When is a debate not a debate?
When it's a Presidential debate.
I've always hated these things, from the Kennedy/Nixon days. They make me nervous and they perplex me. Debating seems to be a skill that has nothing--absolutely nothing--to do with being an effective president. And of course these debates have nothing in common with actual debates, which are rhetorical contests with certain rules and regulations and have nothing whatsoever to do with action and decisionmaking, and everything to do with argument.
One of the things I'm trying to do in this blog is to comment on things in light of my training as a therapist combined with my perspective as a newly-minted newsjunkie neocon. It's an unusual combination, I think, and it's what I have to offer that might be somewhat unique or distinctive. So, in this light, my observations on the debates are as follows:
Kerry is one slick operator, very experienced in this venue and relatively cool, calm, and collected. But his narcissism (and I mean that in the clinical sense: http://www.angelfire.com/ego/narcissism/ ) was on full display last night. The word "I" is not only his favorite word, but his voice caresses it and draws it out in a way that is very telling. He seems to believe that he only has to say that he will do something, and--by virtue of being the very remarkable "I" that he is--he will convince us that it will be done. It is a remarkable and very consistent trait, not a good thing in a leader, and clearly antithetical to any idea of coalition-building.
As for Kerry's policy statesments, others have discussed them better than I (for example, http://www.rogerlsimon.com/mt-archives/2004/09/live_debate_ii.php#comments ; http://www.hughhewitt.com/index.htm#postid974 ). But I must say that Kerry said a few things that literally made my jaw drop: his emphasis on "summits" and the UN (I thought I was back in the early 60s); the giving of nuclear fuel to Iran as some sort of test; and the nixing of the bunker busters, one of the few weapons that have the potential to allow us to destroy nuclear weapons and material stored in underground bunkers by the likes of Iran or North Korea.
On the emotional side again, Bush seemed stressed and tired, careworn. That could play either way, depending on whether people feel (as I do) that his tiredness comes from working so hard for three years to make tough decisions, and having to campaign on top of it. Some people might feel somewhat protective of him--he's like a hardworking father coming home tired from a long day at work, wanting to just sit down and read the newspaper, but having to be pestered by this phoney-baloney droner, Kerry. Of course the Bush-haters will see it quite differently, but I'm talking more about others.
I wonder how anyone can credit a person like Kerry who only says, "He, Bush, did it wrong; but I, Kerry, would do it right," without providing a crumb of evidence as to why that would be so. Everyone hates Monday-morning quarterbacks, don't they? Everyone knows hindsight is 20/20, right?
Bush seemed to be angry, though--not visibly, but underneath, and it made him rush his sentences more than usual, especially in the first half of the debate, and it made him seem confused and forced. And while it seems to me that Bush will be evaluated on his job performance by most people, I think this anger is a wild card in people's reactions. Those who are annoyed by Kerry will probably wonder that Bush wasn't even angrier, and will give Bush points for forbearance. But those who find Kerry okay will wonder what got Bush's goat. As for me, I think I know.