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[The Christian Science Monitor] Task for the debaters

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by No Worries, Sep 28, 2004.

  1. No Worries

    No Worries Contributing Member

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    Task for the debaters

    Thursday's event will draw a vast audience - and the strongest pressure is on Kerry.

    By Linda Feldmann | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

    WASHINGTON – Neither George Bush nor John Kerry has ever lost a debate, or so the legend goes.

    In fact, observers of presidential debates like to point out, neither has lost a debate in a head-to-head matchup. During primaries, on a crowded debate stage, both have been edged out by verbally gifted rivals (see Republican Alan Keyes and Democrat John Edwards). But no matter now, as the principal candidates in the Nov. 2 elections suit up for their first head-to-head matchup on Thursday evening at the University of Miami.

    President Bush takes the stage with a decided edge. National polls show him beating the Massachusetts senator, with voters echoing the Bush campaign mantra that Kerry doesn't have a clear vision for the country. This debate, likely to be the most-watched of three duels over the next two weeks, represents Kerry's best chance to alter the dynamics of the race, unforeseen events notwithstanding. Still, Bush is not home free. He, too, has work to do in Coral Gables, Fla.

    "Kerry still has to prove himself as an effective foreign-policy leader, but Bush has this albatross-like thing called Iraq to worry about," says John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University.

    In the runup to Thursday's debate, much has been made of the detailed agreement struck by the Bush and Kerry teams, governing such minutiae as the distance between podiums (meant to deemphasize Kerry's height advantage), the visibility of timing lights (meant to embarrass the long-winded Kerry), and what cameras may and may not show as each man speaks.

    Since the Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960, the first such televised matchup perceived as playing a decisive role in electing a president, campaigns have grown increasingly obsessed with any small element that could be spun to devastating effect - such as the first President Bush being caught on camera looking at his watch during a debate with then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton in 1992, and Vice President Al Gore sighing audibly during his first debate with then-Texas Gov. George Bush in 2000.

    A war to establish a presidential image

    Still, as much as commentators and the campaigns themselves like to sweat the small stuff and opine on style - simplicity vs. nuance, folksiness vs. patrician bearing - this is a debate where words will be just as critical. Embedded in the good-news polling for Bush lie warning signs. The latest Pew Research Center survey, released Tuesday, shows fewer voters favoring Bush over Kerry on Iraq than two weeks ago, and 60 percent of the public rating the economy as only fair or poor.

    "The poll finds that Bush's gains in support are being driven more by perceptions of Kerry's weakness - especially on leadership and other personal traits - than by improved opinions of Bush," writes Pew center director Andrew Kohut.

    The latest Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll shows Bush's 45 percent to 42 percent lead over Kerry last week (with 2 percent for Ralph Nader) back to a dead heat - 45 percent each, and again 2 percent for Mr. Nader.

    "The major charge for Kerry in this environment is to make himself the acceptable alternative," says John Kenneth White, a political scientist at Catholic University in Washington. "He has to provide people with a comfort level that he knows where he's going, that he can be a strong leader, and that he can lead us in the war on terror."

    Professor White sees a parallel in the election of 1980, when Ronald Reagan challenged then-President Jimmy Carter. The race was close until the end, as voters withheld judgment on Mr. Reagan's suitability for the presidency. It was his debate with Carter that provided that reassurance.

    Kerry's tall order

    But with the nation at war, Kerry perhaps faces a steeper climb than Reagan did in the effort to oust a sitting commander in chief. For Kerry, too, the burden is to persuade the public to throw out a sitting president

    "Kerry has to convince Americans that he's presidential material," says Stephen Wayne of Georgetown University. "He's got to define his positions; he's got to reassure Americans; he's got to provide a sense of direction; and of course he's got to show that he's approachable ... not an aloof politician."

    So much has been made of each man's debating prowess - Kerry more in the classically trained manner, Bush in his less orthodox, simple-and-on-message style - that for once the quadrennial expectations game seems to have been defused. Each campaign seems to have dueled that point to a draw. In fact, perhaps for the first time in his life, Bush may be going into a debate with some polls showing the public expects him to win.

    Garry Mauro, the Democrat who opposed Bush for the Texas governorship in 1998, says the Kerry team should expect no surprises from the president.

    "President Bush will be totally focused," Mr. Mauro said last weekend on "Fox News Sunday." "He will be talking directly to the American people. He will be using the same themes he's practiced over and over and over again."

    Kerry will show a high degree of discipline, too, says former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, who tried unsuccessfully to unseat Kerry from the US Senate.

    "He's one of the most articulate people in public life, if not the most," said Mr. Weld, also on Fox. As for Kerry's weaknesses, Weld responded: "Some of the answers could perhaps be shorter."

    The race tightens

    New poll (Sept. 22-27)
    Bush: 45
    Kerry: 45

    Prior poll (Sept. 14-18)
    Bush: 45
    Kerry: 42

    Source: Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll. Margin of error 4 percent.
     
  2. No Worries

    No Worries Contributing Member

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    Debates for Dummies

    Bush, Kerry camps tussle over which candidate has less intelligence

    WEB-EXCLUSIVE COMMENTARY
    By Andy Borowitz
    Newsweek
    Updated: 4:30 p.m. ET Sept. 28, 2004

    Sept. 28 - In what some political insiders are calling an attempt to lower expectations in the days leading up to the first presidential debate, the White House today announced that President George W. Bush has an IQ of 67.

    The president is far, far less intelligent than is commonly thought," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. "Even the simplest tasks remain well beyond his reach."

    Reinforcing the impression that the president will be overmatched in Thursday's debate with Sen. John Kerry, McClellan showed reporters never-before-seen footage of Bush oafishly tumbling from his mountain bike.

    "What a moron," McClellan said.

    The White House spokesman said that Bush cannot possibly be expected to do well in a debate with Kerry, who McClellan said "has an IQ of 193" and "is widely considered the best debater on the planet."

    But within minutes of the White House press conference, Kerry spokesman Joe Lockhart fired back, telling reporters, "John Kerry is much stupider than he looks."

    As evidence of Kerry's idiocy, Lockhart referred to the floral-patterned windsurfing pants the senator wears while enjoying his favorite water sport.

    "His a-- looks enormous in those pants," Lockhart said. "What kind of a moron would leave the house with his a-- looking like that?"

    Elsewhere, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said today that it was unfair to compare the upcoming Iraqi elections to those held in America, "except for Florida."

    Andy Borowitz is the author of The Borowitz Report, and the winner of the National Press Club's humor award. For more, go to www.borowitzreport.com .
    © 2004 Newsweek, Inc.
     
  3. No Worries

    No Worries Contributing Member

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    [CBS] The Debate Game

    The Debate Game
    Sept. 29, 2004
    (CBS) Thursday's the big day — The Presidential Debate — or as it's also known, "Which Candidate Can Duck Tough Questions The Best?"

    These things are always more show business than actual debate, but this year there's a new wrinkle — one that isn't covered by makeup. The candidates have decided on the rules, and there are more rules than ever. Having them decide on the rules is a little ridiculous. It would be like players on a World Series team deciding on the rules for the Series, or a criminal defendant deciding what evidence may be admitted, or a presidential candidate having his brother as the governor of the state that could swing a contested election. It's too much of an "inside job."

    As they negotiated these rules, the big thing the Democrats wanted was to have three debates instead of two. The big thing the Republicans wanted was, understandably, a chance to make their guy look as good as possible. So, the Republicans gave in on the number of debates, and the Democrats gave in on some interesting details. Apparently, the Republicans were afraid that the taller Kerry would make Mr. Bush look too short. So, they insisted that the lecterns be a certain height and be farther apart so Kerry wouldn't be looking down on President Bush. At the same time, the rules specifically prohibit either candidate from using "any device to make them look taller." What were they afraid of, that George W. Bush was going to come in on stilts?

    There is other minutia as well in the 32-page negotiated agreement. (If people had put this much energy into negotiating foreign policy, the war in Iraq could probably have been avoided). The debaters cannot use any "props." I guess both candidates had to cancel those puppets they ordered. They can use any kind of pen or pencil to take notes, but these writing implements must be given to the debate staff before the debate begins. That was probably to eliminate them bringing those combination pen/squirt guns.

    The audience will see the warning lights when the speaker is getting close to the end of his allotted time. This is considered a concession to the Republicans who hope it might embarrass the habitually long-winded Kerry. One Democratic strategist found this "undignified," and "like a game show." No kidding. This is a game show.

    It's actually more of a "reality" game show, but unlike the real ones, there aren't any consequences if the players mess up. What's going to happen if they break one of the rules? What are they going to do to President Bush if he wants to stand on his tiptoes when he speaks? How are they going to punish Kerry if he removes a fold-up secret recipe for ketchup? That's one of the big failings of the ridiculous rules agreement — it has no teeth. No matter what they do, Mr. Bush and Kerry are not going to have to eat bugs or climb a mountain blindfolded or switch families with each other. Haven't their advisors learned that that's the kind of television people like these days?

    The rules also eliminate all chances for spontaneity — which is, of course, their goal. Candidates are not allowed to ask each other questions. Too bad. Wouldn't you like to see them grill each other? The camera must remain on the person speaking, so we won't see the other guy yawning, checking his watch, or making faces at his opponent. Why not? What's wrong with seeing how they react to each other? Then there's the Big One: Other than the insincere handshake before the debate begins, the candidates are not allowed to touch each other.

    Where did that come from? Who was worried that they would touch each other during the debate? Did someone actually fear that one of them would walk over and punch the other guy? If so, how disappointing that they've eliminated that possibility. That's something America would watch — even if it were on Pay TV. In fact, instead of having debates, maybe they really should just have a fistfight. Both men are macho, athletic types, so neither would back down. I say, if they want to box each other, let them. After all, they've been wrestling each other in the mud for months.

    ---------

    Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
     
  4. Mulder

    Mulder Contributing Member

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    John Kerry would kick W's monkey a$$... :D
     
  5. ron413

    ron413 Contributing Member

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    At what? Eating waffles? Tossing flip-flops?
     
  6. RocketMan Tex

    RocketMan Tex Contributing Member

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    Thinking before acting?
     
  7. ron413

    ron413 Contributing Member

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    Think again. Take a look at the polls, and then think again.
     
  8. No Worries

    No Worries Contributing Member

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    Polls are dead even.
     
  9. RocketMan Tex

    RocketMan Tex Contributing Member

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    Not neccessary. Remove your blinders, and do your research.
     
  10. GladiatoRowdy

    GladiatoRowdy Contributing Member

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    Thinking for himself, running an honest campaign, anything involving brainpower...
     
  11. glynch

    glynch Contributing Member

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    Swagger vs. Substance
    By PAUL KRUGMAN
    Columnist Page: Paul Krugman
    Let's face it: whatever happens in Thursday's debate, cable news will proclaim President Bush the winner. This will reflect the political bias so evident during the party conventions. It will also reflect the undoubted fact that Mr. Bush does a pretty good Clint Eastwood imitation.

    But what will the print media do? Let's hope they don't do what they did four years ago.

    Interviews with focus groups just after the first 2000 debate showed Al Gore with a slight edge. Post-debate analysis should have widened that edge. After all, during the debate, Mr. Bush told one whopper after another - about his budget plans, about his prescription drug proposal and more. The fact-checking in the next day's papers should have been devastating.

    But as Adam Clymer pointed out yesterday on the Op-Ed page of The Times, front-page coverage of the 2000 debates emphasized not what the candidates said but their "body language." After the debate, the lead stories said a lot about Mr. Gore's sighs, but nothing about Mr. Bush's lies. And even the fact-checking pieces "buried inside the newspaper" were, as Mr. Clymer delicately puts it, "constrained by an effort to balance one candidate's big mistakes" - that is, Mr. Bush's lies - "against the other's minor errors."

    The result of this emphasis on the candidates' acting skills rather than their substance was that after a few days, Mr. Bush's defeat in the debate had been spun into a victory.

    This time, the first debate will be about foreign policy, an area where Mr. Bush ought to be extremely vulnerable. After all, his grandiose promises to rid the world of evildoers have all come to naught.

    Exhibit A is, of course, Osama bin Laden, whom Mr. Bush promised to get "dead or alive," then dropped from his speeches after a botched operation at Tora Bora let him get away. And it's not just bin Laden: most analysts believe that Al Qaeda, which might have been crushed if Mr. Bush hadn't diverted resources and attention to the war in Iraq, is as dangerous as ever.

    There's also North Korea, which Mr. Bush declared part of the "axis of evil," then ignored when its regime started building nuclear weapons. Recently, when a reporter asked Mr. Bush about reports that North Korea has half a dozen bombs, he simply shrugged.

    Most important, of course, is Iraq, an unnecessary war, which - after initial boasts of victory - has turned into an even worse disaster than the war's opponents expected.

    The Kerry campaign is making hay over Mr. Bush's famous flight-suit stunt, but for me, Mr. Bush's worst moment came two months later, when he declared: "There are some who feel like the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on." When they really did come on, he blinked: U.S. forces - obviously under instructions to hold down casualties at least until November - have ceded much of Iraq to the insurgents.

    During the debate, Mr. Bush will try to cover for this dismal record with swagger, and with attacks on his opponent. Will the press play Karl Rove's game by, as Mr. Clymer puts it, confusing political coverage with drama criticism, or will it do its job and check the candidates' facts?

    There have been some encouraging signs lately. There was a disturbing interlude in which many news organizations seemed to accept false claims that Iraq had calmed down after the transfer of sovereignty. But now, as the violence escalates, they seem willing to ask hard questions about Mr. Bush's fantasy version of the situation in Iraq. For example, a recent Reuters analysis pointed out that independent sources contradict his assertions about everything "from police training and reconstruction to preparations for January elections."

    Mr. Bush is also getting less of a free ride than he used to when he smears his opponent. Last week, after Mr. Bush declared that Mr. Kerry "would prefer the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein to the situation in Iraq today," The Associated Press pointed out that this "twisted his rival's words" - and then quoted what John Kerry actually said.

    Nonetheless, on Thursday night there will be a temptation to revert to drama criticism - to emphasize how the candidates looked and acted, and push analysis of what they said, and whether it was true, to the inside pages. With so much at stake, the public deserves better.

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