting 365,000 kids from health care, running up the biggest deficits in American history. Mr. President, you're batting 0 for 2.



So Kerry has established that everything wrong in the world is the fault of George W. Bush, including the nefarious act of “label throwing”. Ominously, former Texas Rangers baseball owner Bush is batting zero for two, whatever the hell that means. What remedies does Kerry propose? The master debater has (get this) plans! The main characteristic of his plans is that he has them somewhere and if elected he may even use them, although for the present he cannot articulate what they are exactly.

Consider the following. Regarding health care: “I have a plan to cover those folks. And it's a plan that lowers cost for everybody, covers all children.” Regarding nuclear proliferation: “At his pace, it's going to take 13 years to reduce and get ahold of all the loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union. I've proposed a plan that can capture it and contain it and clean it within four years.” Regarding legal reform: “It's in my health-care proposal. Go to johnkerry.com. You can pull it off of the Internet. And you'll find a tort reform plan.” Regarding plans themselves: “I mean, seriously — labels don't mean anything. What means something is: Do you have a plan? And I want to talk about my plan some more — I hope we can.” Regarding Bush’s lack of plans: “Now, you didn't hear any plan from the president, because he doesn't have a plan to lower the cost of health care.” The coup de grace comes in his response on Iraq policy: “I could do a better job. My plan does a better job. And that's why I'll be a better commander in chief."

Kerry has now firmly established his bona fides to become president, for while George Bush is busy bullying uninsured children, Kerry is diligently penning plans. His plans prove he will do a better job. Forget the fact that Kerry was without plans during his twenty year Senate career. His sudden fondness for plans is deep, revealing really; undoubtedly his unspecified plans, will, in the campaign rhetoric of the previous century, provide us with a “full dinner pail”. Keep in mind the president had given specific answers to all the above questions but no matter: various pundits, like Mor-tone Kondracke of Fox news, will later proclaim that Kerry has definitely won the debate. (As a note, I wonder if Mor-tone would consider buying some beachfront property I am selling in the Mohave Desert).

But the master debater was not yet finished. Even he has limits when it comes to nebulous, inexplicable plans. Launching what he considers rhetorical attacks on Bush, he tries to score debating points. His first mode of attack is to appeal to authority for his candidacy.


The president — and this is one of the reasons why I am very proud in this race to have the support of General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Admiral William Crowe, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Tony McPeak, who ran the air war for the president's father and did a brilliant job, supporting me; General Wes Clark, who won the war in Kosovo, supporting me; because they all — and General Baca, who was the head of the National Guard, supporting me.

…you know, I was at a forum with Michael J. Fox the other day in New Hampshire...

Chris Reeve is a friend of mine.


Obviously General John Shalikashvili, Admiral William Crowe, General Tony McPeak, General Wes Clark, General Baca, Michael J. Fox and Chris Reeve are all-knowing, infallible beings when it comes to picking presidents. The good news for Kerry is he chewed up debate time by his incessant name-dropping, thereby leaving less time to have to explain the particulars of his aforementioned plans.

Kerry’s second prong of attack was to say funny, dumb things. This mode of attack is uniquely effective within his democratic base. Consider the following Kerry statements followed by my analysis.


A Portion of a Kerry Response: …But you heard the president just say to you that we've added money. Folks, the test is not if you've added money; the test is that you've done everything possible to make America secure. He chose a tax cut for wealthy Americans over the things that I listed to you…

A Portion of another Kerry Response: …And I'm going to put in place a better homeland security effort. Look, 95 percent of our containers coming into this country are not inspected today. When you get on an airplane, your bag is X- rayed, but the cargo hold isn't X-rayed. Do you feel safer? This president in the last debate said, "Well, that would be a big tax gap if we did that.”. Ladies and gentlemen, it's his tax plan. He chose a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans over getting that equipment out into the homeland as fast as possible…


Comment: So our security depends on more money to X-ray cargo and to fund other terrorist prevention measures. But wait, this is not a test of money. To think people have the audacity to criticize Kerry for flip-flopping!


Senator Kerry, would you be willing to look directly into the camera and, using simple and unequivocal language, give the American people your solemn pledge not to sign any legislation that will increase the tax burden on families earning less than $200,000 a year during your first term?
KERRY: Absolutely. Yes. Right into the camera. Yes. I am not going to raise taxes.



Comment: God I can’t stop laughing. What first hit my funny bone are the dual notions that Kerry can use simple, unequivocal language and issue a “solemn pledge” within the confines of a single answer. The second thing to strike me as humorous is that Kerry will not raise middle class taxes. Bush stated that there is a gap of over a trillion dollars between Kerry’s spending promises and the money he plans to collect by repeal of tax cuts on wealthy Americans. Kerry never bothered to explain the discrepancy, commenting in a withering display of verbal prowess that Bush was using “fuzzy math figures”. I can only conclude, unless Kerry plans to monetize the debt, that he is lying regarding this point.


And I've gotten good people, like former Secretary of the Treasury Bob Rubin, for instance, who showed how to balance budgets and give you a good economy, to help me crunch these numbers and make them work.


Comment: Whoops, I forgot to include Rubin as an authority figure for Kerry. Never mind. Even Kerry knows that the numbers don’t work without “crunching”, which makes his eyes-in-the-camera pledge even funnier. In fairness, perhaps he meant he would not raise taxes on cameras.


I'm going to be a president who believes in science.


Comment: Yeah sure you do global warming breath.


Secondly, we're going to create a manufacturing jobs credit and a new jobs credit for people to be able to help hire and be more competitive here in America.


Comment: For a guy who believes in science Kerry has missed the boat here. Either that or the social science of economics has totally overlooked this method of job creation.


Boy, to listen to that -- the president, I don't think, is living in a world of reality with respect to the environment. Now, if you're a Red Sox fan, that's OK. But if you're a president, it's not.


Comment: Okay Senator, time for the long crooked staff to pull you off the stage. Dissing the president is one thing, dissing Red Sox fans is not only stupid, it puts Massachusetts into play as a swing state.


DEGENHART: Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?
KERRY: I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now.

First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.

But I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can't do that.

But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. I can talk to people, as my wife Teresa does, about making other choices, and about abstinence, and about all these other things that we ought to do as a responsible society.

But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation. And I have to make that judgment.

Now, I believe that you can take that position and not be pro- abortion, but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know what their options are in life, and making certain that you don't deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the constitution affords them if they can't afford it otherwise.

That's why I think it's important. That's why I think it's important for the United States, for instance, not to have this rigid ideological restriction on helping families around the world to be able to make a smart decision about family planning.

You'll help prevent AIDS.

You'll help prevent unwanted children, unwanted pregnancies.

You'll actually do a better job, I think, of passing on the moral responsibility that is expressed in your question. And I truly respect it.



Comment: What the hell kind of answer was that? I think it interesting though that former alter-boy Kerry points out that faith is an important guiding force in his life. Those who plan to vote for Kerry because of Bush’s religiosity need to take note.


Ladies and gentlemen, that's just not true what he said. The Wall Street Journal said 96 percent of small businesses are not affected at all by my plan. And you know why he gets that count? The president got $84 from a timber company that owns, and he's counted as a small business. Dick Cheney's counted as a small business. That's how they do things. That's just not right.


Comment: The debate was in effect over at this point. I can’t top President Bush’s reaction. BUSH: I own a timber company? (LAUGHTER) That's news to me. (LAUGHTER) Need some wood? Even dour Kerry had to chuckle at Bush’s rejoinder; he had a “God what a doofus I can be” look on his smiling face.

There was a Saturday Night Live skit during the 1988 Bush-Dukakis election where Jon Lovitz played Governor Michael Dukakis. In mock disbelief after Bush mangles an answer, Lovitz deadpans, “I can’t believe I am losing to this guy”. Similarly, it is hard to imagine that President Bush is barely ahead in the polls considering Kerry’s contradictions, misstatements and method of argumentation. Moreover, only the most partisan of commentator can claim Kerry won this debate. Such proclamations defy objective analysis of what was actually said. The only way that Kerry won this second debate is if Bush: 1) sat placidly on his stool, 2) drooled into the camera and 3) wore a dunce hat. Short of this it was a decisive Bush win. The master debater is a mere apprentice at best.