Kerry draws aces in high-stakes foreign policy debate

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There was something subtly different about this election year?s Presidential debate. It wasn?t just that the American public finally got to see the two candidates sans 30-second ads, 527 organizations, and spin (well, mostly).
As in the 2000 debates, the networks were at it again, throwing up camera shots of the two candidates. Viewers were able to see Bush?s frowning and fluster, while Kerry?s face was suffused with a cool discipline. It certainly seemed like the President was on the defensive for most of the night, striking back at Kerry?s arguments with some awkward pauses, dead air, and stuttering.
When voters need to make decisions, they need straightforward answers that we can understand. While Bush is famously capable of connecting on that level, his attempts to do so Thursday night were feeble and based mostly on emotional pleas. He repeated the phrase ?hard work? in reference to his job 11 times throughout the 90-minute debate. Meanwhile, Kerry spelled out his intended policies more explicitly (although not in the level of detail I had hoped), and spoke more skillfully than the President.
While the debate revolved around Iraq and its significance to national security, there were some points where one wondered if Bush?s thinking wasn?t unintentionally revealed by speaking errors. Moderator Jim Lehrer, and the only television journalist I respect today, asked Bush:
?What about Senator Kerry?s point, the comparison he drew between the priorities of going after Osama bin Laden and going after Saddam Hussein??
Bush?s answer: ?Of course we?re after Saddam Hussein ? I mean bin Laden.? While it may not really reveal the President?s actual beliefs, it certainly reflects the effectiveness Kerry had in derailing his train of thought.
Another high point in Kerry?s verbal attacks was during his rebuttal on the question of bringing troops back from Iraq.
?Now I believe there?s a better way to do this. You know, the President?s father did not go into Iraq, into Baghdad, beyond Basra. And the reason he didn?t is, he said ? he wrote in his book ? because there was no viable exit strategy. And he said our troops would be occupiers in a bitterly hostile land.?
Kerry?s supreme confidence, almost cockiness, gave him the ability to deliver lines like that one which seemed to drain Bush?s arguments of their forcefulness and fluster Bush greatly.
Confidence or not, exaggerations and factual errors found their way into the speeches of both candidates. At one point, Bush claimed there were 100,000 trained security personnel in Iraq. The reality that even the White House admits is most of those have received only three weeks of police training, compared to the 12 weeks many U.S. police departments require for basic academy training.
On the other side of the issue, Kerry attacked Bush on ?outsourcing? the job of capturing Osama bin Laden to Afghan warlords during bin Laden?s infamous escape from Tora Bora. Kerry?s claims that the U.S. military could capture him at will are exaggerated ? while the U.S. had solid intelligence regarding his presence there, we didn?t know exactly where he was.
The reality was that both candidates portrayed certain facts dishonestly. Exaggerations and outright errors of fact could be found coming from behind both podiums. Television, as a political medium, gives the most advantage to those who stay calm, cool, and reflective throughout the event. In this case Senator Kerry has emerged as the clear victor. Perhaps the best thing to come out of this debate is that the American public has been given an excellent chance to judge the candidates on their spin, composure under pressure, and real-time decision capability.