Jim Lehrer: “And if any of you audience people yak during the debate, I am going to come down there and whip your ass.”
Or something like that.
Kerry kicks it off by pushing international alliances with the US as the leader, followed by an emphasis on what a bad job Bush is doing. Bush’s first relevant words are “September 11th.” Kerry takes notes. Bush pushes freedom and a multi-pronged approach to fighting terror.
Bush answers the next question by emphasizing that America knows where he stands. Kerry steals the classic Bush line about hunting down and killing people, but then points out that Osama bin Laden is still missing. Also: weapons of mass destruction, and Bush has made a colossal error of judgment — that’s the Kerry talking point. Plus a zinger about outsourcing.
Lehrer, who is tossing nothing but softballs, asks Kerry what errors of judgment Bush made. Kerry’s casting Bush as a child. He’s also ready for Afghanistan; Bush brought it up in the first place, and Kerry’s quoting figures on the decline of conditions in Afghanistan.
Bush pounds on the world being better off without Saddam Hussein, and pushes back on Kerry’s frame of his actions as childish. Lehrer asks about the priority of Saddam over Osama, and Bush says he can do both. Bush pushes the Allawi connection, which may not be wise the day it was discovered that Bush’s campaign helped write Allawi’s speech to Congress.
Kerry lays into Bush for not preparing for the war and the peace. Bush comes back with the flipflop meme. Kerry’s a little bit weaker in the counter-response; Lehrer gave them an extra 30 seconds each and Kerry didn’t have enough to fill it. Answering the next question, Kerry pushes the neglect of domestic issues and keeps on making references to specific states; good local politics. But gives into the temptation to ramble.
Bush zings Kerry on raised taxes and says that he is doing a lot to improve homeland defense. Kerry notes a hundred thousand hours of tapes that haven’t been listened to. He also lets Bush fall into the trap of citing amount spent as equivalent to effort put forth, and then points it out.
Bush hits a free Iraq about a million times and thanks the troops for their effort. Kerry tells the troops that he can do better for them. He also points out that Bush’s father didn’t invade Iraq, and quotes the rather prescient points Bush Sr. made at the time. Bush comes back to the flipflop meme. Kerry says that it’s OK to recognize problems and solve them.
Your liberal media: Bob Novak complains about Kerry pandering to Florida voters, but ignores it when Bush does the same.
Bush gets across the point that Kerry has been denigrating the same allies he wants to recruit. He’s getting pretty heated up about it, which I suspect is a good move. Lehrer asks Bush what the miscalculation was in Iraq and he says that we just won too quickly and he expected them to stay and fight. Opening for Kerry, there.
Kerry’s sounding a bit hoarse. He points out the low numbers of troops from other countries in Iraq, and then zings Bush on North Korea and their nuclear weapons. Kerry then cites Bush’s State of the Union address on nuclear weapons as non-credible. They’ve both pretty much degraded into quoting each other at this point and hitting talking points after a short spate of real engagement.
Kerry gets to push his line: “Saddam was a threat, there was a right way to disarm him, and there was a wrong way to disarm him.” Bush sticks strongly to his talking points; he’s stopped stammering. He’s also getting to the personal. Very strong when he talks about someone’s sacrifice being noble and worthy. He’s hitting this one out of the park, in fact. Kerry slows his speech to match, and talks about making the sacrifice pointful.
Bush needs to stop asking for followup time when he’s not prepared; that was 10 seconds of dead air. Ooops. Kerry namedrops Israel.
In the next question, Kerry just keeps on pushing the incompetence line. Bush responds that we are getting the job done and does a nice job mocking Kerry’s educated delivery. Definite scorn in his voice.
Kerry grabs a chance to point out that Saddam didn’t attack us with both hands, and comes back to the issue of letting Osama go when he was cornered in Tora Bora. He also used the outsourcing line again: “we outsourced the task of catching Osama to Afghan warlords.” And he finishes up by calling Bush factually incorrect when he says Saddam was getting stronger.
Talking point, talking point, Bush gets to push the concept that he won’t be at the beck and call of the rest of the world. Bush then gets into North Korea and says he thinks the pressure on Kim Jong Il now is working. Ditto for Iran. Kerry uses this as a platform to say we could have done better again. North Korea is kind of a problem for Bush: “There are four to seven nuclear devices in North Korea today, and that happened on this President’s watch.”
Sudan comes up; Kerry says he’d be willing to use troops. Bush says we’re already doing quite a bit. Kerry acknowledges that Bush has done more Presidency stuff than he has. Not the best move. Key line from Kerry: “You can be certain and still be wrong.” Pushing the lack of flexibility. Bush says we’ll change our tactics in Iraq, which is a slip on his part.
Kerry is just plain right when he says that nuclear proliferation is the biggest threat to the world, and that we need to do more about it. Then he links it back to terrorism. Bush says Kerry’s not telling the truth about decreases in funding to prevent nuclear proliferation, then says Kerry’s right about the threat. One of the centerpieces? Dunno about that; how much center is there in his strategy? Bush then pushes the missile defense system.
Kerry says, again, that North Korea has more weapons after four years of Bush; this is his big advantage is that Bush can’t escape his record. Bush follows up by talking about how he’s friends with Putin, and that allows Kerry to list off some of Putin’s excesses over the last couple of months. Kerry then tries to counter Bush’s take on bilateral talks on North Korea by saying that China would continue to help pressure North Korea.
Closing remarks: Kerry pushes his commitment to defending America and winning in Iraq. Responsible leadership. Bush says we can’t show weakness. Mutual expression of talking points. Lehrer pitches the next few debates. It’s a wrap!