The Debate

Man, I’m in a good mood.

First of all, big kudos to Jim Lehrer for asking a batch of excellent questions. The ‘character’ question was the only dud—all the other ones were strong and specifically difficult for the person who was being asked. Both candidates, of course, did a mix of direct answering and dodging.

I was worried about Kerry, but he did fine. A few times he answered off message, but overall he had a solid demeanor, and more importantly, he stayed strong and consistent on Iraq, defused the flip-flop meme, and gave a lot of solid answers. I leapt for joy when he came out with the “you can be certain but be wrong” bit. And there were a lot of moments like that.

On CBS and NBC, anyway, Bush got reamed by the split screens—his half-sneer while listening to Kerry’s replies didn’t come off well. He had any number of awkward pauses before unveiling very basic words and phrases. And his answers were more bogged down in generalizations than Kerry’s.

I had barely half an ear open for the talking head spin, post-debate. On NBC they just talked to Karen Hughes and now they’re talking to Mike McCurry—what in Sam Hill is the point, exactly? You know what you’re going to get from these folks. Good grief, people, there are enough pundits out there who are able to summon a modicum of non-partisanship when commentating on events like this. Talk to them instead.

All in all, a clear Kerry win.

UPDATE: Some more thoughts, before I go read what everybody else wrote …

Both candidates came back a little too often to the core talking points, even when it wasn’t germane to the question. But for Bush those talking points lacked teeth, and it showed. The message he ended up hammering home re: Iraq was that saying “wrong war, wrong way, wrong time” was in and of itself somehow inappropriate to utter, because of the “message” that it sends. But he’s saying that at a time when a clear majority of people have come around to agree with that notion, or at the very least that it was a good idea, badly executed. And we tread dangerously close here to the notion that “dissent is unpatriotic,” which is nonsense, and which tends to slide, in the view of extremists, to “dissent is traitorous” or “dissent emboldens the enemy.” This is a shaky position to keep coming back to, and I don’t think doing so did him any favors.

Kerry had to strain to put a good face on Iraq, because even if he wins, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better, and now he’ll be on record as saying that he could fix it, which he can’t.

Did I mention how good Lehrer’s questions were? Man, they were good. I liked the “greatest threat” one, and Kerry was rock-solid for his answer: “nuclear proliferation” right off the bat. But in the thirty second follow-ups, both candidates pulled a little waffle when Lehrer asked for clarification. Bush said “nuclear proliferation … inthehandsofterrorists” and Kerry said “nuclear proliferation … andotherweaponsofmassdestruction.” Not that there’s anything super problematic with either of those clarifications—it was just a shame that he was so forceful at the outset and then lost it. Which happened to both of them quite a bit, frankly.

Hurm … this is what I get for not taking notes. Bush had more little missteps, like the pauses and the sneers, but overall was still a canny debater. It happened at least twice that Kerry was talking and we who were watching were saying “If Bush is smart, he’ll come back with yadda yadda,” and sure enough, right on his turn, Bush lays in with “yadda yadda.” But it wasn’t enough, because Kerry was unflappable, and Bush definitely flapped.

Gah. As luck would have it I can’t access Polytropos to post this stuff. So by the time I post it I will have read what other people have said, and may even link to some of it below. But I solemnly swear that all the preceding was uttered before I was spinfluenced in any way.

UPDATE: Hmm, slim pickins when it comes to the immediate response crowd. Isn’t this supposed to be the blogospinosphere or something, all lightning-quick and outrageous?

Josh Marshall’s first thoughts are worth a peek—he makes the good point that Kerry was on the offensive the whole time. Bush parried enough of his attacks to satisfy his supporters, certainly, but he never turned the tables and put Kerry on the defensive. (On an unrelated note, also see JMM on how Allawi’s speech was worked on by the Bush campaign. Yes, you read that right. Not just the White House. The Bush campaign.)

Jim is good his the last paragraph on the stuff that neither candidate mentioned.

Note to Steve Clemons: You’re one of my favorite bloggers these days, and I eagerly look forward to your post-debate thoughts tomorrow. But cool it with the name-dropping.

I even made a rare journey to Instapundit to see what the other side might have to say. The best he can muster so far is a quick note that Gergen on CNN referred to the debate as a “draw.” Same general impression from NRO online. If they in any sense could have called it a Bush win, they would have.

More links tomorrow.

UPDATE: As promised, a few more links:

Matthew Yglesias has a good summary of responses from a variety of American Prospect writers.

Saletan and Kaplan are both reliably good in Slate.

Steve Clemons’ analysis is every bit as good as I hoped it would be.

On the conservative end, coverage at LGF is telling—the best they can muster is to try to make some hay out of Kerry’s “global test” line, and this little gem:

Isn�t it a little silly to talk about who �won� the presidential debate?

It’s so nice to win for once …