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Some thoughts on the first Bush-Kerry debate

By Carol Devine-Molin
web posted October 4, 2004

I'm not really surprised by John Kerry's performance at this season's first presidential debate on September 30. Former governor Bill Weld, who attempted to oust Kerry from his Senate-seat in 1996, has recently been out and about the media advising of his past experience in that hotly contested Senate race. It was Weld's conclusion that it would be very foolish for the Bush campaign to underestimate Kerry's considerable debating skills. Weld was right on target. Once Kerry hit his stride last Thursday evening, he was indeed poised and impressive, presenting his well rehearsed talking points with ease and conviction. Moreover, Kerry stayed within the time limits and stifled his usual inclination to drone on and on. And, no doubt about it, Kerry looked every bit the part of a presidential candidate -- He was well coifed, well manicured, well botoxed, and expertly made-up, which certainly added to the striking effect. Sorry to be so crass, but coaching a long-winded candidate to be relatively pithy, and physically transforming him as well takes beaucoup bucks. And that's where John Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, has had considerable usefulness.

Kerry gestures to supporters following his debate with President Bush
Kerry gestures to supporters following his debate with President Bush

That said, John Kerry's performance at the debate was pure theater. Stylistically Kerry excelled, but substantively it was the same old John Kerry spouting his rather strange Leftist views, which often defy logic. Of course, the mainstream news media is brimming with joy. We would expect nothing less. For them it was Bravo, John Kerry! Thankfully, the majority of Americans have not lost sight of the purpose of these debates. We're electing the president of the world's only superpower, not the captain of the university debate team.  

Throughout the debate, Kerry torpedoed President Bush for his approach to the Iraq War. However, for the life of me I still can't comprehend Kerry's positive vision and specific plans to tackle Iraq in a more effective manner. What new ideas did Kerry bring to the table? The answer is none, zip, nada. Kerry essentially stated that he could do a better job in Iraq, and on the war on terror (which he differentiates as two distinct military campaigns) by strengthening the military, the intelligence community, and homeland security. This is all rather disingenuous, since everything proposed by Kerry is already being diligently worked upon by President Bush. Which brings us to the question of how John Kerry's comments are impacting our troops and our allies involved in the Iraq War.

President Bush stated: "First of all, what my opponent wants you to forget is that he voted to authorize the use of force. And now says it's the wrong war, at the wrong time, at the wrong place. I don't see how you can lead this country to succeed in Iraq if you say wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. What message does that send our troops? What messages does that send our allies? What message does that send the Iraqis? No, the way to win this is to be steadfast and resolved and to follow through on the plan that I just outlined". This begs the following question: If elected, how can John Kerry successfully lead the troops when he continues to demoralize them with his comments on the ongoing Iraqi conflict? Our all-volunteer force can vote not only at the time of the election, but subsequently with their feet. If a commander-in-chief is not respected by the troops, they invariably seek to separate from the military.

Kerry's claim that President Bush has failed to organize summits and engage other nations (including Muslim nations) in the Iraqi problem is just flat-out prevarication. President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have consistently reached out to the rest of the world on behalf of Iraq and the larger war on terror. Kerry has already implied that President Bush is an incompetent who has made a colossal blunder by sending troops to Iraq. But what about Colin Powell? He happens to be respected by most political camps, including the liberal camp. Now, can we expect John Kerry and his team to do a better job than President Bush and Colin Powell when it comes to organizing and implementing international alliances? Is Mr. "Do Nothing" in the Senate going to be able to effectuate significant positive change throughout the world by way of foreign policy? Pardon my incredulity, but Kerry is mesmerized by his own BS. Right now, we have approximately 30 nations in the Iraq coalition, which belies John Kerry's remarks. And let's not forget John Kerry's obsession with American compliance with the United Nations, despite the systemic corruption and ineptness of that institution.

John Kerry stated at the debate: "But this president hasn't even held the kind of statesman-like summits that pull people together and get them to invest in those stakes. In fact, he's done the opposite. He pushed them away. When the secretary general, Kofi Annan, offered the United Nations, he said, "No, no, we'll go do this alone. To save for Halliburton the spoils of the war, they actually issued a memorandum from the Defense Department saying, if you weren't with us in the war, don't bother applying for any construction. That's not a way to invite people".

President Bush responded: "That's totally absurd. Of course the U.N. was invited in. And we support the U.N. efforts there. They pulled out after Sergio de Mello got killed. But they're now back in helping with elections. My opponent says we didn't have any allies in this war? What's he say to Tony Blair? What's he say to Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland. I mean you can't expect to build alliances, when you denigrate the contributions of those who are serving side by side with American troops in Iraq. Plus, he says the cornerstone of his plan to succeed in Iraq is to call upon nations to serve. So what's the message going to be? Please join us in Iraq for a grand diversion? Join us for a war that is the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time? I know how these people think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently. They're not going to follow somebody who says this is the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. They're not going to follow somebody whose core convictions keep changing because of politics in America. And finally, he says we ought to have a summit where there are summits being held. Japan is going to have a summit for the donors. There's $14 billion pledged and Prime Minister Koizumi is going to call countries to account to get them to contribute. And there's going to be an Arab summit of the neighborhood countries and Colin Powell helped - helped set up that summit".

Much has been made of the fact that President Bush appeared physically and mentally drained during the debate, with some even commenting that he was "off his game" during the last 30 minutes. And there was considerable media hoopla regarding cut-away shots of President Bush reacting with a bit of disdain toward some of Kerry's remarks. That's clearly a no-no when debating. There's two more debates scheduled, and the President will undoubtedly exert a little more self-control. Reportedly, Bush engaged in a very busy day on September 30, meeting with numerous hurricane victims and viewing extensive damage in Florida, which contributed to his exhaustion. In any event, when you review the transcript of this first debate, it becomes evident that Bush was plainspoken and thoroughly responsive to the questions. Moreover, he successfully hammered away at Kerry's constantly morphing political positions that not only confuse the electorate, but undermine our foreign policy. Personally, I think the debate was a draw. However, President Bush apparently neglected to drive home the key issue of Kerry's terrible Senate voting record on defense and intelligence issues. Hopefully, President Bush will be afforded another opportunity to do this in future debate.

Carol Devine-Molin is a regular contributor to several online magazines.

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