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Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.


Debate: Rhetoric versus Substance  | e-mail post

I was somewhat shocked by the number of people who said John Kerry won the debate on Thursday night. Were people's expectations of Kerry going into the debate that low? Did they watch, hear or read a different debate than I did? Even people who felt Bush "won" felt it was squeaker. On Powerline John Hinderaker scored it Bush 107, Kerry 103, while Paul Mirengoff said Kerry "edged Bush on subtance". Now, both these guys are lawyers, and I myself was a debater in high school, so I can appreciate that rhetorically, Kerry did pretty well, but to say he edged bush on substance? Shocking.

There is no doubt that John Kerry demonstrated himself as an effective speaker (although I did find the extent of his gestures to be unnatural and overdone). Of course, as a member of the Senate for two decades, and as a prosecutor before that, one would think that would have been a given. And while Bush didn't seem as dynamic, he struck me as someone who spent far less time preparing for the debate yet, because of a firm grasp on the issues and a clear set of objectives and policies, could respond to any specific issue. I actually felt he showed a great deal of composure, all things considered.

And while you expect both candidates to spin and maybe even stretch certain facts, and they did, Kerry was the only one who actually just fabricated something completely. Kerry's goes beyond rhetorical flourish to just spouting complete B.S. when he said "they had to close down the subway in New York when the Republican Convention was there." As the NY Post reported today: "We did not stop any trains," said Transit Authority spokesman Paul Fleuranges. "I will not guess or opine what he was talking about."

But let's set aside rhetoric for a moment, because this wasn't just a forensics meet. if the aim of a debate is to clearly present a position and defend its merits while at the same time critiquing your opponent's affirmative position, then John Kerry was hardly present.

Rather, to cover up a lack of tangible policy ideas that differentiate him from Bush, John Kerry was the ultimate Monday morning quarterback in the debate. He would have tried more diplomacy, he would have had a plan for winning the peace, he would have involved more of our allies. But what did he actually say he would do, other than doing this or that "better" or "more authoritatively?" One has to discount those remarks because to simply say he will do something better is making a prediction about the outcomes of actions he would take. Actions he has not defined. Kerry didn't say why his approach would be better, he didn't say too much about how he would do things differently. This was all very similar to his remarks in Philadelphia on September 24 in which he said he would fight a "more effective" war on terror. [Kerry press release] His plan, such as it is, is elaborated in this PDF.

From my viewpoint, John Kerry came off as a person who has no actual executive experience, which makes sense, because he doesn't. It's easy to pass a law, it is difficult to implement it. Things don't happen instantly, but John Kerry talked as if he has a magic wand for accomplishing these things.

From a foreign policy perspective, the only substantive differences I could discern was that he would somehow build stronger alliances and would focus more on protection of our homeland. How he would build stronger alliances is beyond me, nor is is not elaborated upon. Bill Clinton couldn't even get France to stand firm on Iraqi inspections, how is he going to get them to join us?

Kerry harped on the fact that the U.S. is 90% of the costs and 90% of the casualties in Iraq. This number of course excludes Iraqi civilians and security forices, he is just including the U.S. and our allies. Since John Kerry cites Korea as one our global historical alliances in his "plan," it might be worth looking at the peak Korean troop strength by nation as well as the casualties. I loaded them into Excel to do the math: the U.S. provided 88.89% of the UN troops, and accounted for 88.72% of UN troops killed and 91.51% of UN troops wounded.

Kerry also said he would strengthen the military. According to this Jim Lehrer NewsHour transcript from January of this year, the Army has one-third fewer troops now than it did when it fought the first Gulf War in 1991. Wasn't another Democrat running the country for most of that time? Keep in mind, Bush inherited Clinton's military.

Kerry said he would have a summit on Iraq. Now, a summit is basically a discussion, another debate if you will. So the first thing Kerry would do is to invite all the nations of the world to have a debate on what we should do about Iraq. That is not an action. And there is already a summit scheduled in Cairo in November.

We can all agree that the stronger and broader the alliance, the better. But leadership doesn't mean that everyone will always follow. Kerry harps on Bush not exhausting the UN. But sometimes people will not get on board. France was never going to sign up for any action against Iraq.

The simple fact is France has a historically pro-Iraq bias. Mitterand spoke to the U.N. in 1990 to suggest a political solution to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, offering credence to Hussein's territorial claim on Iraq. France has been a major trading partner to Iraq, possibly even going beyond UN-allowed trading when Iraq was being sanctioned [Guardian]. France abstained from Security Council resolution 1284 proposed by Clinton's administration in 1999. French philosopher Andre Glucksmann even took his own government to task on their Iraq position last year [IHT].

Also, am I the only one who finds it ironic that Kerry the multi-lateralist, the guy who thinks we should lead strong alliances, also thinks we should engage in bilateral talks with North Korea, even though we were systematically decieved by the bilateral treaty negotiated with North Korea under Bill Clinton?

At the end of the debate, my understanding of Kerry's national security policy as it differs from President Bush is this:
So, if we set aside those areas where we have to count on Kerry's magic wand, he is basically sayin:, we better protect ourselves here at home, because a John Kerry Presidency won't do anything to eliminate threats to our security.

I am sorry, but I am still shocked that anyone can say Kerry "won" that debate, particularly on any subtantive grounds.


e-mail post | Link Cosmos | [Permalink]  |  | Saturday, October 02, 2004
Comments:
Don't forget that the Democrats are all about style over substance, generally speaking. This is similar to the JFK vs. Nixon debate in 1960. People who listened to it on the radio thought Nixon won, people who watched it on TV thought JFK won. Why? Style and appearance.

I've got similar thoughts to yours on the whole thing, look at this post, this post, and this post. Have a good one.
 
This was a strong analysis of the debate results; stronger and more coherent than most. I chickened out on my blog, opting to let more cogent persons opine.

I did, however, critique the V.P. debate, but kept it brief. Althouse has been far more comprehensive, and went blow-by-blow with the Q&A. I largely agree with her analysis (that's great, the retail sales clerk agrees with the UW Law Prof... Story at 11).

Anyway, good work. Would you mind terribly if I linked to your blog? Eric from Eric's random musings recommended you.
 
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