The Iraq Debate We Deserved|
Both Bush and Kerry scored points in a smart, rousing debate
Thursday, Sep. 30, 2004
Has there ever been a presidential debate about a war during wartime? It’s hard to think of one. In 1944, 1952, 1964, 1968 and 1972 when the U.S. was at war there were no presidential debates. This time the country had the two leaders of the two major parties go at each other over the conduct of an ongoing war. Abraham Lincoln debated Stephen Douglas in 1858 as the nation careened toward the Civil War but there was no debate in 1864 with General George McClellan, the Union general who turned against the war. Never in history has the country had a moment quite like this.
The definition of the Iraq war how we got into it, who would prosecute it better, where we go from here dominated the debate. And each side fudged facts that were inconvenient. Bush did cut the United Nations debate short in order to go to war. Kerry really has been all over the map on the threat that Saddam posed to the country. Each side made good points too. Bush was right to ask Kerry how he could recruit allies to a war he now labels a grand diversion. Kerry was right to note that the coalition is really a U.S. effort with marginal help from the allies who have signed on.
Who will benefit the most from the evening? It’s hard to see how Bush comes out stronger out of the debate than he went into it. For months, Kerry’s been lampooned as irresolute, flip flopping Frenchie. What Americans saw was someone who was in command of his facts and, at the very least, seemed resolute. Bush’s body language and sour lemon glances revealed in cutaway shots diminished him. The hunched stance that seems so Clint Eastwood on the campaign trail seemed more slumped on the stage at the University of Miami. Going into the debate Kerry had the bad rap of speaking like a senator, filled with talk of process and policy. But it was Bush who dropped names like Zarqawi without explaining that he’s a leader of Iraqi insurgents. Al Gore got the bad rap for sighing but Bush let out a few audible ones himself, like when he asked how Kerry would pay for his promises and then resignedly said: “Well that’s for another time.” The Bush team’s hope that Kerry would constantly go over his time limit turned out to be misplaced. Kerry was concise.
Of course, the spinners flooded through the “Wellness Center” at the University of Miami, deluging the press with reasons why their candidate did best. “[Kerry] was aggressively incoherent,” said Bush advisor Tucker Eskew. “You had the president saying that all is going well in Iraq and he never made a mistake,” says Kerry’s likely Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke. Spin may matter less this time, though. The issues in the election are starker and clearer than at any time in recent memory. Everyone can see with their own eyes what is happening in Iraq. The war got the debate it deserved and no amount of spin can change that.
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