Talking Heads

After having a nice chat with some friends, walking home in the brisk fall breezes, and catching up on my email, I can now sit down to record my thoughts on the presidential debate. I thought about having a transcript in front of me as I write, but decided against it. I want to record my perceptions, bias and all. I think my mistakes or wrong impressions might be at least as interesting as what I get right.

Before proceeding to my impressions, I want to make it abundantly clear that I’m not a fan of Bush or Kerry. I don’t intend to vote for either. I did not go into the viewing experience rooting for one over the other. To me, it was like watching a football game between teams that mean little or nothing to me. I just want to see good football. In this case, I just wanted to see a good debate.

Now, without further ado…

I decided to watch the debate on C-SPAN. I figured that way I’d get it unadulterated and spin-free, and I was right. There was no commentary before or after. While the networks were likely feeding the public hype to rival the Superbowl pre-game show, my co-viewers and I were treated to some "behind-the-scenes" preparations as Lehrer told the audience what to expect and counted down to broadcast.

As I watched the debate, I took notes as a sort of rough transcript. It’s imperfect, my handwriting is rushed and messy, and my shorthand might inaccurately reflect the answers given. However, I think it helped me to listen critically and better absorb the information bombarding me. By the end, I really wished I had a TiVo, so I could pause and rewind the broadcast. Pardon me if I lapse into first-person. It makes life easier. I won’t use quotes, though, because I only have the paraphrases I jotted down in a hurry.

The first question was to Kerry. Would he do a better job at preventing another 9/11-type tragedy? Before answering the question, he took time to thank people and express sympathy for what Floridians have endured and admiration for how they endured it. This annoyed me because it didn’t seem sincere. Rather, it struck me as butt-kissing. Answering the question, he said that he intended to build alliances; that he had a better plan for strengthening our position in the world; that he would reach out to the Muslim world. As he answered, I noticed that his hands were shaking quite a bit and he looked a bit pale.

Bush replied with a statistic of 75% Al-Qaida members captured or killed. He pointed out how many people in Afghanistan are registered to vote. Saddam is in prison. Libya is disarmed. He said the world is safer because Afghanistan and Iraq are free nations, because free nations reject terror.

The next question was to Bush. Would electing Kerry increase America’s chance of suffering another terrorist tragedy? He quipped that it wouldn’t happen (i.e. the election of Kerry) because America knows he can lead. That was a rather cocky statement for a man with such a low approval rating. He then evaded the question by describing what he’s doing and intends to do, if reelected, to prevent another tragedy. Bush looks calm, cool, and collected.

Kerry rebutted by saying that we have to be strong, resolute, determined, and smart. Iraq is a distraction. Bush made a colossal error in judgment. I have a whole bunch of military buddies who’ll line up to say that I’d be a better Commander in Chief. Four out of five prefer?

Lehrer asked Kerry to elaborate on the colossal error in judgment he referred to. Bush abandoned the U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq. He pushed allies aside and failed to make a true alliance. He promised to invasion would be a last resort, but didn’t act that way. He misspent money on the war in Iraq.

Bush rebutted that Kerry declared in 2002 that Saddam Hussein was a great threat. He cited other Kerry statements about Hussein and Iraq that I was too slow to jot down. They were good zingers – Kerry’s words used against him. Kerry saw the same intelligence he saw. The U.N. passed a resolution telling Hussein to disarm or else. America provided the "or else".

Bush was asked whether it was wise to be spending money on both Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden. He reiterated that 75% of Al-Qaida had been brought to justice. Terrorism is a global problem, so there must be more than one focus. Iraqis want to be free. I forget how he tied that statement in.

Kerry rebutted that Iraq is “not even close” to the center of the war on terror. Bush rushed ahead without a plan to win the peace. Families of soldiers buy body armor off the internet and send it to Iraq. Most HumVees are not armored. If either is true, that reflects rather poorly on the military and the commander in chief. Each successive month brings more deaths than the last. Not enough troops were sent to Iraq.

Bush replied by pointing out that Kerry authorized the use of force in Iraq. If we say “wrong war, wrong place, wrong time”, what kind of message does that send our troops?? the Iraqi people?? our allies?

Kerry said that we can’t leave Iraq as a failure, but it’s still a mistake to not focus on OBL.

Kerry was asked what he would specifically do to increase homeland security. He pointed out that Bush wanted a $500 million extension of funding for Iraqi police, but cop programs in the U.S. are being cut. Money is spent on Iraqi firefighters, but firefighters in America are losing their jobs. To me, that sounds like America cares only about Americans, so screw y’all. Tax cuts are not more important that homeland security. Nuclear power and chemical plants are more important to protect than oil. There are a lot of loose nukes in the world and Bush isn’t doing enough to collect them.

Bush wanted to know how we’d pay for everything Kerry wants, but said “that’s another debate”. The border patrol has been beefed up. The department of Homeland Security was created. We need to stay on the offensive. We changed the culture of the FBI. Counter-terrorism is now their #1 priority. We passed the Patriot Act. Gee, that makes me feel safe. It’s like the Red Scare all over again.

Kerry disputed whether the culture of the FBI had changed, saying that there are thousands of tapes that have not been listened to, and one of them may contain clues to the next attack. The tax cut was not needed and that money could have been spent on security.

Bush was asked when he’d bring the troops home. He said that Iraqi troops are being trained to eventually take the place of our troops. Freedom in Iraq will never succeed if Iraqis don’t take matters into their own hands. The best indication of when the troops will come home is when the objective has been achieved, i.e. when Iraqis stand up for themselves. When Iraq is ready to defend itself, has free elections, and is a free nation, the job will be done. He wants them home ASAP, but won’t impose any artificial deadlines. Kerry says he’d have the troops out in six months, but we can’t do that and expect to win. He addressed the soldiers saying they’ll be home when the mission’s done.

Kerry thanked the troops and said that help is on the way. He told a story about two soldiers who said to him, “We need you”. He stated that Bush, Sr. didn’t go past Basra because there was no exit plan. I thought it was because the U.N. said not to invade and occupy. He then made a gratuitous reference to Vietnam, saying that he knows how it feels to be in a war with no exit plan.

Bush countered that Kerry’s statements are not the kind of message that the Commander in Chief should give to troops. It’s hard to believe help is on the way when Kerry votes against an $87 billion supplemental for the military. Ouch.

Kerry: I misspoke when I talked about the supplemental. Bush made a mistake. Which is worse?? He made yet another unnecessary reference to Vietnam that I didn’t bother to write down.

Kerry was asked if Americans were dying for a mistake. I thought Saddam Hussein was a threat. Bush made promises about planning carefully, but didn’t deliver. Invading Iraq in response to 9/11 is like if Roosevelt had invaded Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor. Zing! The U.N. was not properly invited to participate.

Bush: That’s absurd. We had no allies?? What, then, do you say to Tony Blair?? to Poland?? You can’t denigrate their contributions. Join us for a grand diversion??!?? Now Kerry appears to be dismissing our allies. Slick move.

Kerry: The U.N. offered to help after Baghdad fell, but we rejected their help. Three countries do not a grand coalition make.

Bush replied that there are thirty nations now. We can’t lead the world by insulting soldiers.

Bush was asked what miscalculations were made in Iraq and how they happened. Our soldiers did such a great job that we moved more rapidly than expected. Most of the enemy soldiers and disappeared and we’re fighting them now. It’s hard but necessary work. I’m optimistic. We won’t achieve our goals with mixed signals to our troops, friends, and Iraqi citizens. We have a plan. It’s hard to go from tyranny to democracy. A free Iraq makes the world a more peaceful place. But that’s not the reasoning you gave for invading. We did so under false pretenses.

Kerry said that even without an imminent threat, Bush would have acted the same way. He would not. Truth makes good policy. If the world respects Bush so much, why do our allies in Iraq amount to peanuts, rather than a genuine coalition?? We’re suffering 90% of the casualties and bearing 90% of the cost. BTW, while we’re busy in Iraq, North Korea is busy making nukes.

Kerry was asked to give specific examples of how Bush lied about Iraq. I never used the word “lie”. Nukes in Iraq didn’t really exist. The coalition was phony. He didn’t exhaust the U.N. He rushed ahead without a plan for afterwards. He mislead about planning carefully. He did not invade as a last resort. Osama Bin Laden uses our actions in Iraq to build anti-American sentiment in the Arab world. OBL was indeed hoping that we would invade Iraq and that it would rally the Arabs in jihad against the U.S., but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Bush said that OBL doesn’t decide our defense policies. Kerry didn’t mislead when he spoke for attacking Iraq. As politics change, Kerry’s positions change. He saw the same intelligence I saw.

Kerry: I wasn’t misleading, but there should have been more diplomacy. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things.

Bush said Kerry’s only consistency is inconsistency. You can’t do that and win. We have a duty to achieve a free Iraq and a free Afghanistan.

[This is going to take quite a while to finish and I’m tired. I’ll leave you in suspense while I get some sleep. As a preview, I’ll say that I think Bush won the debate. Kerry was evasive, mentioned Vietnam too many times, repeatedly broke the rules, brought up unrelated topics that could alienate the middle, and provided mostly hand-waving. Bush, while sometimes lapsing into uncomfortable silences, kept his cool, followed the rules, generally stayed on topic with his answers, and had real plans to talk about. While he wasn’t stellar, he didn’t have to be. The ball was in Kerry’s court, and from what I observed, he dropped it. As an aside, I’ll add that both annoyed me with their repetition of catch-phrases that their handlers undoubtedly urged them to memorize. – Funky]