Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A Victory for John Kerry 

I watched the debate, alone. It was cold in my apartment. The chills, coupled with the adrenaline coursing through my veins, nearly sent me into a full-blown seizure. Monitoring my response to this debate, I realized why I was unable to respond adequately to the last one. The instant the candidates start to talk, deep wells of adrenaline are suddenly released. Last week, I felt relatively relaxed sitting down to watch, and was thus unprepared for my dangerous physiological reaction to Kerry's answer to the first question (which wasn't very good. Do I have permission to say so?). I was sent into such a state, enhanced by Blicero's similar response right next to me, that I wasn't able to pay attention for at least an hour.

In any case, despite what anyone says, last night was a victory for Kerry. Edwards performed very well--significantly better, I think, than Cheney. There was a very real, and really unfathomable, continuation in Cheney's demeanor of the petty indignation displayed by Bush on Thursday. It has been remarked upon as "bitterness" and "anger" and even "snarling," but it was worse. He appeared disgusted by Edwards. He refused to answer several questions. Responding to the Halliburton charges was, he felt, beneath him. No matter what the spinners say, among undecided voters, this will sink in. They will remember it, even if no one talks about it, at an emotional level, in feelings of perhaps unconscious revulsion. The idea that the Republicans disdain the very idea of criticism, and are unable to discuss ideas rationally due to deep psychological deficits, is alive and well.

Cheney's misbehavior was coupled with a sadder, and perhaps more damaging, inability to project any interest in the proceeding. The two failures are separate, in my view, because the latter goes beyond an arrogant disdain for the idea of debating in public. As Josh Marshall and Andrew Sullivan (scroll down; God help me) have noted, Cheney seemed tired. Tired of talking, tired of explaining himself, tired even of being vice-president. Even hopeless, especially in the second half of the debate. Let me put it this way: if massive fraud, massive terror attacks, or massive Osama-related tricks are not in the offing, then the Republicans don't have much reason to hope. Tied polls mean Kerry is winning. Bush is going to shit on America on Friday. What is their plan? What is the purpose of continuing, without an October surprise? Maybe Cheney's on-screen passing away is an indication that no surprise is in the offing.

Edwards, as I said, was very strong. I thought he was poor at the DNC, and he has been reciting his canned stump speech without passion, in least in all the recent clips I've heard from the trail. So I was slightly worried. But I knew he was capable, and he proved articulate and responsive and, most importantly, he appeared serious. He leveled the harshest charges on foreign policy with real plausibility. The media whores have all talked about his sunny presentation, his smiles, his court-room style appeals to the "jury" of TV viewers. All bullshit. He appeared plausibly grave. Though still reassuringly healthier than his opponent, and totally subordinated to his running-mate.

A couple thoughts about the next two debates. It seems to me obvious that the Democrats' best argument has been thus far withheld. It is this: "We are concerned with the practical realities of stopping another 9/11. The reality is that stopping another 9/ll does not involve high-flown rhetoric, but concrete steps taken to protect our cities and to reform out domestic intelligence so that we can 'capture the terrorists and crush them before they get us' [Edwards' chorus last night]. But George Bush has not adequately funded homeland security (and was in fact against the department from the beginning). When John Kerry listed the measures that still need to be taken at the first debate, George Bush said, 'That's quite a wish list. How you gonna pay for all that? It's a big tax gap--but that's for another debate. Heh, heh, heh, nnnnnnnggghnnnhh.' John Kerry will pay for all that. He will find a way to protect Americans. And if that means rolling back tax cuts for millionaires, so be it. Tax giveaways to the rich are just less important than preventing another 9/11. George Bush obviously has a different set of priorities."

I have been anxious to hear the Democrats (starting with Edwards last night) make this point. And I must admit to being concerned that they haven't. But as AmCoppers insist, I probably should recognize that this attack is too obvious for the Democrats not to make. If they haven't yet, they haven't for a reason. And perhaps the reason has to do with Bush's "joke" about tax policy being for "another debate" (i.e., the third debate, on domestic policy). Perhaps, that is, the Democrats are planning to hold this attack in reserve for another two weeks. They could leave it unsaid even on Friday. And then, at the supposedly not terror-related domestic policy debate, Kerry could ambush Bush with his most potent condemnation of Bush's war on terror. It would be within bounds, and Bush wouldn't have any response to make; he wouldn't be able to start talking about "going on the offense," "spreading freedom," etc., because he would have to confine his response to issues of domestic policy (which includes the funding of homeland security, but does not include crusader ideology).

Holding off on this attack until the last debate would also be a way for Kerry to roll with the punches on Friday. The media whores are obviously champing at the bit to give a debate win to Bush/Cheney, primarily for purposes of selling the roller-coaster campaign story. (The "Hardball" criminals unanimously declared Cheney the victor last night; the fact that this meme has not taken attests to Edwards' effectiveness.) So let them say after Friday's debate that Bush has done OK, that he has "returned to form," etc. It won't be possible to declare him the winner, but the meme of his improved performance will gives the whores their desired shift in the story flow. And this will leave an opening for a decisive Kerry victory in the last debate, in which he will surprise everyone by pivoting from his "strenth" (domestic policy) to his "weakness" (terror), leaving Bush with only his own stuttering and demented soul, dying between his clenched teeth.

And then, if necessary, the magic bullet, to be fired in the third week of October. Kristen Breitweiser, the face of the 9/11 families and the person most responsible for the convening of the 9/11 commission, will appear in a Kerry advertisement. (She is a Republican, a former Bush-voter, who publicly endorsed Kerry without any request, and campaigned with Edwards last week.) She appears on screen and says the following: "On 9/ll my husband was killed in the WTC. I was devastated. But I was happy that George Bush was president. I had voted for him, and trusted him to lead the nation in the aftermath of that tragedy. So much has changed since then. I led a group of 9/11 widows in calling for an investigation into 9/11. [Picture of Breitweiser testifying before Congress.] But George Bush thwarted our efforts every step of the way. He never wanted a commission, agreed to the idea only under political pressure, and tried to keep the commissioners from receiving the time and funding they deserved. He didn't want the truth to come out. And he hasn't been truthful with the American people about the purpose or cost of the Iraq war. John Kerry has been truthful. He has a lifetime of service to back up his word. I have met and worked with many senators, and I trust him deeply. I urge you to vote for him Nov. 2."


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