I'm sad to report that it is not as obvious to everyone as it was to my partner that Bush was falling apart. I was going to say that he was acting like the string-pull Bush doll that I had bought for a leftist friend as a gift, spewing the same lines over and over, regardless of whether they made sense. But Chris Dominguez, via bkmarcus, said it better:
40 minutes in and Bush sounds like a guy who missed class all semester and then stepped into a pop-quiz in front of the whole school. He's literally pleading and whining. And this is the "leader of the free world?" God help us.
Indeed. But of course the hard heads at the GOP, aka Marc Racicot, a wind-up doll himself, spun the same thing this way:
Tonight, President George W. Bush stood in stark contrast to a vacillating Senator John Kerry. President Bush showed Americans a detailed path forward in the War on Terror, a plan that will ensure that America fights the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan – not in America’s cities. People saw for themselves tonight where John Kerry would lead our military, our allies and the world in the War on Terror – down a bumpy road paved with indecision and cynicism.
Perhaps Mr. Racicot would say I was dozing through the details, but they did not appear. And frankly the road that Kerry was paving was anything but bumpy, and not cynical: in the debate he took the quagmire that we have found ourselves in and tried to show a way out that is not only attainable but would leave the world better.
Much of what the Bush camp is trying to portray as flip-flopping is a fairly complicated position that Kerry needs to make super-clear. He took steps in that direction last night, but compared with the See Spot Run rhetoric of the Bush camp, people might find it less clear.
Nevertheless, the NYTimes editorial staff noted,
But last night Mr. Bush sounded less convincing when he had to make his case in the face of Mr. Kerry's withering criticism, particularly his repeated insistence that the invasion had diverted attention from the true center of the war on terror in Afghanistan.
A good editorial. I can't resist quoting two more passages:
But when Mr. Bush jabbed at the senator with a reminder about his infamous comment on voting for a war appropriation before he voted against it, Mr. Kerry had finally found an effective answer. While saying he had made a mistake in the way he had expressed himself, the senator added: "But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?"
And the exciting conclusion:
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush, whose body and facial language sometimes seemed downright petulant, insisted, again and again, that by criticizing the way the war is being run, Mr. Kerry was sending "mixed signals" that threatened the success of the effort.
Before last night's debate, we worried that the long list of rules insisted on by both camps would create a stilted exchange of packaged sound bites. But this campaign was starved for real discussion and substance. Even a format controlled by handlers and spin doctors seemed like a breath of fresh air.
Check out Mathew Gross's blog yesterday, today and probably after, too, for his finds in continuing spin.
Let's see...what else.
Gallup says Kerry won 53% to 37%, but with this caveat:
Despite the positive assessment, viewers said they favored Bush in handling the war in Iraq and serving as commander in chief, little changed from opinions expressed before the debate. And a majority of viewers said it was Bush who better demonstrated he is tough enough for the job.
ABCNews says that 45% of debate viewers say Kerry won, v. 36% for Bush and 17% for a tie, but that Bush still had a lead in terms of who people would vote for. Let's hope that some of those Bush voters are following Tony Pierce's lead.