A few preliminary observations:
1. Bush dodged blatantly on 2 questions: first, the issue of whether the election of Kerry would make the nation more vulnerable to terrorist attacks; second, the question of whether what has happened in Iraq would make him rethink a future pre-emptive strike. Not surprised; just disappointed.
2. I was surprised by how quickly Bush seemed to fall apart, needing to rely on his talking points rather than engagement with the issues. I expected more. By my unoffical count (read the transcripts yourself), he mentioned the dangers of mixed messages and/or so-called changes in core values 14 times, and said 5 times how much work it is to lead a war. I'm sure the parents of the 1,054 have the fullest sympathy.
3. I was impressed to see Kerry say that he may have made a mistake about how he talks about the war, whereas Bush made a mistake in how he handled it--which is worse?
4. Also appreciated his rebuttal to the insistence on mixed messages by asking what kind of mixed message it is to insist and nuclear disarmament while pouring money into developing bunker-busting nuclear weapons.
5. It bothers me that Bush claims by implication that the "enemy" who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks is the same as the "enemy" who killed schoolkids in Russia. That is the problem with fighting a war against a floppy word like terrorism: the issues in the two cases while not entirely dissimilar are not the same, nor are the agents. By throwing around terrorism=enemy, when terrorism is a method not a doctrine or a person or a group, we get into dangerous territory.
6. Thank you, Kerry, for bringing Afghanistan back into the conversation. Oh yeah! That is an unresolved problem that shows signs of worsening.
7. I was surprised that the best rebuttal Bush could come up with to Kerry's plan for dealing with homeland security was, "I don't think we want to get to how he's going to pay for that" (may not be a perfect quotation). Kerry had just said how he would pay for it.
8. So glad to hear that the Patriot Act is key to securing liberty. What liberty would that be, exactly?
9. Extra points to Kerry to quoting Bush, Sr. re Iraq, who wrote in his book that there would be "no viable exit strategy."
10. Best ironic moment: when Bush said that by speaking clearly and making clear that we mean what we say, we have made the world a better place. Which clear speech was that? And which parts of what we said did we really mean and which did we not mean? Seems to me there is more of the latter--and of the unclear speech generally.
Forgive lack of better cogency or wit. Sleep beckons.
For a good blow-by-blow from during the debate, look at Jarrett House North's 4-part harmony.
And Tony Pierce is in search of one good caption.