By now, you’ve read all the pundits about the debate, with the liberals all saying Kerry won and the conservatives mostly saying it was a tie (because they couldn’t say Bush lost, of course).
I listened to the debate on the radio. The main effect this has is that you hear what the candidates say and how they say it; you are not distracted by what they are wearing or the gestures they make, nor in how a given network displays the debate, focusing on one candidate or the other at critical times. (On the flip side, you don’t get to see the gestures they make, whether they look at the camera or the moderator, or how they visually project themselves. Andrew Sullivan’s blog (archives only go back to 2006, unfortunately) had an e-mail from a viewer who saw mostly the reverse of me: he saw the debate with the sound off, and so could focus exclusively on the visuals.)
A few items that I haven’t seen noted enough:
- Bush sounded uncertain in the debate. Kerry would hit an answer or a rebuttal hard out of the gate, but Bush tended to spend (waste) the first 10 seconds or so with false starts and the like. Not only did this cause him to have less time for his answers, but it made him sound unprepared, annoyed, and flustered. Not a good image to project.
- Bush had a couple of major flubs, most notably the bit where he conflated 9/11 with Iraq as the attacker. It’s bad enough that he continues to project this misconception, but it gave Kerry an automatic attack point. (Bush lobbed the ball up and didn’t defend against a spike.) Bush’s handlers should have planned for this and directed Bush to never, ever make that sort of a comment, knowing the damning response it would get. Either Bush’s handlers are overconfident, or Bush ignored their advice. That’s potentially fatal.
- As I understand it, the focus of this debate — Foreign Policy — was chosen by the Bush campaign. It is the arena where Bush is supposedly strongest, and if that were true, choosing to do that debate first and giving Kerry a major smackdown would have been very good for Bush. But that distinctly did not happen. If this was Bush on his strongest topic, how will he do when discussing domestic issues? (But Kerry needs to be sure he doesn’t get overconfident by the results of this debate. I suspect that’s what Bush did.)
Updated on May 10, 2011