President Bush did an appreciable job of helping to erase the memory of his horrid performance from last week. He managed to get his talking points out and not be quite as strident and far more personable - which is his strength - particularly within the town hall format of the debate. He may even have managed to come across stronger on "style and demeaner" points than his opponent, Senator Kerry - but on issues of fact, I still think he still fell far short of the mark.
Bush continues to claim, despite the recent comprehensive reports that Saddam Hussein had no stockpiles of WMD's, had not been able to pursue aquiring new weapons while under sanctions, that the sanctions "didn't work", and that simply because Saddam wished he had them - which is frankly reasonable considering the growing threat of Iran - that he and his regime was the greatest imminent threat in the world to the United States.
It's the most rank case of "would'a, could'a, should'a" - with American soldiers, taxpayers and Iraqi civilians paying the highest toll - that I can even imagine.
If "wishes" were votes in Congress, I'm betting we wouldn't be at war right now.
For the most part, not too much new was covered on this debate on the foreign policy front. Lots of stump-speech golden oldies were trotted out for another lap around the electorate.
Bush still claims that direct ("bilateral") talks with North Korean will dismante the six-party talks to put pressure on them to halt their nuclear weapons program. For his part, Kerry after having mentioned that he would have both bilateral and multi-lateral talks in their first debate, failed to respond to Bush with the fact that China - according to news reports - has already attempted at least twice to have North Korean brought into the talks. In short, it seems that the country with the greatest leverage on North Korean seems to feel that can have both multi-lateral and bi-lateral talks, just as Kerry has claimed.
A missed oppurtunity by Kerry.
To his credit Kerry managed to not repeat the erroneous $200 Billion Iraq-War cost, unlike Edwards earlier in the week.
Bush continues to claim that Kerry has changed positions on Iraq, and it is quite disappointing that the news media seems completely taken in by this distortion of fact. On the Senate floor, Kerry stated his reservations about how we should proceed following the use of force authorization on day one, not later. Not when Howard Dean entered the contest, not in response to "political pressure". He said then, as he says now, that we needed to build the kind of coalition that President G.H.W. Bush did during the first Gulf War. A coalition that include Arab nations as well as European. We need the kind of coalition and overwhelming force that President Bill Clinton had when he bombed and invaded Kosovo - without suffering a single American casualty - the type of coalition that G.W.Bush utterly failed to build.
One of Bush's most effective claims IMO is that Kerry's ability to lead our troops and allies has been undercut by his statement that this is the "wrong war", by his statements belittling the 30 nation coalition that does exist, demeaning the contributions of the Iraqi forces and the making light of the political heat that Tony Blair has taken for his support of this war. But that belies the well documented sentiment of most our NATO allies, the Arab world, as well as the growing sentiment among our soldiers (shown by bloggers in the field such as The MY WAR Blog) who now *know* this is the wrong war, that there we're NO WMD's, no connection to Al Qaeda, no burgeoning nuclear program, and that this war has been fought from stem to stern with a faulty, overally idealogical, politically tinged strategy. Kerry did well to counter that six nations have dropped out of the coalition since it's formation - that it's getting weaker, not stronger. Contrary to Bush's claims I feel that Kerry's recognition that this effort was flawed is crucial in building the credibility with our NATO and Arab allies that is desperately needed to counter the anti-American sentiment that is driving the insurgency and growing worldwide terrorism.
Someone who recognizes that the current approach is broken is more likely get it fixed than the person who broke it in the first place and refuses to admit the problems.
One of Bush's strongest arguments for the Iraq War remains that "Democracy spreads freedom and security". This I think is demonstrably true, but only when that democracy has not been undermined and tainted by corruption, double-talk, false-promises and hidden agendas. Cynicism of American motives in this War has become overwhelming, and it's only thru a fresh start with a fresh administration that *some* of that cynicism can be repaired and the semblance of a true and stable democracy fostered in Iraq without continued internal strife and violence.
We don't need more "democracies" like the Shah of Iran, Marcos in Phillipines, or Pinoche in Chile.
On the domestic side, Bush continues to spin - painting Kerry as a typical "tax and spend" liberal. It's tired and lame rhetoric, which was used against Bill Clinton and failed then just as it deserves to fail now. Bill Clinton balanced the budget with a even-handed, yet progressive tax policy that increased revenues while bolstering the economy. Every Republican in Congress voted against it as a economy killer - but they were wrong. It's already been proven that this strategy works, whereas Bush's supply-side trickle-down theories have contined to produce a weak economy, lost jobs, an increasing income gap and a spiralling deficit.
Kerry proposes to do what has already been proven, not repeat what has continued to fail.
Kerry did well responding with passion to the stem-cell research issue on facts and presentation - but less well being empathetic on the partial-birth abortion issue. Here Bush was clearly effective in speaking to his base, who like him are quite emotional and commited to the issue - however Kerry's more nuanced position happens to be consistent the position of the Supreme Court who just recently struck down Bush's abortion-ban as unconstitutional as it failed to take into consideration the health and life of the mother. Time and time again, the hardcore "Pro-Lifers" show themselves to be completely indifferent to the life and health of pregnant women. They attempt to ban a proceedure whose primary purpose is to preserve life -- the life of the mother -- when the child's life has already been compromised and can not be saved. Apparently they and President Bush would prefer two deaths rather than one - simply to make a so-called "moral" point. The issue is devisive, but it's clear that if Bush ultimately had his way, and is able to adjust the Supreme Court accordingly, the women's right to abortion would evaporate and far more women (and children) would die and be at far greater health risks during pregnancy complications or illegal back-alley procedures.
Overall I thought that Senator Edwards has done a better job of defending Kerry's Senate record than Kerry himself has done. Bush again claimed that Kerry has voted to raise taxes over 90's times, to which Kerry didn't respond - but independant sources indicate that this double-counts some votes and even counts votes against Republican tax-cuts - leaving taxes the same as they were before - as tax *inceases*. During the Vice-Presidential debate Edwards pointed out that Kerry has voted in favor of tax cuts over 600 times. He pointed out that in contrast to Kerry being "anti-defense" - that he has voted for the largest increases in the defense and inteligence budgets in decades, and that then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney was the one who recommended the defunding of dozens of weapons systems in 1991, not John Kerry - who has voted in favor 16 or the 19 Defense appropriation bills that have come before him.
Neither Kerry or Edwards has mentioned that the $7 Billion post trade-center intelligence cut that was supported by Kerry was in response to a scandal by a CIA subsidiary that was attempting to hoard funds for a Sattelite they never intended to launch. Kerry simply wanted the money back that was essentially being stolen by this agency. Another missed oppurtunity.
However last night, John Kerry finally gave the answer to the $87 Billion vote question that he needed to give. Bush has hammered him on this being a "flip-flop", regardless of his original statements to the Senate on this issue. Kerry at first responded with his stump-speech talking point "I made a mistake in how I talked about he vote...etc", but then went on to point out that his vote was a protest against the lack of adequate troop supplies in the bill, against the [$7.6 Billion] slush-fund for companies like Halliburton, and finally the fiscal irresponsibility of spending money on this war [without using our strongest allies, or utilizing the normal sources of additional support for reconstruction costs such as the World Bank ] with no plan to *pay* for what we we're spending.
In his response to the final question of the evening he correctly pointed out that we are the ones waging this war and *we* should pay for it, not our children.
IMO Advantage Kerry, but I suspect the media will continue to call it a "draw".
In next week's final debate, Kerry will need to *step up his game* or suffer the consequences.