The Second Debate, Live

I’ll be live-blogging Debate #2, for as long as I can stand it or until I have to pick up my daughters from a high school football game. Rumors are swirling around that far-leftists have infiltrated the “town hall;” the ABC News scandal has also exploded as the debate was about to start. Fasten your seat belts.
8:01 — Great. The moderator is from ABC. Will he follow his boss’s order to favor Kerry?
8:03 — The key is: this time, W, act like you’re the President.
8:05 — Senator, are you wishy-washy? Answer: The President didn’t find weapons of mass destruction, so… A sign of things to come. Oh, and the economy has lost 1.6 million jobs. (Nonsense.) Kerry’s theme: attack.
8:07 — The President steps on his first punch line, but he looks better tonight. Not so tired, more erect. And, of course, he has the facts on his side on this question.
8:10 — A speech/question about Iraq. Bush steps up to the plate. He looks much better tonight, energetic. He’s talking about WMDs, doing very well.
8:11 — Why won’t Kerry jump on the Iraq question? He’s talking about jobs again, and defending himself against being a flip-flopper. “I always believed Saddam was a threat…but I would have used that force wisely. I would have brought our allies to our side.” That was very lame.
8:12 — Pow. W comes back with the “global test.”
8:15 — Fireworks — Kerry is leaning over the President and hectoring him. He’s back in the obnoxious mode that I expected the first time. Bush responds with optimism in Iraq, elections, reconstruction. Iraq’s Finance Minister was optimistic until he came to the U.S. Good. Kerry’s plan is Bush’s plan–true. Bush is much better in this format. Have a summit and ask people to join us in the wrong war at the wrong time.
8:18 — Bush is fired up. Very good rebuttal on Osama etc. So far, so good.
8:20 — The last question is about how people overseas don’t like us. The questioner is obviously a Democrat plant. Undecided voter, indeed. But Bush’s answer is good. Very smart to bring in Reagan’s unpopularity in Europe, and the unpopularity of Bush’s refusal to deal with Arafat. And the Int’l Criminal Court. All good analogies–unpopular in Europe, but very popular here.
8:21 — Kerry says we didn’t have enough forces. He lies about Gen. Shinseki (or whatever). This is unbelievable–he is sticking up for Hans Blix! “If push came to shove, they’d be there with us.” Who’s the they? I missed it!
8:24 — Kerry again quotes Gen. Shinseki to the effect that it would take several hundred thousand soldiers. So is he proposing to send several hundred thousand soldiers to Iraq? That would be a news flash. Does anyone ever hold John Kerry accountable for anything he says?
8:25 — It ain’t easy, but Bush is restraining himself while Kerry tells his whoppers about Iran and North Korea. Kerry comes out against developing our own bunker-buster bombs. “If we have to get tough with Iran, believe me, we will get tough.” Without bunker-busters, of course!
8:30 — A draft question. Good. “Rumors on the internet. We’re not going to have a draft, period.” It wouldn’t hurt to point out that every Congressman who voted for the draft was a Democrat.
8:30 — It also wouldn’t hurt to point out that if Kerry wants to have several hundred thousand soldiers in Iraq, he’ll need a draft. Or that Kerry has come out for national service. Now Kerry is talking, and it’s hard to say whether he’s saying he wants a draft or not. He wants to add 40,000 active duty forces. How? A draft?
8:32 — Bush defends the coalition passionately. Could have been better, and Kerry got the last word. Why was the ABC guy trying to stop Bush from answering? Was it Halperin’s memo? Can’t help wondering.
8:37 — Homeland security, we’ve tripled the budget. Intelligence: Kerry voted to slash the budget. For some reason, Bush isn’t very effective at attacking Kerry. He really doesn’t seem very interested in it. Maybe that’s OK, it keeps him positive.
8:43 — Bush gets to Kerry’s record–20 years in the Senate, and what has he done about Medicare? Kerry’s response is very aggressive, misleading as always. Hard to say how this will play.
8:45 — Finally, a non-puffball question for Kerry, about tort reform. He says he and John Edwards support tort reform! Now there is a news flash. Once again, he and Edwards have a “plan,” but God only knows what it is. Kerry is really quite good at this. I think it’s because he is completely shameless. “I’m giving you a tax cut, and I’m giving you health care.” Yeah, right. Dr. Kerry.
8:47 — Bush is doing reasonably well on medical costs & lawsuits, but he blew the “most liberal Senator” line, referring to Kennedy instead of Kerry. Now, this is good: what does Kerry want to do? No answer.
8:49 — Bush finally makes the point: there was a bill, but Kerry didn’t show up to vote on it. Why doesn’t he go harder after Kerry’s record? I don’t know, but that’s a step in the right direction.
8:51 — Bush is talking about jobs, 1.9 million new jobs in 13 months. Non-homeland security, non-defense spending is rising less than 1% a year. I didn’t know that. A good answer.
8:54 — The questions are absurdly pro-Kerry. To some extent, that may go with the territory, being the incumbent. But it wouldn’t be hard to redress the balance. In the meantime, Kerry is showing himself a master of demagoguery.
8:59 — Kerry pledges not to raise taxes on families earning less than $200,000 per year. Bush is now talking about Kerry’s record.
9:03 — Environmental stuff. Yawn. Red Sox fan? What was that all about?
9:03 — Kerry seems to endorse Kyoto. What an opening! Bush makes a pass at mentioning jobs, but he is absolutely unable or unwilling to jab Kerry the way he could. Kerry winds up winning on Kyoto, when the Senate voted unanimously to reject it. This is something that Bush just isn’t good at. The question is, how much does it matter?
9:10 — “I own a timber company? That’s news to me! Need some wood?” Hilarious, a fine moment.
9:12 — Here’s an undecided voter: “Why are my rights being watered down by the Patriot Act?” Bush should be able to hit this one out of the park. He does, more or less. Mrs. Rocket says: Bush comes across a lot nicer, a lot more likable, a better guy. Hope that’s a majority view.
9:14 — Inspector General found that the Patriot Act had been misapplied…TWICE!! Is that all? Pathetic. Kerry voted for the Patriot Act. “I believe in the Patriot Act. But we also never let the terrorists change the Constitution.” Huh?
9:15 — A stem cell research question, asked by someone who actually knows something. Amazing. The issue is a complete snoozer for me, but I know it polls very well, because most people know nothing about it. “Chris Reeves is a friend of mine.” Kerry just assumes that the questioner is a dope, but says he “respects her feelings.” The questioner knows much more about the science than Kerry does, but the audience won’t know that.
9:18 — Mysteriously, Bush fails to make the point that there is no evidence that embryonic stem cell research has any advantages over adult stem cell research. Let’s talk about something else.
9:20 — Supreme Court question–an opportunity for Bush. He’ll appoint someone who knows the difference between his opinion and the Constitution. Examples: Pledge of Allegiance, Dred Scott case. Could have been better, no reference to Kerry’s contribution to the Senate blockade. Kerry now attacks Scalia and Thomas, implicitly at least. Kerry is in favor of judges who are neither liberal nor conservative! This should be a big winner for Bush, but it isn’t. Bush doesn’t seem to be using all of his time, so it’s usually Kerry talking. That’s my impression, anyway.
9:25 — Now John Kerry is an anti-abortion counselor! Teresa too! Unbelievable.
9:26 — Bush wins this one, I think. He talks about Kerry’s record on issues like partial birth abortion.
9:27 — Now Kerry says it’s all about 16 year old girls who have been raped by their fathers. Bush: You can run, but you can’t hide. Kerry voted yes on partial birth abortion. My opinion of Kerry has changed decisively over the last two debates.
9:29 — This abso-f’ing-lutely unbelievable. The last question of the night: President Bush, please name three mistakes you’ve made. So Kerry gets to talk about Bush’s three biggest mistakes. Great way to end the evening. Is there an explanation for this other than Helperin’s directive to try to help Kerry?
9:31 — Kerry is spouting utter BS now, about body armor–where’s the Diva? Bush gets one last shot: this is too easy. Kerry complains that our troops don’t have adequate equipment, but he voted against the $87 billion.
9:37 — Closing statements. Kerry yammers well, better than he has earlier in the campaign. On every issue, he has a plan, but he never says what it is. Bush cites some good economic statistics, which is well worth doing. The audience won’t hear them anywhere else. He concludes with a tribute to freedom, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Good job.
My main impressions: One, I had underestimated Kerry. I’ve always thought of him as a rather dull-witted stiff. But that’s wrong. He is a demagogue of some genius, like Father Coughlin or Huey Long, with, I think, the psychopathology that that implies. Two, Bush was much better tonight, more animated and energetic. He had several good spontaneous moments, one or two of which were funny. Did he “win”? Beats me. But he did fine; he certainly didn’t lose any ground tonight.
My only complaint: for the last question to be, What were President Bush’s three biggest mistakes, was ridiculous. Still, it was a good event for the President.
UPDATE: President Bush did a lot better than the Twins, who got clobbered by the Yankees. Having these two high-stress events going on simultaneously was almost too much for me.
ONE MORE THING: A basic question is, what was the audience for the debate? The conventional wisdom is that it falls off after the first one. I’m not sure that will prove true this year. For what it’s worth, we had around 70,000 hits during the debate, compared to 75,000 or so last week. That may not mirror the general public, obviously, but I hope it’s some indication that interest hasn’t waned.


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