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undecideds can bite me, plus a win for bush

i'm skeptical of townhall debates and the so-called undecided voters that people them for three reasons. first and foremost, i'm terrified by the prospect of anyone who hasn't made up his mind at this stage in the game getting a say in who becomes the next Most Powerful Man in the World. i mean let's face it, you've had four years to evaluate george w. bush and well over a year for john kerry, to say nothing of his twenty year senate record. if you don't know who should be president by now, do the country a favor and don't vote. and howzabout spending the time you save neutering yourself with a weed-eater lest your mush-minded offspring similarly plague future generations.

my personal contempt for the universally sucked-up-to luminaries known as "undecideds" aside, i have a more practical reason for being skeptical of townhall debates: there aren't any undecideds. last night i saw what appeared to be a mixture of republican and democratic shills asking talking point memo gotcha questions. whatever genuine undecides there may be, i cannot believe their reluctance to jump on board the kerrywagon stems from the burning question of whether or not the candidate will look the television camera in the eye and swear not to raise middle class taxes. i find it equally unlikely that after four years of bush, a serious-minded voter is waiting to sign the president's re-up papers until she hears the president list three mistakes and what he's done to correct them. john kerry is going to raise your taxes massively and give you government run healthcare in return. if you think that's a good idea, vote for him. if, on the other hand, you think the omelet of iraq is worth it, broken eggs and all, and that we need to continue preemptive actions abroad, vote for bush.

my final reason for loathing townhall debates is a rather cynical one that has to do with both the incumbent and myself being republicans: anyone who really hasn't made up their mind by now is going to vote for kerry. they've had four years to decide on bush, and if they haven't done so, it means that they don't like the guy and just want to be reassured that kerry isn't going to screw things up any worse than they felt bush has done before jumping ship. if kerry can't lie at least that convincingly, he has no business in politics.

all that said, the debate was a win for bush.

i thought both candidates did very well last night. kerry continues to impress with his ability to smoothly adapt to any given situation, but then, that's what a senator is paid to do. still, gore was a senator, and the gear-grinding crashes that birthed one al from the ashes of the last serve as witness to the difficulty of adapting from one of these painfully contrived forums to the next (well candidate x, we'd love to hear what you're going to do when your finger is on the button and north korea is getting frisky, but the amber light is blinking you see and, well, the amber light is blinking!)

i thought bush did a much better job than last time, but that goes without saying. he sputtered occasionally, but never ran out of gas--was for the most part a dynamo: bouncing around the stage, emoting with his eyes, sucking the audience in like a hoover. he had more laugh lines, seemed the more comfortable of the two, and was by far the warmer candidate. i thought kerry would slaughter bush on the domestic front, but bush more than held his own and was able to launch effective counter-attacks on his rival's more-or-less untouched senate record--about damn time.

the strategies of both men seemed little changed, kerry's especially. attack, attack, attack. a lawyerly barrage of facts and figures just like last time, all aimed at eroding the president's foundation rather than establishing his own. i think this has a lot to do with the perception among democrats that kerry won. he "knows his stuff," after all. and, as i did last time, i'll tip my hat in acknowledgement of the man's skills. he was well-prepared, the result of what was no doubt the most cramming he'd done since he took his bar exams. the problem for democrats is that's more or less all he's got.

this shouldn't come as a shock to anyone. here's a man who won the primaries for being--what, dynamic? inspirational? motivational? visionary? nope. "electable." kerry's biggest asset was not being howard dean, and, now that dean's out of the picture, his ace in the whole is not being dubya. the man spent the first minute and thirty seconds of every question he was asked assaulting the president, and the last thirty seconds saying he had a plan to do better (not to be confused with explaining his plan.) vote for me. i'm not him. kerry's either a humble man or a ruthless son of a bitch willing to endure anything for personal power, because if he makes it to the presidency, it will be as Not F. Dubya.

bush, by contrast, made the case for optimism. this is what i have done. this is why it's working. yes there are problems but we're moving in the right direction. he said "hard work" once that i counted and spoke with shining eyes about the virtues of liberty several times. what was different about bush here was that he seemed more willing to go after kerry, and when the talk turned to domestic issues, he was on a 60/40 attack/defend footing. i think it worked. bush injected kerry's record into the debate (and, more importantly the subsequent news cycles), and that can only help him.

ok, enough of my blathering. hard figures and then i'm gone.

in a gallup poll of 515 registered voters with a +/- 5 point margin of error, voters called the debate kerry 49, bush 47, equally 7. republicans and democrats favored their guy to the tune of an 80/20 split, and independents showed a strong kerry preference at 53/37--which, given what you've just read about "undecideds," many of which are likely independents, should not come as a surprise.

in terms of favorability, kerry helped himself out a bit, picking up 38%. 20% saw him as less favorable and 42% felt about the same. bush picked up 30%, lost 20%, and had 49% leaving as they came. we've seen you before, mr. president.

now for the important stuff.

the best news of the night for kerry was that his economy rating went up 5 points thanks to the debate, while bush's dropped by 1. statistically, bush stayed the same, while kerry, whose move is still within the poll's margin of error, is close enough that we can say--without too big a grain of salt--made some gains.

the bad news for kerry? he got beat on iraq and terror. beat bad. real bad.

on iraq, kerry's predebate/postdebate favorables were 50/45 while bush's were 46/53--a definite boost for the incumbent. kerry's terrorism numbers are even worse: 45/39 to bush's 52/56. i don't think that on november 2nd bush will win 56/39, but still, you've got be nervous about the terror number if you're a kerry supporter.

kerry did well in the technical categories of self-expression and understanding the issues, a whopping 17 point and 5 point lead respectively, but lost ground elsewhere. notable for the president is that he had a 1 point lead over kerry on "agreed with you more on issues you care about," one of those touchy-feely poll questions democrats traditionally own. a 1 point lead is something for republicans to smile about when bush shouldn't have even been close. the president was also the more likeable by 2 points (a moral victory for kerry, really), the more believable by 4 points, and demonstrated he was tough enough for the job by--ouch--13 points.

bush has got a 17 point lead on terror and a 13 point lead on toughness, you democrats.

the debate was a statistical tie which, in and of itself, is a win for bush. after an obvious defeat in the last debate, he has clearly regained the momentum with what was perhaps his best debate performance ever. anyone who's ever watched their football team let a lead evaporate in the fourth quarter knows what i'm talking about.

wrapping this up, the only reason kerry was even in this thing is because the average american viewer is savvy enough to recognize that "winning a debate" involves looking smart, passing out lots of numbers, etc. but they also realize that that doesn't necessarily make you the best man for the job, or even prove you're right. in some ways, the more kerry looks like a good debater, the worse off he is: good debaters can argue any position effectively, whether they agree with it or not, to get themselves the win. given enough time, a good debater can mine enough statistical nuggets to undermine whatever they wish. if bush had set out to prove the sky blue, kerry probably could have outdone him arguing it was green. so what?

locdog is looking forward to the third debate



the vice presidential debate: who gives a rip?

i can't bring myself to offer serious analysis of arguably the most meaningless high-profile event in american politics, the traditional vice presidential debate, so i will offer a few general impressions instead.

1. cheney won. didn't win big, didn't dominate, but he won. it was the craggy old man vs. the breck girl, and the breck girl got her fanny tanned on more than one occasion.

2. it occurred to me at one point in the debate that cheney was doing well because he was playing to his strengths. say what you will about the vice president, he is a serious-minded individual and that came across last evening. it then occurred to me that cheney wasn't playing to anything, not his strengths, his rival, or even his president. cheney was simply being cheney.

3. if john edwards was as successful a trial lawyer as everyone says he was, this country is flat out screwed. was it just me, or did anyone else get the impression that edwards was auditioning for the lead on barney and friends? when you say "four" do you really need to hold up four fingers to make yourself understood? he had fourth grade material to begin with and even then he acted like he was trying to teach it to second graders. whole juries bought this crap? i was insulted by the stupidity--not edwards', who strikes me as quite sharp, but the implied idiocy on my part as a viewer. don't even get me started on his cloying attempted humor.

4. i nearly didn't watch the debate. had zero interest leading up to it and could barely keep my eyes open through an episode of wild west tech on the history channel--a program i actually enjoy--that was on in the preceding hour. i'm glad i stuck it out, though, because this debate was rather entertaining. no you're-no-john-kennedy-deer-in-the-headlights moments, but a few memorable zingers nonetheless and a surprising air of intensity from both candidates.

5. not surprising was the fact that cheney was at his best on national security issues as edwards was with the domestic stuff. i find it more or less impossible to take john edwards seriously on national security and must admit i have my doubts about anyone who doesn't share my incredulity. still, you've got to hand it to the guy, he can more than hold his own on the butter side of the old guns/butter relation. bush should be thankful he doesn't have to go against edwards on the domestic front, because he'd get his head handed to him. that said, while this is edwards' strength and a weakness for his republican counterpart, he's still got room for improvement. laid it on a bit thick with the i-feel-your-pain stuff, and, good as he was, watching him made me appreciate clinton's legendary empathy all the more.

6. to wit, my personal favorite moment of the evening was edwards' misty-eyed portrayal of fat cats sunning by the pool courtesy of stock dividends and bush's sorely needed capital gains tax cuts while soldiers in iraq are paying a higher rate. apples to oranges for starters, but rather than going into the not-all-that-complicated distinction between single and double taxation, income and capital gains, cheney instead opted to politely slash edwards' throat by reminding the senator that he himself had benefited to the tune of 600,000 dollars american via the exact same mechanisms.

7. halliburton is not a winning issue for democrats.

8. no one cares whether or not cheney and edwards have met before. the funny thing about that line--and it was a great line--was that even as cheney was saying, i was thinking to myself "gee, that doesn't sound right..." i had no idea they'd met at a prayer breakfast in sheboygan in nineteen-ought-seven, it just didn't seem all that probable. kerry/edwards' pedantic toadies in the media couldn't scurry to their powerbooks fast enough to prove the veep wrong, but his point remains: edwards, just like kerry, has an abysmal attendance record. if he's correct about "experience not equaling good judgment" or whatever that throw-away line he kept using was, then he's damned lucky. one more word on this non-topic, it's pretty darn clear that edwards didn't remember those meetings any better than cheney did. post debate some lackey had doubtless got a hold of him and set him straight, because he was out there citing the never met line as further evidence of cheney lying to the american people (no, he didn't use the l-word.) but edwards obviously didn't remember making cheney's acquaintance either, because if he did, he couldn't have spat out the patriot-missile oh-yes-we-did-meet comeback fast enough.

9. john kerry is an ugly man. physically, i mean. edwards is such a little cutie-pie.

10. didja notice how good a speech-giver bush is last night? it dawned on me as i was watching his number 2 that their styles are exactly opposite. while bush can give a killer speech and cheney could render an ADHD kid in a starbucks comatose, cheney is by far the superior debater, where his understated wit and laconic manner lend him an unmistakable air of authority.

locdog's $0.02