Even if Thursday night’s debate did nothing to change the minds of undecided voters, it did wonders for the confidence of Democrats. Suddenly we have a candidate, one that we can brag on and feel a degree of honest confidence in. I, admittedly, had been something less than John Kerry all along. I believed, and still believe, that Gen. Wesley Clark was by FAR the best Democratic candidate. He would have embarrassed George W. Bush. Of course, if wishes were horses, Al Gore would be riding towards re-election.
Still, Kerry it is, and I’d pasted on my supportive smile, because, well, the alternative (another 4 years of the Prevaricator-in-Chief) SUCKS. Now, I can breath easier, or as E.J. Dionne, Jr. put it:
On Friday morning Democrats all over the United States emerged from their homes with a new spring in their steps. After the presidential debate the night before, many of them had a new experience: It was possible to be for John Kerry and not just against President Bush.
It is hard to overestimate how important Kerry’s strong debate performance was for his campaign. For weeks rank-and-file Democrats had spent much energy whining and mourning. They wondered why Kerry was failing, why Republicans seemed to run better campaigns. If Kerry had bombed, the campaign was over.
Not only did Kerry avoid disaster. He finally managed to look like a leader. He spoke in short sentences, ridding his speech of a past pluperfect subjunctive tense that was all his own. He took the fight to Bush hard. But Kerry’s more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone kept him from looking obnoxious or arrogant. When Bush was gracious to Kerry about his family, Kerry was gracious back. To score equally with Bush during a likability moment was a big deal.
Indeed, it would appear that we have a campaign again. Whether or not Kerry can and will ultimately prevail on November 2nd is still an open question. The good news is that Democrats can devote their time and energies to a candidate who finally seems to have found himself. No, John Kerry will never be confused for Everyman, but he did come across as committed, articulate, and likeable. That in and of itself was a HUGE step in the right direction.
Each candidate came into the debate with a different challenge. From where I sit, Kerry is the only man who could honestly claim anything resembling success. David Broder describes it thusly:
The Democratic nominee’s task was to straighten out the internal contradictions that had facilitated the successful Republican assault on him as a flip-flopper. He bent every effort to the urgent need to appear straightforward and strong — keeping his back straight, his head high, his answers short and his thoughts clear. For most of the night, he was the aggressor, pressing the case for a change of command in the war on terrorism, which has been Bush’s strongest suit.
Bush had a different assignment. A Kerry weakened by months of Republican rhetoric painting him as a vacillating wimp was far less of a threat to a second term than the disturbing news bulletins and television pictures from the Iraq battlefront. Bush’s need was to reconcile his upbeat rhetoric about the coming of a new democratic era in Iraq with the bloody warfare that has pinned 140,000 American troops in that misery-laden country with no end in sight.
In 90 minutes before the biggest audience of the campaign, Bush not only failed to do that — he barely tried. And that omission leaves him at risk to future events as the insurgency in Iraq gathers momentum.
Even by the standards of what Kerry staffer referred to as “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, Bush failed miserably. He was hesistant and uncertain of what to say, he lacked confidence, and he too often seemed painfully at a loss for words. Bush’s nonverbal reactions to Kerry’s response spoke volumes: he appeared petulant and angry, like a spoiled child who had just been told he couldn’t have what he wanted.
If you believe the Bush spinmeisters, who post-debate were heavily engaged in pushing expectations to near record-low leves, all these 90 minutes proved was that George W. Bush was not the captain of the Yale debate team. That trite silliness aside, there is one glaring reality that the Bushies cannot spin to their advantage. Their man has a strong opponent on his hands. John Kerry is a man who can discuss issues, unlike George W. Bush, who is at his best only when discussing broad, abstract moral concepts.
Bush had nothing to offer save for the trite and frequent repetition of a few talking points. In the remaining 32 days of this Presidential campaign, the challenge for John Kerry to hammer on the reality that The Emperor Has No Clothes. Perhaps there is still hope for Americans to be convinced that George W. Bush is an empty suit posing as President only because the Presidency was stolen for him in 2000.
WE DESERVE BETTER.