And Down the Stretch They Come
I didn't watch the debate until late last night, having taped it while at the gym and then coming home to watch the Yankees all but destroy my ALCS prediction (scroll down, if you really want to see it). With Curt Schilling likely on the Schelf for the rest of the postseason and the Yankee rotation looking the best it has all year, the Saux probably need to sweep at Fenway to give themselves a real shot. A Cardinals-Yankees World Series would be a worthwhile matchup; they're the two most successful franchises in baseball history, if memory serves.
Anyway, I was nervous all day about the debate, and waiting till midnight to turn it on was pretty difficult. In the end, though, it came out reasonably well.
That said, Bush was much, much better last night than in either of the previous two. After his bad Nixon impression--scowling, slumping--in the first one and his "Furious George" act in St. Louis, he came off as much more likeable and even somewhat knowledgeable last night.
But his improvements on style didn't totally compensate for his near-total lack of substance. Bush had NOTHING in terms of answers on fiscal responsibility, how he'd come up with that $1-2 trillion in "transitional costs" for his awful Social Security idea, or how he'd address the health care crisis aside from demonizing lawyers. His non-answer on the assault weapons ban question was weak and transparently dishonest (though Kerry didn't beat him over the head with it as he should have.) And as has been noted quite widely by now, Bush flat-out "misrepresented" as far as what he'd said about bin Laden.
Kerry called him on several of these points, to good effect. Through the first 15 minutes or so, Kerry seemed to stumble and meander, but he found his stride and seemed to take control. On health care and budget issues in particular his answers were coherent and effective.
A lot has been made of his raising the issue of the Cheneys' lesbian daughter (and that charmer Lynne Cheney has already tried to politicize the remark). I wasn't very comfortable with it, but I did think it was good, if rough, politics--and certainly tame compared to the slime Karl Rove throws as SOP. Ditto in calling Bush out on whether or not he would overturn Roe v. Wade: I believe there are millions of voters out there likely to support Bush for this reason alone, even if they disagree with him on other grounds, and Kerry might have managed to raise some doubts with them. In terms of tactics, it was a smart play: Kerry forced Bush into a bad choice--reassure the base at the likely price of moderates, or fudge the answer in hopes that the base will come along anyway--and the president took the second option. Between that decision and the airing of Mary Cheney's orientation, he might well lose some enthusiasm among the rabid righties.
Finally, I thought Bob Schieffer was quite good--certainly much better than Lehrer or Gibson. He focused on the main issues--health care, budget, jobs--but allowed each man to expound on his philosophy of governance, and even threw a nice change-up with that immigration question. I'd been worried about Schieffer because he's a Bush family friend, and his brother was W's close business partner (and is now Ambassador to Australia, I believe), but he was thoroughly professional and even-handed.
I was a bit surprised that polling showed such a clear win for Kerry. My own take when I turned it off was that both had done reasonably well and now it would come down to the ground game. It's still more or less a jump ball, but I'm not complaining about the state of the race this morning.