Kerry in the Debates

by Henry on October 10, 2004

I’m too biased to be able to judge well who won or lost in the second debate; G.W. Bush makes my skin crawl. What did strike me was the different strategies that the two candidates employed. Kerry seemed to be trying to do two things, quite deliberately, in his answers. First, he was very obviously trying to combat the Republican talking-point that he’s a pessimist. He referred to himself explicitly as an optimist at one point, and several of his answers were all about his hopes for the future. Second, he seemed to be reaching out to Republican-leaning undecided voters who were disenchanted with Bush – at every possible opportunity, he mentioned Republicans like Hagel, Lugar and McCain who have criticized the administration in one way or another. Bush, in contrast, seemed to me to be more interested in shoring up his core vote among conservatives. As I say, I came into this with a bias – still, these are the things that jumped out at me while I was watching the debate (apart from Kerry’s fluffing the response to Bush’s answer about mistakes, which many others in the blogosphere have written about already).



John Isbell 10.10.04 at 5:06 pm

I thought Kerry also did well on “Can this man be your next President?”
Too much aggression might have hindered that, and I think we saw a specific campaign tactic.


Andrew Boucher 10.10.04 at 8:23 pm

The one thing I took away from the debate is how many times Bush used the word “decision” or its derivatives (“decide”, …). I thought it was pretty clever, so probably an idea from Rove or whoever. Not only does it reinforce the idea that he is a leader, it emphasizes his main (only?) argument against Kerry, as someone who changes his mind.

I really do think that Kerry did not give the best performance – better than Bush’s, but that’s a pretty low bar. He needs to explain his ideas more simply and start to use repetition of two or three key ideas. He did try to say, “I’m fighting for you” a few times, but really if that’s the theme (and it seems like a good one), he should be saying it at the end of every answer (like “Carthage must be destoryed!”): “Bush has fought for the rich, I’ll fight for the rest of you.” Why didn’t he reinject “certain and wrong” a few times when talking about Bush? That seems a fairly important point to get across and then get across again.

Anyway, just my two cents…


bob mcmanus 10.10.04 at 9:46 pm


harry 10.10.04 at 10:19 pm

I’m basically with Andrew on this. Did anyone count how often he said ‘I have a plan to’ instead of the much more natural ‘I shall’.

But Bush was embarrassing. He doesn’t make my skin crawl, in fact he is the only Republican capable of engaging my sympathy –I watch in horror, wondering all the time whether he is just going to run out of steam and start crying, poor guy.


lansing 10.11.04 at 2:01 am

How many people who have been credited by history as being great leaders have had to remind people so often that they are leaders by expressly stating it over and over and over again? Me thinks Mr. Bush doth….


Brian 10.11.04 at 3:24 am

Kerry’s goal is to look “presidential”. Not a weak wet noodle who can’t make up his mind, in other words. He succeeded. This emotional stuff is much more important that any thing these guys actually say.

Bush is still trying to shore up his base, which is a very bad sign for him. Kerry is working on the undecideds and soft republicans while Bush is still trying to get his side excited.

I too can’t watch Bush but my reason is the same as harry’s. I feel sorry for the guy. He’s in way over his head.


Sandriana 10.11.04 at 10:31 am

A bit late to comment, but I agree with Brian: this election is about image and gut reaction rather than the issues – if the issues were important, Bush would have been impeached long since.

In the battle of image, Kerry came over as Lincolnesque; he looks like him, he’s imposing physically, he has a deep voice and a soothing and calm demeanour. Bush, by contrast, was short, simian, high-pitched and whiny.

On that one count alone, image, John Kerry won by a mile. You could see that from the audience’s body language. They smiled when Kerry spoke, whereas as George Bush spoke you could see faces close up in dissapproval and arms fold.

I would like to have felt sorry for GWB, watching him have a mental meltdown on live tv, but I didn’t. All I had to do was remember Abu Ghraib and Patriot Act II for any sympathy I might have had to completely dry up. He wants to be on that podium so what comes with it is his own damed fault. No sympathy at all.


a different chris 10.11.04 at 4:23 pm

Bush was a rooster strutting, crowing and bobbing his head. Kerry was the big cat reclining in the grass but oozing danger.

I felt that every time the cat roused itself, the rooster quickly flew back to his desk, mocking the cat from a very safe spot.

I wonder if this will seep into the watcher’s psyche at some point…


a different chris 10.11.04 at 4:36 pm

Hmmm, and after posting that I may have gleaned some understanding about why, after two debates where Bush performed worse than even I could have reasonably wished for, Kerry didn’t deliver the kill.

Well, he’s a Democrat, and therefore is surrounded by legions of hand-wringing poll-worshiping political advisors shell-shocked by the last 12 years.

So the cat is convinced that the censure of the entire household will be brought down upon him if he just up and dispatches the rooster. He needs the rooster to visibly cross the line, to where the farmer says “hey, if I was the cat I would’ve done the same thing.”

Kerry’s biggest wish was that Dubya would come after him like he did with the hapless moderator, and he clearly tried to provoke the Dauphin several times after that. Watch the debate again if you don’t believe me.

Alas, our President is truly a great coward, and like all successful cowards has a finely attuned sense of danger, one that doesn’t fail him even when he has visibly lost all control of himself otherwise.


Tough Enough 10.11.04 at 5:15 pm

“In the battle of image, Kerry came over as Lincolnesque; he looks like him, he’s imposing physically, he has a deep voice and a soothing and calm demeanour.” Interestingly, I thought Bush came over as Trumanesque. Whatever, I’m sure we can all hope the result is more like that of 1948 than 1860.


Tuff Enuf 10.11.04 at 5:18 pm

“In the battle of image, Kerry came over as Lincolnesque; he looks like him, he’s imposing physically, he has a deep voice and a soothing and calm demeanour.” I do wonder how far that was tongue in cheek – as it happens I thought Bush came over as Trumanesque (which would be good news for him). Whatever, I’m sure we can all hope the result and its consequences are more like 1948 than 1860.

12 I try to be amused 10.12.04 at 1:29 am

The body language screamed.

Kerry is an alpha and Bush is a beta. Remember the mockery inspired by Naomi Wolf’s alpha lessons for Gore? Gore needed them, because Bush was the more convincing pseudo-alpha. But now the real McCoy was on the stage and Bush’s submission instinct kicked in.

I was very pleased that Kerry invoked Republican critics of Bush. They are his best surrogates now. In the final debate I hope Kerry invokes early and often his best surrogate of all: George H.W. Bush. It drives Junior nuts.


defjef 10.12.04 at 4:31 pm

I find it hard to listen and watch Bush speak. He appears like he hardly believes what he struggles to say… His command of the language is amazingly poor for someone who has risen as his as he has. This all makes me think what is it that people would like in his “performance”. As a front man for the unseen cabal… he is a poor one. I wonder how intelligent people on his side can “defend” this man.

Kerry on the other hand seems intelligent and poised and “presidential”… but he could have been more clever in his performance, less repetitive. He should be more specific in contrasting a particular failure of Bush with what he intends to do. The “I have a plan” is wearing thin… He should drop that line… and simply say what he would be doing.
He also needs to crush all the false hypotheticals he is often forced to deal with… such as if you know what you know now would you have done what you did then? I think the answer is simple. It doesnt matter… but if I know now what I didn’t know then… erverything would be different and most likely I would have pressed for a different course of action. And so what? All this proves is that.. if there reasons given for attacking Iraq were not present at the time… would you have voted to authorize the USA to attack Iraq? The answer is NO.
Kerry tries to justify his “vote” by claiming that a president needs bargaining power to acheive some objective. All he needs to know is that congress will support the president when he needs to protect the country… end of story.

In the end it hard to pitch to please all the people all the time… and if one only pleases the people he needs to… he has succeeded. Public debates are pretty low brow stuff… I don’t expect more than signs of intelligence… honesty… dignity and demeasor.

Now with those criteria… who wins?

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