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when is a win not a win?

when is a win not a win?

uh-oh, conservative readers are thinking, if locdog is getting zen, it must have been a really bad night for bush. well, take heart. it wasn't that bad. of the two losses that confront me this morning, bush's and the pitt panthers humiliating defeat at the hands of uconn (yes, they have a football team) in their inaugural big east matchup, i find the latter by far the most distressing.

still, my hat's off to kerry. bush won the first half, but not nearly as cleanly as kerry did the second. kerry was by far the more consistent of the two candidates, staying strong after the first-question butterflies fluttered off while bush seemed to taper. he became more redundant and exasperated as the evening marched on, while kerry marched right along with it. more than one commentator thought the president looked tired, and i couldn't disagree.

but then, bush is the president. he has a war to fight and a country to run. john kerry has little else to do besides avoid his senate obligations, spray on a tan, and bone up on some statistics. before the debate, bush was touring the devastation in a ravished wasteland that makes iraq look like shangri-la: florida. kerry was getting a manicure.

did you enjoy the debates? i did. especially the first half, and no, not just because that was the part bush won. in the first half of the debate, we saw two competitors at the absolute top of their games--i've honestly never seen either of them look better than they did in that first 45 minutes--battling it out in the sort of heavyweight slugfest that's the perennially unfulfilled promise of presidential debates. if you truly want to appreciate how good last night's debate was, go find yourself a copy of any of the three bush/gore matchups. as for bush/kerry, 50 million people tuned in, and they weren't disappointed.

bush jumped on kerry early and often in the initial stages, looking and sounding larger than life despite being physically dwarfed by the challenger. kerry launched waves of attacks, all delivered with back locked straight and a thudding cadence to match, but he seemed somehow small. this was clearly a man who knew he was behind and had some catching up to do, and it's hard to appear confident and strong when you're running for your life. a couple of memorable plus exchanges for bush were the "global test" for preemptive action comeback, and the sublime "i don't think he mislead us" exchange, where bush responded to kerry's allegations of misleading the american people on iraq by quoting kerry's own hawkish proclamations from a couple of years ago chapter and verse, and punctuating each with an "i don't think senator kerry mislead us when he said that."

around the halfway point, kerry began to gain the upper hand. when i sift through the memory banks looking for kerry's plus exchanges, i don't find individual moments but a general air of growing confidence coming from a man who does this sort of thing for a living, and has for most of his adult life. one particular line for kerry does stand out, an obvious applause line but for lehrer's kung-fu grip on the audience's throat. it was when kerry said he "made a mistake" with words when he'd said that he voted for the 87 billion before he voted against it, but the president mistakenly got us into war. something to that effect.

i guess what makes that line most memorable for me was that it was a fat, juicy pitch right down the middle, and bush went down looking. prior to it, kerry had been blasting bush over his failure to adequately prepare our troops for combat, complete with a sob-story about so-and-so from hackensack who had to buy her son's body armor on ebay. did bush flip senator kerry's question on him, pointing out that his mistake wasn't in how he spoke, but in how he voted? did he ask the senator if he told that mom how he tried to keep her son from being adequately equipped by attempting to nix his funding? did he demand to know by what authority someone blithely strolls away from 87 billion dollars then pounds his pulpit and promises never to send troops into battle ill-prepared? the whole point of kerry's disastrous 87 billion quote--the very reason he gave it in the first place--was that he had on one hand voted to make the war possible while on the other voted to deny the troops what they needed to fight it.

that was far from the only opportunity the president missed. for bush, the second half of the debate was little more than a mumbled reiteration of the first, while kerry assaulted him with a dizzying array of facts and figures, virtually all of which were used to tear down bush's case rather than build his own. whether you think kerry's stats are lies and damned lies or not, the fact is, there's always another set out there waiting to make the opposite case, and bush sure as hell didn't know them.

nor did he know, apparently, what his plan to win in iraq was. kerry didn't either (or if he did he didn't tell us what it was), although he at least knew that he had one. i know he knew that he had one because he must have spoke of its existence nearly as often as he did his vietnam service, which, by the way, popped up six times before i lost count. the challenger repeatedly claimed that george w. bush "won the war without a plan to win the peace" and bush refused to respond. could not respond, is what liberal readers are thinking, but looking at this in purely political terms that's an absolutely asinine position. of course bush has a plan. he discusses it with his advisers and generals and ambassadors and the iraqis themselves on a daily basis. there are tangible actions going on right now in iraq--huge actions that are killing hundreds of terrorists--that bush didn't even mention. he could have given a laundry list of steps and goals that would have made kerry's pumpkin-colored head spin, but instead he gave a meek defense of the status quo. now whether or not bush's plan is the status quo as you liberals believe, there are ways you say things and ways you don't. i disagree with you, of course, which makes the breakdown in debate technique all the more ugly.

so why, given all that nastiness, am i not too terribly concerned with bush's bad answers? because even a lot of bush's bad answers were good.

lehrer asks a question about global consensus and kerry launches into two minutes of names, dates, facts and figures that no one will remember tomorrow, least of all kerry. no one was meant to. the impression is what counts, the idea formed in the mind of the voter that, hey, this kerry guy really knows his stuff. maybe he's to be taken seriously after all. bush responds with something along the lines of "you can't lead if you're not committed, you have to stay the course, etc., etc." but then goes into "--and i know these guys. i know ambassador shmo and president whatshisface. i had lunch with them last week, and i'm flying off to this meeting or conference the next."

it's argument from authority, and as far as debate points goes, it's garbage, but if kerry puts all his debate points in one hand and craps in the other, he'll figure out pretty quick which fills the fastest. liberals are in fits of ecstasy over kerry's oh-so-sophisticated presentation and the superiority this supposedly manifests, but the average voter likes to hear the president saying "i know these guys." it might seem like that's not a lot to come back with, but when bush looks the camera right in the eyes and lets fly, people know he's not trying to pull one over on them. it may be he doesn't have the words to express exactly why this or that won't work, but people have come to expect that and know nonetheless that he believes in what he's saying. that knowledge was, is, and always will be the president's greatest asset.

john kerry should wake up this morning and take note of the fact that most of the same polls that show him winning the debate also show that it really didn't change anybody's mind. and democrats in general have apparently failed to learn the lesson of al gore, because the jubilant braying i hear now sounds suspiciously like what i heard following the first of the 2000 debates, which, i will remind you, was initially hailed as a victory for gore and for the exact same reasons.

americans aren't going to the polls this november to vote for captain of the national debate team, they're going to vote for a president, one who'll have to lead them out of one war and, in all likelihood, into others. even the youngest voters participating in this election will have had plenty of exposure to smooth-talking senators; there's more to it than that. if the war on terror were going to be settled in a court of law somewhere, kerry would be your man. but it isn't. given the choice between a stammering cowboy and a greased-pig lawyer, americans are going to opt for the cowboy every time.

locdog's $0.02



quick thoughts on the debate

1. what bush must do: not blow it. bush doesn't have to be great, he has to be good enough. he's up big in the fourth quarter (on foreign policy, anyway) so now isn't the time to get flashy on offense. go to your ground game--your bread and butter--and play the prevent defense.

2. what kerry must do: throw the bomb. then onside kick, recover, and throw it again. for better or for worse (worse) kerry has staked his claim to the presidency on iraq. he's got to take chances. he's got to advance a bold vision on iraq, convince people that he's serious about 1. winning and 2. getting the troops home. in that order.

3. what bush stands to lose: everything. this election is referendum on bush's iraq policy. while people know what to expect from bush, there are enough tentative bush supporters looking for an excuse to vote for kerry that, if dubya gives them one, he's going to become the second bush one-termer.

4. what kerry stands to lose: not nearly as much as bush. kerry is already trailing the president by 20+ points in iraq/leadership related polls and it's hard to see how that could get much worse. kerry wants to be the iraq candidate but if he can't make any headway tonight, he'll need to shift to domestic issues--which is what he should have been doing in the first place. in that sense, a disastrous kerry performance might be exactly what his campaign needs. even at this late stage in the game, there’s time for kerry to regroup and start over.

5. who will win: bush. since september 11th, bush has shown himself as able a wartime president as any. he is never more eloquent, passionate, or presidential than he is when he's making the moral case for beating up the bad guys. unfortunately for kerry, who's had trouble clearly communicating his foreign policy vision thus far (to put it mildly), this is bush's A-game. bush is also the more likeable of the two, seems the more at ease with himself, and is able to project confidence without appearing too strident or cocky--just watch the smirks. on paper, it looks like a route. that said, bush had better be careful. kerry is an orator of no small repute, and his back is to the wall.

locdog is making bush minus 7 his silver bullet mortal lock special of the week



could this be the mother of all flip-flops?

on august ninth, john f. kerry responded to bush's challenges on iraq by stating that, even knowing everything we know today, he would have still voted to authorize the war in iraq.

behold: "We should not have gone to war knowing the information we know today."

--senator john f. kerry, 28 september 2004.

how kerry will spin it: kerry maintains (or has recently been maintaining, i should say) that his vote to go to war was not a vote to go to war at all, but a vote to authorize the use of force against saddam hussein because he believes that a president should have such authority--in other words, it wasn't a vote about iraq at all, but a vote about the nature of the presidency itself. in his most recent statement, he merely reaffirmed his "wrong war at the wrong time" stance, i.e., just because he gave bush the authority doesn't mean bush should have used it, or at least he shouldn't have used it in the way he did.

how republicans can respond: does this really require a response?

i've got to admit, part of me really loves john f. kerry. it's the childish part that never tires of seeing ideological opponents debase themselves with this whore only to get slapped in the face by him the next morning again, and again, and again. an interesting study of the liberal psyche would be whether they honestly believe kerry's position as encapsulated by these two quotes actually constitutes "nuance," or if they're simply willing to endure any amount of degradation to see bush ousted. until such is undertaken, though i'll offer a token response.

the republicans don't need to rebut this clap-trap, they need to repeat it. if kerry wants to climb up on the gallows and stick his head in the noose, the republicans shouldn't loosen the knot by dignifying his schizophrenic ravings with a serious response, they should give it a few hard tugs themselves. we've been hearing kerry flip-flop jokes on the late-nite shows for a month now: the absolute best barometer of a candidate's foibles registering with the public. leno, letterman, and stewart decide the outcome of elections, not jim lehrer.

for the record, no one--not even kerry's supporters--can seriously believe that kerry did not understand his so-called vote to authorize the use of force was a vote to authorize war. bush's rhetoric leading up to the vote and the general mood of the nation at that time make it impossible. kerry knew what he was voting for. if he wants to trash bush's handling of the war once it was underway, fine, but he has absolutely zero right to make a claim like "we should not have gone to war" and then pretend he isn't reversing himself.

locdog thinks kerry is his own worst enemy


kerry will raise your taxes

john kerry ain't exactly waterford crystal when it comes to iraq, but his domestic policy has been more or less clear. lots of new spending, keep bush tax cuts permanent for the lower and middle classes, raise taxes on the "rich," who are defined by kerry as those making over $200,000. he claims that in addition to all the healthcare and tax cuts, he will be able to reduce the deficit. fortunately, his proposals are detailed enough that they're subject to serious analysis (unlike, say, the vague and mysterious "more sensitive war on terror") and the numbers aren't looking good for the american tax payer.

as economist brian riedl points out in the latest national review, based on kerry's current promises and CBO figures, he will raise the federal debt 3.1 trillion dollars over the next decade. running the same analysis with figures from kerry's campaign and equally rosy leftwing think-tanks and you come up with a 2.3 trillion dollar debt increase. these figures would yield budget deficits of 525 billion and 443 billion respectively--an increase in both cases.

as riedl puts it

These estimates aren’t surprising. Kerry’s proposal to shave $211 billion off the budget deficit while also spending nearly $2 trillion more — on everything from health care to business subsidies to endangered-species protection to high-speed rail to free college tuition for volunteers — doesn’t pass the smell test. No tax increase restricted to those earning more than $200,000 can bridge this large of a gap.

take the shortfall estimates and divide them up over american tax payers, and you get the kerry tax increase: $2,090 to $2,829 per household, based on whichever set of numbers you prefer. that, or kerry could lop off some of his budget increases.

locdog never knew a democrat to cut spending when he could raise taxes, though