Debate Thoughts II

October 12, 2004

Thoughts on the second Presidential debate.

Scroll down for the "real war on terror" as presented by both candidates.

I started writing this on Friday after the debate and was interrupted by screaming toddlers. I did not get back to it until Tuesday morning and am not going to bother fine-tuning the arguments. Why not? This was intended to be an initial response, before spin or analysis, and I have been unable to seal myself away from the news.

Both candidates were trying to game the debate, ignoring or redirecting hard questions put to them while trying to present their opponent's record in the worst possible light. It got frustrating, because some of those questions needed good answers, but to use the example I took notes on, when Kerry was asked what he would do about Iran, he answered by first arguing the Bush had failed in Iraq. He then said he would not rely on the UN or on sanctions, and finally said he would lead the world to crack down on states trying to join the nuclear club. Finally, after spending some 20 of his 120 seconds answering the question, he turned to control of loose nuclear material in the former Soviet Union and repeated his talking point from the first debate. Bush did something similar whenever he got a tough question.

I might be showing my biases here, but it seemed to me that Kerry had the luxury of attacking his opponent's actions as President while Bush had to manufacture accusations out of Kerry's senate record. I know that the "most liberal senator" line is a nominal truth, effective lie: the magazine that ran the study did not have enough votes on most issues to rate either Kerry or Edwards, and the one issue they did rate was the one where both men trend "liberal." But, it is nominally true despite being intentionally misleading, and so Dubya used it at least twice. That sort of rhetoric panders to his base, offends those of us who follow the campaign, and will hit the swing voters based on whether they get scared by the word liberal or scared by people playing "pin the label on the Democrat." For me, it reinforced my expectation that Bush will misrepresent everything possible. He lies, if not in letter then in spirit, and everything he said about Kerry's Senate record was similarly misleading.

When they turned to the environment, Kerry called Bush for taking credit for things that he had opposed. Bush did this as governor, he is doing it on clean air and environmental policy. He guts measures put into place by his opposition or his predecessor, then takes the moment when the old is bearing fruit and his new poison has not yet blighted the branches to take credit for the fine beautiful tree. It makes me wonder, why he wants to take credit for something he is trying to get rid of? Does he know that his policies are unpopular? Does he suspect that they might be wrong? But no, we are never wrong, it is better to be steadfast and unpopular, because being unpopular is proof that you are right. That is what he said about foreign policy, it must also be true about the environment, women's legislation, and most of the Democratic (and popular) social agenda.

Both tried to make the same argument on future supreme court appointees - they want someone who will "simply uphold the law" while supporting their preferred policies. Kerry did a much better job of it: when Bush said that justices who want to take the words "under God" out of the pledge are following personal biases while justices who want to keep it in are following the law, it made me wonder if he actually _read_ anything from the decisions. Even Clarence Thomas agrees that if Newdow had gotten standing, then the consensus understanding of church and state in the 20th century would have taken those words out of the pledge. But, the judges found a way to not have to make that unpopular decision, a decision that produces strong emotional responses. I then cringed when he went to Dredd Scott. Are Newdow and Dredd Scott the only bad cases in American history? Are they the best measure of judges putting personal preference into their reading of statute, precedent, custom, and original intent? You could argue that Brown v. Board was just as influenced by Justice Warren's personal understanding that segregation was morally wrong, and by his attempt to find a legal formula that would right that wrong. But, that would mean challenging a great touchstone of the modern era, so Bush floundered.

Kerry did better with the exact same response. He had a good quote memorized for the occasion, the challenger has more chance to prepare and this is the sort of a quote that a lawyer should love: a good justice writes a brief that does not display the author's sex, politics, or policy preferences; it just shows good law.

EDIT - since the debate I have learned that Dred Scott is shorthand for Roe v Wade. In other words, Bush promised to only appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, return abortion to a state-by-state matter, and to all intents and purposes make abortion a class-linked medical procedure. Those who can afford to travel will get safe and legal abortions. Those who can not afford to travel will get unsafe and illegal abortions or will bear a child that they did not want to raise. Abortions will drop, mostly among poor people, and the cycle of class-based immiseration will continue. Thanks George.

Bush's position on abortion was similarly simple and wrong. Kerry was nuanced - I half expected him to use Clinton's line about "safe, legal, and rare" - but I felt that he was uncomfortable with this part of the discussion.

More on this later.

Posted by Red Ted at October 12, 2004 10:23 AM | TrackBack