Friday, October 01, 2004

Before I spin--a fairly level analysis--"neither landed a knockout blow"

Rob Watson of the BBC has an analysis of the debate that is closer to being objective:

The stakes in this debate were always higher for John Kerry. He is after all the challenger.

What he needed to do was show that intangible quality - to come across as being presidential.

He also had to make a critique of President George W Bush's foreign policy.

Mr Kerry was able to strike some serious blows against the president in his handling of the war in Iraq.

He charged that the war was poorly planned, and that it had been a distraction in the war on terrorism.

In general, when it came to a critique, Mr Kerry's point was that he would fight a smarter war on terrorism, a war that would be less upsetting to America's allies.

That was his theme throughout.

Even some of President Bush's supporters are likely to say that they would have liked to have seen him make a more convincing defence of his policies.

And after four years of being president, it is probably true that Mr Bush is not used to facing the kind of close-up criticism that Mr Kerry levelled at him.

The president is surrounded by people who are always telling him that he is the leader of the free world. It must have come as a bit of a shock.

But despite the pressure from Mr Kerry, the president didn't make any serious gaffes that could have left a serious opening for the challenger.

Passing the test

President Bush, after looking a little uncomfortable to start with, hit back.

He repeatedly stated that what was really needed in this war on terror was decisiveness, steadfastness, leadership.

The president also made the point that Mr Kerry had changed his position on Iraq, and sent mixed signals.

And although Mr Bush has had more successful debates, he didn't really fail the test.

The president has always been seen as a debater who relentlessly stays on message, and Thursday night was no exception.

His handlers will have been pleased that anyone watching those debates cannot have been in any doubt of his view: The war in Iraq was right; it was part of the war on terrorism; and that the other guy is unreliable.

Surgical attacks

Both men played the game that you expected them to play.

Mr Kerry launched surgical attacks against the president's handling of foreign policy. He showed his senatorial skills.

And Mr Bush played to his strengths by looking like a conviction politician.

In the end, neither one played above their game, and neither landed a knockout blow.

This debate was Mr Kerry's chance to keep himself in this race and possibly close the gap with President Bush.

Mr Kerry is definitely still a contender after the debate, but Mr Bush didn't make any serious mistakes.

This leaves things pretty much where they were.

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