The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Friday, October 15, 2004

Post-Debate Spin

Well the debate is long past in political terms but I am only getting around to giving my spin on it now.

I thought the debate was a rather good one for both sides. Grading it from home I gave Kerry a B+ and Bush a B-. I was kind of surprised when I tallied up the grades I gave to individual answers since I felt the two sides performances were somewhat closer. But I guess my take was confirmed by most viewers who, somewhat surprisingly to me, awarded a solid win to Kerry. Two polls (CNN & CBS) gave him a double digit win and one poll (ABC) had him narrowly ahead of Bush. Josh Marshall gave a more emphatic win to Kerry, but then again, he thought the first debate was a draw when I thought Bush gave pretty much the worst debate performance in a generation.

Kerry started slow and his answer on whether our children will ever feel safe or secure was somewhat weak. He started with an attack on Bush and then a discussion of his plans whereas I would have counseled a reverse approach, starting with a discussion of the question and then turning to an attack on Bush by way of contrast. I felt the highlights for Kerry were his discussion of his Catholic faith and how it relates to abortion, his discussion of jobs (that's where he aired the Tony Soprano line), and his slamming of Bush's leadership on the assault weapons ban. Bush's highlights included his critique of Kerry's health care plan (which was wrong - but Kerry failed to call him on the carpet for that), surprisingly, his ability to sound neutral in the Roe v Wade question (again something Kerry should never have let him get away with), and his discussion of privatizing Social Security. Kerry failed to exploit some opportunities on health care and was surprisingly unprepared for the question on affirmative action (so was Bush for that matter who missed an opportunity to score points against Kerry with white undecideds). At one point Bush stated that Kerry was wrong about malpractice because defensive medicine adds as much as $29 billion to perhaps $100 billion to our health spending. Well, $29 billion is less than 2% of our nation's health care spending so to put this in practical terms, it means a person's health care premiums would fall by about 2% -- or about $200 for a family of four that typically spends $10,000 on health care. And as most readers of this blog know, the Harvard School of Public Health found no evidence that malpractice leads to greater defensive practices. Kerry should have called Bush on two major lies -- the first that he never said he was not 'concerned' about Osama Bin Forgotten, when in fact those were the the exact words Bush used in a press conference, and the second when Bush claimed most of the tax relief went to the middle class when the CBO showed it primarily benefited the wealthiest Americans.

Bush has this increasingly annoying habit of going around the country and accusing Kerry of 'exaggerations,' dishonesty, lies, and untruths when in fact he is usually discussing something that is entirely true -- thus rendering his accusation of lying a lie in itself. Gee, lying about lying. Are you surprised a Republican does that? Bush had a couple of moments where he exposed himself. First, discussing the amendment process, he talked about how 'people can ratify the Constitution.' Funny, but I thought we did that 200 years ago. His jokes on health care fell very flat. And he several times began to gesticulate wildly during his answers. I suppose this provided him some relief from having to sit still while Kerry talked but it didn't make him look very Presidential.

Kerry looked cool, calm, and collected. He was poised and very Presidential and at the same time, he managed to evoke two or three very human moments and one where he broke into a broad grin at the end when he discussed his wife. So overall, a good evening. Kerry seems to have righted his campaign and I think the consensus is that he bested Bush across the three debates. Sadly, today's Reuters' poll by Zogby has Bush opening up a 4 point lead on Kerry which confirms a trend of the last 3 days in which he closed Kerry's lead, edged ahead by a point and now appears to be stretching it. Of most concern are crosstabs indicating that 89% of Republicans will vote for Bush but only 79% of Democrats. These numbers are a major worry and I think it has partly to do with Kerry's failure to address Bush's attacks directly and strongly. Most of Bush's accusations, which many have pointed out are almost completely untrue, just sit there. In a time of war, one way to demonstrate strength is to vigorously defend yourself. Kerry is attacking Bush, but I think he also needs to defend himself. His silence is Dukakian -- this from a guy who swore his campaign wouldn't make the same mistakes.

One observation about the debate. It struck me that one thing Republicans do a lot of is tell everyone in their audience how great America is. Americans love to be told how great they are and how great this country is. Democrats don't do enough of that and I think they need to do it more.

Last Comments: In the final days several things will be critical. Everyone is saying how important GOTV (get out the vote) will be. They are right. If polls indicate a split near election day among registered voters, then the winner will be that party which gets its people to the poll. Also important will be the numbers of undecideds towards election day. Charlie Cook claims that undecideds break 2:1 for the challenger but I am not sure if this will hold during a war. Still if the candidates are tied the eve of election that's bad news for Bush. If, however, Bush can build an insurmountable lead then this is moot. For instance, if he leads Kerry 48-44 (the latest Zogby numbers) with 7% undecided, than he will win on election day. I am not sure that we can count on the undecideds in this election. Psychologists talk about a phenomenon called 'status quo bias.' Humans need a big push to get off of the current status quo and make a move for change. I think that for most of the undecideds it is now a matter of convincing them to go with their gut. I truly believe (and I think the numbers back me up on this) that most undecideds and independents know in their gut that this is a failed presidency and want a change, want new leadership, want new direction. But to decide for change is to choose the unknown since Bush is so much more of a known commodity than Kerry. And I think that the uneasiness associated with a time of war heightens the status quo bias. Essentially, the Bush presidency is standing on the gallows of defeat, and all that remains is for voters to pull the lever and end it. To do this though, they have to get past their anxiety of choosing change. Kerry needs to spend a lot of time convincing these people that going with their gut is the right thing to do. Also, look out for any dirty tricks from Karl Rove.

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