Saturday, October 16, 2004

Analysis of "The Last Debate"

Well, a lot of people seem to be saying they thought the final live match-up between Senator Kerry and President Bush was a draw, and especially that it was Bush's strongest performance. I might concede the latter -- Bush didn't yell and didn't pout, but he did utter his biggest and costliest lie, which I'll get to later -- but in my mind, Kerry was the clear victor. Bush stuck to indefensible characterizations of the Senator, which Kerry neatly dismantled. Not that I don't have some criticisms for Kerry. Let's dig right in.

Question #1: Will our children and grandchildren ever live in a world as safe and secure as the world in which we grew up?

Kerry responded, wisely, by saying, "The measurement is not are we safer, the measurement is are we as safe as we ought to be." He's absolutely right. Take safety on airliners. I compare it to a fence. Let's say you want to protect your house from thieves, so you build a fence around it. However, putting a fence all the way around the house costs more than you're willing to spend, so you put up the fence in the front and on the sides, but leave a gap in the back to save money. You know, from the street, no one can see this gap. A lot of thieves will be deterred by the easily visible part of the fence. But it takes just one determined thief who sneaks all the way around before you've got people just walking freely on to your property. If there's a hole in the fence, why bother having the fence?

Kerry also pointed out that we've had staff reductions on police forces and in firehouses. They've closed firehouses in New York City, of all places! Of course you have to do everything in your power to prevent an attack, but there also needs to be a plan to deal with an attack should another one occur. Having fewer first responders in high-profile target areas is not one of the lessons we should be learning from September 11.

Bush responded that he has a comprehensive strategy to fight al Qaeda. And the GOP complains that Kerry is shaky on details! What strategy is that, Mr. President? You know, recently it was discovered that there was a map from 2001 that pre-dated 9/11 on the State Department's website that indicated countries around the globe in which al Qaeda was known or suspected to be operating. The entire middle east was shaded for al Qaeda presence, except for one country: Iraq. [The map has been removed from the State Department website. But you can still see it here.] So I guess the comprehensive plan must be to go around invading countries that have no relationship to al Qaeda. Some plan.

The President also took credit for "ridding the Taliban out of Afghanistan." Now, they may not be controlling the central government in Kabul, but I bet it would be news to the Afghans that the Taliban is no longer in the country. Bush also repeated his claim that "three-quarters of Al Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice." He should clarify that he means 75% of known al Qaeda leaders, because as Donald Rumsfeld taught us, there are some things we don't know we don't know. As impressive as that might sound, CNN puts that figure into a pretty sad context: "CIA officials have estimated that 75 percent of the two-dozen or so known al Qaeda leaders, as of September 11, 2001, have been killed or captured. "

Seventy-five percent of 24 is 18.

Now, I will give some credit to Bush for the elections that were recently held in Afghanistan. That is a major step. Its significance cannot be's incredible progress, and the fact that it seems to have gone off fairly well and nonviolently offers us great hope. However, it would be premature to assume that Afghanistan is "fixed" just because they've had an election. Without even looking it up, I know offhand that there have been at least 3 significant assassination attempts on Hamid Karzai, the likely winner of the elections. What happens if he is killed? Is the democratic process in Afghanistan strong enough to hold so that the "next in line" takes over peacefully? Or will it fall apart? And while it's wonderful that the first voter in Afghanistan was a woman, let's not for a moment pretend that we've achieved anything resembling equality over there. We've still got a nation full of burqhas and honor killings. I'm just saying, let's give credit where credit is due, but keep both feet planted in reality.

Bush also complained about Kerry's comment in which he expressed his desire to reduce terrorism to a "nuisance." Bush compares that to similar attitudes toward prostitution and illegal gambling. But Kerry is clearly pragmatic about it. Can you definitively eliminate prostitution and gambling? No. Can you stop terrorism, which is a technique, not an ideology or political movement, once and for all? No. But you can adopt effective counter-strategies. Remember the Unabomber? Now, that's terrorism. Was the nation in a red-alert panic? No. Did it have anything to do with radical Islam? No. We can get this country back to a place where normal people aren't afraid to fly.

Now, in the discretionary additional minute granted by moderator Bob Schieffer, Bush uttered what will be a defining moment in his legacy: Kerry accurately pointed out that the President had once commented that he wasn't worried about Osama bin Laden. Bush responded bizarrely. He wasn't outraged. He didn't say, "Senator, I never said that." His attitude resembled bashfulness more than anything else, and he rather shrugged as if it was no big deal and said, "Gosh, I don't think I ever said I'm not worried about Osama bin Laden. That's kind of one of those exaggerations."


I guess the President really didn't see Fahrenheit 9/11 after all. Otherwise he might have remembered the video clip, which has now been seen by millions of people around the world, wherein he said the following, on March 13, 2003:

"I don't know where he is. I just don't spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I'll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him."

Question #2: Suddenly we find ourselves with a severe shortage of flu vaccine. How did that happen?

Neither candidate actually answered this question, alas.

Bush responded, "We took the right action and didn't allow contaminated medicine into our country." He's taking credit for a decision he wasn't allowed to make: the British government saw the vaccine was contaminated and shut down the factory. See what he's done? He took a question about an enormous blunder, doesn't answer it, and manages to actually take credit for it. See what a good President I am? Without me, you'd have contaminated vaccine. Uh huh.

Then he said, "We're working with Canada us realize the vaccine necessary to make sure our citizens have got flu vaccinations during this upcoming season." I see. Is this the same Canada from which he won't allow us to import prescription drugs because they might have been made "in a third world"? [I am not an expert on the pharmaceutical industry, so if anyone knows of any third world countries -- I'm assuming that's what he meant, not Mars or Rigel 7 or Tatooine -- that manufacture pharmaceuticals that might be unsafe for American consumption but just fine for Canadians, let me know.]

Now, Kerry made some fine points about the flaws in our health care system, but he didn't answer the question either. As a matter of fact, in his response, he did not even say the word "vaccine."

In response, Bush got off one of the best lines of his political career: "A plan is not a litany of complaints." Zing! (The President used "litany" twice, prompting one of my colleagues to exclaim, "He learned a new word!") Unfortunately for Dubya, it's clear that Kerry is doing more than complaining. He's pointing out flaws, sure, but he does also have suggestions for how to fix things. And equally unfortunate is the realization that wishful thinking (e.g., Iraq, Star Wars, the deficit, tax cuts creating jobs) isn't a plan, either.

He followed up with this: "He just said he wants everybody to be able to buy into the same plan that senators and congressmen get. That costs the government $7,700 per family." Well, George, welcome to Realityville. That's what health insurance costs in this country. What was your suggestion? Give a $1,000 tax credit to people who buy private insurance plans. That just leaves them $6,700 short. See, here's the problem: Republicans don't want to create the kind of tax breaks that help low income people; they're only talking about income tax, and so in order to qualify for this credit, you have to be making enough money so that your tax liability is more than $1,000. There are millions of people who don't meet this criterion.

Kerry then recalled how the President had touted the new Medicare bill by praising the same program: "He said, if it's good enough for their congressmen and senators to have choice, seniors ought to have choice."

Question #3: How can you or any president, whoever is elected next time, keep [your pledge not to raise taxes on people making less than $200,000 a year] without running this country deeper into debt and passing on more of the bills that we're running up to our children?

Kerry managed to turn this into more of an attack on Bush's fiscal policies rather than give specific details about how he'd make good on his pledge, but I think it was effective. Numbers and technical talk about the economy are not very interesting to the average viewer; that's why responses are limited to two minutes with 90 second rebuttals. It's all about ADD. What he did do was demonstrate that Bush has approved all kinds of spending bills (in fact, every single one that has ever crossed his desk) without saying how it would ever be paid for. Kerry vowed not to run up the nation's credit card, but would reinstate "pay as you go" rules. He vowed to cut pork (well...we've heard that before) and close tax loopholes.

Bush's response to this assault was shamelessly partisan and devoid of any real basis in fact. Again he said Kerry voted to raise taxes 98 times. According to, that total includes up to 16 votes on a single tax bill, and 43 votes on budget measures that set targets but don't actually legislate tax increases.

Bush said, "[Kerry] voted 277 times to waive the budget caps, which would have cost the taxpayers $4.2 trillion." Allow me to refer you to today's New York Times headline, "As U.S. Debt Ceiling Is Reached, Bush Administration Seeks to Raise It Once Again." I report, you decide.

The President then let fly with another zinger. "He talks about pay-go. I'll tell you what pay-go means: when you're a senator from Massachusetts, when you're a colleague of Ted Kennedy, pay-go means you pay and he goes ahead and spends. "

I'm sure his base loved that, but it's pretty pathetic. Bush is not one to be throwing "he spends, you pay" stones. Furthermore...poor Massachusetts! What did they ever do to Bush? I would also like to point out that this is the same Senator Kennedy that Bush will take credit for working with in a few moments.

Bush also threw this criticism in for good measure: "There is a tax gap. And guess who usually ends up filling the tax gap? The middle class." I see. And why do you think that is, Mr. President? Is it possibly because the rich aren't paying their share?

Question #4: What do you say to someone in this country who has lost his job to someone overseas who's being paid a fraction of what that job paid here in the United States?

Basically Bush said, "Go back to school." Learn a new job. What he literally said was, "here's some help for you to go get an education. Here's some help for you to go to a community college." So, you're a middle-aged person, your job has gone to India...your president wants to offer you some help to go back to school. Not only does this not pay your bills, it's going to cost you something, and the "help" is coming from the taxes you paid back when you had a job. Ask recent graduates of colleges and universities around the country how the job market is doing in their chosen fields of study.

"Perhaps the best way to keep jobs here in America and to keep this economy growing is to make sure our education system works," the President said. You know, I'm not really hearing a lot of talk about how American workers are undereducated and underqualified for 21st century jobs, as true as that might be in some respects. The fact is, foreign workers cost less. No unions, no insurance, no 40 hour work week, no child labor's a corporate savings bonanza. The solution, as Kerry put it, is to find incentives for companies to keep jobs here at home.

Unfortunately, before Kerry could make that point, he deployed this lead balloon of a sound bite: "Being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country." Groan! Christ, John, that was baaaaad. I mean, Tony Soprano is not even real. He might as well have said, "is a little bit like being lectured on hair care by Dr. Evil." It's a variation on a MUCH wittier phrase turned out recently by Travis County, Texas, Prosecutor Ronnie Earle: "Being called vindictive and partisan by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a frog."

Once we got past that dreadful moment (it's a good thing the audience for the debate was required to be mum, otherwise the ensuing silence would have been could have heard a cricket fart) Kerry got down to some real meat: "This president has take a $5.6 trillion surplus and turned it into deficits as far as the eye can see. Health care costs for the average American have gone up 64 percent. Tuitions have gone up 35 percent. Gasoline prices up 30 percent. Medicare premiums went up 17 percent a few days ago. Prescription drugs are up 12 percent a year. But guess what, America? The wages of Americans have gone down. The jobs that are being created in Arizona right now are paying about $13,700 less than the jobs that we're losing." The Senator closed by pointing out that in a time of record unemployment, the President refused to extend unemployment benefits or provide health care for workers who had lost their jobs. Of course, in all of this, he also failed to answer the original question.

Question #5: Is it fair to blame the administration entirely for this loss of jobs?

I think this was one of the smartest and most interesting questions asked in any of the debates. No, said Kerry, "I blame the President for the things the president could do that has an impact on it." In a rare moment of candor during a high stakes election, Kerry confessed he can't stop the outsourcing of jobs, but discussed ways to encourage and make it easier for corporations to keep jobs here and hire more workers.

The President did not defend his record on the loss of jobs. He said, "We've increased Pell grants by a million students. That's a fact." Well, if that's a "fact," it's very much out of context. The fact is that the President did not "extend" Pell grants to a million more people. The President has no control over that. What happened is, a million more people qualified for the grants because they are poorer now than they were before. There wasn't enough money to go around, so the size of the Pell grants shrank. More people needed help, but because of the tax cuts there wasn't enough money, so the President helped them less. That's some jobs recovery plan. He defended his tax cuts by saying, "When you have more money in your pocket you're able to better afford things you want." This sort of ignores two problems: one, people who are unemployed aren't paying income taxes and therefore are not benefitting from his tax cuts, and second, the President doesn't seem to conceive of an America struggling to pay for things it needs.

When Kerry responded by exposing Bush's Pell grant lie, Bush attacked, not even waiting to be recognized by the moderator: "You know there's a mainstream in American politics and you sit right on the far left bank. As a matter of fact, your record is such that Ted Kennedy, your colleague, is the conservative senator from Massachusetts." Poor, poor Massachusetts, with its Republican governor.

Question #6: Do you believe homosexuality is a choice?

The President said, "You know, Bob, I don't know. I just don't know." For a moment, my feelings toward Bush softened, because in that instant I saw utter sincerity in his face. But it evaporated quickly.

So, George, you don't know whether gay people choose their "lifestyles" or whether they are born that way, but you do know that we are a threat to your marriage, indeed, a threat to the very foundations of civilization, as it has frequently been put by people who support your marriage amendment, and therefore we are not entitled to equal protection under the law. If I may borrow a phrase from Dick Cheney's Big Book of Witty Rejoinders, "Go fuck yourself."

If I may momentarily digress from the debate itself and talk about the President and his favorite phrase "activist judges," I would like to point out that the Supreme Court of the State of Massachusetts (oh...the light goes on, that Massachusetts!) did not wake up one morning and say, "Hey! let's legalize same-sex marriage." Following the procedure that was devised by this nation's founding fathers, a suit was brought before the court challenging the state constitution. The state had full opportunity to defend itself in court. The justices reviewed the evidence, deliberated, and then with the power that is given to them by both the state and national constitutions, decided the law needed to be changed and directed the legislature to act accordingly. This absolutely followed, to the letter, the legitimate process of democracy. When the legislature balked and asked, "Are civil unions enough?" the court reviewed the case again and came back with the argument that in this nation's history, separate has never been equal, and the Constitution guarantees us equality under the law. Personally, I supported the civil union idea until that very moment. I thought that would be sufficient. But when I read the court's opinion, I changed my mind. To hell with civil unions. I am not a second class citizen, and refuse to be treated as such. I want what you've got. I would also like to point out, if it weren't for "activist judges" we'd still have segregation in the schools, interracial marriage would be illegal, and Al Gore would be President.

Hey, did you know Mary Cheney is a lesbian?

Come on, John. Don't you know any other gay people? Why must you exploit this woman? She's made her choice, apparently, which is that her civil rights take a back seat to the goals of the Bush administration. Let's leave her alone.

Meanwhile, Dick and Lynne Cheney should be smacked. Their reaction to the public mention of their daughter's sexuality shows that they are ashamed to talk about it. I'm not giving any credit to people who put their own daughter's civil rights behind their agenda of personal power.

Kerry then pandered on to say, "The president and I share the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe that, I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. But I also believe that because we are the United States of America, we're a country with a great, unbelievable Constitution, with rights that we afford people, that you can't discriminate in the workplace, you can't discriminate in the rights that you afford people. You can't disallow someone the right to visit their partner in a hospital. You have to allow people to transfer property, which is why I'm for partnership rights and so forth." I see. With all his talk of "rights," he doesn't believe that a gay couple has the same rights as a straight couple. Well, fuck you, too, John Kerry.

Question #7 was for the Senator: Some Catholic archbishops are telling their church members that it would be a sin to vote for a candidate like you because you support a woman's right to choose an abortion and unlimited stem call research. What is your reaction to that?

For the record, I am a fence straddler on this issue. I think abortion is wrong, but I also firmly believe that it's not a problem that can be solved by banning it. As with gambling, alcohol and prostitution, prohibiting it not only doesn't solve the problem or eliminate it, it creates new ones. I also feel strongly that it is not the role of the federal government to make people's reproductive decisions for them. I think we must keep it legal so that we can keep it safe, and support peaceful, grassroots efforts to educate people about the consequences of irresponsible sexual behavior and alternatives to abortion.

Therefore, I support Kerry's position, and agree that we can't be taking articles of faith and legislating them for people who don't share them. People who oppose this line of thinking say, "Why not just make murder legal?" Well, because, there is a unanimous consensus that the killing of an actual person, for lack of a better word to separate one from an unborn child, is wrong. There aren't political movements to legalize murder. Likewise with spousal abuse. Some cultures promote honor killings and think it's okay to beat your wife. Why don't we legalize that? Because there is a national consensus that it's wrong. We don't have that consensus on abortion, and we never will.

The President said, "I think it's important to promote a culture of life." I detest snide comments like this, particularly from hypocrites like George W. Bush. The implication is that people who are pro-choice are "pro-abortion." There is an enormous, if subtle difference. I don't think there's anyone out there who thinks abortion is a good thing. People who are "pro-choice" do not want to see more abortions, they want to see a world in which people have the right to make personal decisions of this nature without the government's interference. And, if Bush really wanted to promote a culture of life, he would not have been executing minors and the mentally retarded while he was governor of Texas. He would not have launched a war against a defenseless nation that was, in point of fact, in full compliance with international law.

Question #8: Health insurance costs have risen over 36 percent over the last four years, according to The Washington Post. We're paying more, we're getting less. I would like to ask you who bears responsibility for this? Is it the government, is it the insurance companies, is it the lawyers, is it the doctors, is it the administration?

Bush said, "Gosh, I sure hope it's not the administration."

Maybe, since he doesn't read the papers, he missed that little fiasco last year where the White House intentionally hid the actual estimates of the costs of the Medicare reform bill until after it had been passed, when we found out it was going to cost a few hundred billion more than Bush said it would.

Bush then advocated his plan for health care savings accounts. The idea is, you can set aside money in a special account earmarked for healthcare costs, the interest on which would be tax free, and presumably you could also take a deduction for earned income that you'd set aside for this account. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, except, it ignores the actual problem entirely. The people who need the most help are the ones who can't afford insurance. If they can't afford insurance, how are they going to be able to set aside "just in case" money for when they get sick? So what good is this plan? Simple: who has money? The rich. They take some money that would ordinarily be sitting in a normal savings account earning taxable interest and move it to a tax-free account. Perhaps they can set it up so that a portion of each paycheck is funneled in to the account to avoid income tax. Once again, the folks who least need the help benefit the most from Bush's plan.

Then, despite conclusive evidence that the legal costs associated with medical malpractice constitute less than 1% of the cost of healthcare, the President blamed trial lawyers. He then championed the introduction of better technology in terms of record-keeping, etc., that will reduce costs associated with paperwork. This is one of the central platforms of Kerry's plan.

Kerry came out swinging -- wish he'd do this more often! "The reason health care costs are getting that this administration has stood in the way of common-sense efforts that would have reduced the costs. Let me give you a prime example. In the Senate we passed the right of Americans to import drugs from Canada....The president blocked you from the right to have less expensive drugs from Canada. We also wanted Medicare to be able to negotiate bulk purchasing. But rather than help you, the taxpayer, have lower costs, rather than help seniors have less expensive drugs, the president made it illegal, illegal for Medicare to actually go out and bargain for lower prices. Result, $139 billion windfall profit to the drug companies coming out of your pockets. That's a large part of your 17 percent increase in Medicare premiums. When I'm president, I'm sending that back to Congress."

He also pointed out the enormous cost benefit (though didn't provide figures...surely intelligent estimates are available) of making sure everyone has regular health care. Look, if you don't have insurance, it's because you don't have money. If you don't have money, you don't pay for doctor visits unless you're really sick. Many chronic diseases which can be cured if detected early or managed with therapy do not have obvious symptoms, such as cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or HIV. Patients who have health care coverage get regular checkups, and these conditions are detected early, often before the patient would have noticed anything wrong. Without regular health care, people put off going to the doctor until it's too late, hoping whatever is bothering them will go away on its own. By the time they do go, they end up in the emergency room (we know how expensive that is!), and they might potentially need expensive drug therapy, surgery, hospitalization, or some combination of the three. If they don't have insurance, they're faced with an insurmountable health care debt, which they can't pay. The hospitals need the money to pay for supplies and pay staff salaries, so the cost gets passed on to people who are insured, which drives up your costs. While it may sound like an expense to send every American to the doctor once a year, it would save us billions.

Question #9: You heard the president say earlier tonight that [your health care plan] going to cost a whole lot more money than [what you can gain from rolling back tax cuts]. I'd just ask you where are you going to get the money?

Once again, Kerry gave a very impressive answer. It's this kind of straight-talking, clear-thinking, fact-based response that has turned me into a Kerry supporter rather than an Anyone But Bush Guy. "Well two leading national news networks have both said the president's characterization of my health care plan is incorrect. One called it fiction, the other called it untrue," said Kerry. Take that, George. (He will try, in a minute. Wait and see.)

"It's not a government plan. The government doesn't require you to do anything. You choose your doctor. You choose your plan. If you don't want to take the offer of the plan that I want to put forward you don't have to. We take over Medicaid children from the states so that every child in America is covered. And in exchange, if the states want to - they're not forced to, they can choose to - they cover individuals up to 300 percent of poverty. It's their choice. I think they'll choose it because it's a net plus of $5 billion to them." Kerry was on a roll.

Then, to a room full of reporters, Bush responded, "I'm not so sure it - it's credible to quote leading news organizations about - oh, never mind."

That's another quote that will live in infamy, I have no doubt.

The President then called Kerry's plan "government-controlled healthcare." Run, people, run! It's socialism! Beware the red menace! Hillarycare!

Further demonstrating that he's completely out of touch with reality, Bush exclaimed, "And just look at other countries that have tried to have federally-controlled health care. They have poor quality health care. Our health care system is the envy of the world because we believe in making sure that the decisions are made by doctors and patients, not by officials in the nation's capital."

Even Homer Simpson isn't fooled by that one. In Episode 9F09, he said, "America's health care system is second only to Japan, Canada, Sweden, Great Britain, well, all of Europe, but you can thank your lucky stars we don't live in Paraguay!" The fact is, while the United States spends more on health care than any other country, the quality of care is not better than care in other industrialized nations, and in some categories, we lag behind. If you doubt me, check out these reports from The Commonwealth Fund. And, finally, memo to George Bush: letting doctors and patients decide what's best is the Democrat position. Your folks want HMO's and insurance companies deciding what's best based upon what costs them the least amount of money.

Kerry nailed Bush's outright lie: "I am not proposing a government-run program. That's not what I have. I have Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Senators and congressmen have a wide choice; Americans ought to have it, too."

The President responded by defending the quality of care that veterans are receiving from his administration. I'll just point out that I watched the debate with a veteran, who is not satisfied and is voting for Kerry.

Question #10: You have proposed to fix [Social Security] by letting people put some of the money collected to pay benefits into private savings accounts. But the critics are saying that's going to mean finding a trillion dollars over the next 10 years to continue paying benefits as those accounts are being set up. So where do you get the money?

This is another question the President didn't answer. He said, "Let me make sure that every senior listening today understands that when we're talking about reforming Social Security that they'll still get their checks." That's not where the problem is. The problem is, I'm 30. What about MY checks when I'm 65? At least he didn't repeat his proposal of investing Social Security money in the stock market. Enron, anyone?

Basically, the question was, "Your plan is short by a trillion dollars. What's the solution?" And Bush's answered by promoting the very same plan that is short by one trillion dollars.

Kerry explained why Bush's plan is nuts. Today's workers pay for the benefits of today's retirees with their tax money. If we take the money that I'm paying now for social security and instead of giving it to Grandma we put it in an account for me, even though I don't need it for 35 more years, who pays for Grandma?

In a follow-up question, the moderator pointed out that at the current rate, we are indeed facing a shortfall in funding for Social Security when the baby-boomers retire. He asked Kerry what we can do about it. Kerry responded that if we repealed Bush's tax cuts on just the top 1% of the population, we could pay for social security for the next seventy years.

He then quite reasonably said that, as we go along, if we decide that's still not enough, you can sit down and make more changes at a later time.

Bush said Kerry's plan to fix Social Security is "more of the same." Kerry feels that the only problem with Social Security is how to pay for it, and we've solved that by raising taxes on the top 1%. Bush's "plan," if you want to call it that, not only doesn't deal with the projected shortfall, it creates a shortfall now.

Question #11: 8,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. Some people believe this is a security issue, as you know; some believe it's an economic issue; some see it as a human rights issue. How do you see it, and what do we need to do about it?

Bush wisely responded that it encompasses all three concerns. He gave a decent answer, actually, talking about increased staff and equipment for border controls, and talking -- specifically about Mexico -- about economic conditions that cause people to migrate here.

There was a little back and forth where Kerry accused Bush of not doing enough on border security, but he wasn't able to articulate specific examples and Bush couldn't do much other than to say the statement was "outrageous."

The next question was about raising minimum wage. Kerry pandered and Bush lamely responded that he'd supported a "plan" by Mitch McConnell, without saying what that was. You can be damn sure it wasn't as comprehensive as Kerry's insistence that we raise the wage to $7 an hour. He then talked about the No Child Left Behind Act. What that has to do with minimum wage is anyone's guess.

Bush then had two full minutes to answer the following question: "[Senator Kerry] said that you had never said whether you would like to overturn Roe v. Wade. So I'd ask you directly would you like to?"

Actually, what the audience heard was, "...I'd ask you directly would --" because the President cut him off and answered, "What he's asking me is will I have a litmus test for my judges. And the answer is no, I will not have a litmus test. I will pick judges who will interpret the Constitution. But I'll have no litmus tests."

So perhaps because Bush interrupted the moderator he did not hear the question, which could explain why he didn't answer it. But of course, if you look at the people Bush has nominated to the federal courts, he does have a litmus test.

Thankfully, Kerry quickly dispatched this uncomfortable issue by reaffirming -- strongly -- his support for the Constitutional right of choice, and then moved on to inequality in America. "I don't know how you can govern in this country when you look at New York City and you see that 50 percent of the black males there are unemployed. When you see 40 percent of Hispanic children or black children in some cities dropping out of high school. And yet the president who talks about No Child Left Behind refused to fully fund by $28 billion that particular program so you can make a difference in the lives of those young people. Now right here in Arizona that difference would have been $131 million to the state of Arizona to help its kids be able to have better education and to lift the property tax burden from its citizens."

Here came another shining Bush moment where he set Kerry up for an easy kill, and frankly it's something I've been dying to hear from the Senator for months now. Sorry, Massachusetts, but you're going to get slammed again (although it's the last time this evening). "Only a liberal senator from Massachusetts would say that a 49 percent increase in funding for education was not enough. We've increased funds."

Now, here's a great sound bite that I hope gets some play: "You don't measure it by a percentage increase. Mr. President, you measure it by whether you're getting the job done."

That's it. That's the progressive attitude in a nutshell.

Let's use a totally idiotic analogy that is one of my pet favorites. Let's say you go through one roll of toilet paper a week in your household. You need 52 rolls for a year. Let's say, just for the sake of ease, that it costs $1 per roll. That's $52. However, next year, the price goes up to $1.25 a roll. In order to buy 52 rolls, you're going to have to shell out $65. But let's say you don't want to spend $65. You only want to spend $60. You can tell your family that you've increased funding for toilet paper by by 15%, but you still don't have enough toilet paper.

Bush does this with everything, from education to homeland security. Look what I'm spending on security compared to Clinton! exclaims Bush. But look at the needs that are not being met! exclaims Andy.

On a question about the draft, Kerry thankfully pointed out his misleading statement about the cost of the war in Iraq. So far, the bill is only $120 billion. (Heh, only.) Kerry had been using a figure of $200 billion. But if you think we're going to be able to get out of Iraq before we've spent at least $200 billion, you've got another thing coming (and that would be a huge tax bill).

Bush responded by mentioning those 125,000 Iraqis who will make up the security force there so that we can turn the country back over to its inhabitants. A recent report in the New York Times indicated that training sometimes means handing people a police uniform, a badge and a gun and then sending them into a combat zone. Bush talked about how thrilled some members of the National Guard that he recently spoke with were about going back to Iraq. Uh huh. And then he once again raised Kerry's "global test" issue, a position the Senator has made so clear I can't believe the President's handlers are still letting him use it.

Here is the test. When the US says we need to go to war, the reasons should be so obvious to the rest of the world that there aren't any objections and people want to join in. Those are the kinds of wars the United States fights. When the entire planet is saying, "Now...hold on a minute here..." there is a problem. Kerry also says the test includes being straight with our own people. A majority of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was involved in September 11 at the time of our invasion, despite a total lack of evidence.

Question: You said that if Congress would vote to extend the ban on assault weapons that you'd sign the legislation. But you did nothing to encourage the Congress to extend it. Why not?

The President answered, "I did think we ought to extend the assault-weapons ban and was told the fact that the bill wasn't ever going to move. Because the Republicans and Democrats were against the assault-weapon ban, people of both parties."

Think about that. Here's a man who bases his whole re-election campaign on the idea that he is steadfast and sticks to his guns -- no pun intended! -- in the face of opposition when he's forced to make unpopular decisions. He's said that over and over. And right here, he just admitted he caved on an issue that was supported by 70% of the American public. This bill didn't even get to a vote. What a pussy. He was told the exact same thing about the Marriage Amendment -- last I checked, gay marriage wasn't an issue of importance to law enforcement and homeland security -- but he pushed a vote on that one, a vote that went down in flames. Big pink sparkly flames.

Oddly Kerry did not say he would try to reinstate the ban.

On a question about affirmative action, Kerry lied when he said the President has not met with the Congressional Black Caucus and is the first president not to meet with the NAACP. In fact, Bush is merely the first president in 70 years not to meet with the NAACP, and he did meet with the Black Caucus. Once. In fairness, he did address the Urban League this year.

Bush lamely said he's expanded Pell grants this year. Remember that one?

For me, the oddest moment of the debate came in a response to this important question: What part does your faith play on your policy decisions?

First he said, with sincerity, "Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, how do you know? I said I just feel it." As a Christian myself, I know what he means. When I pray, I do feel that sense of just feel the presence of God. Frankly, it was a lovely answer, very eloquent in its lack of pomp and pretense.

But then he talked about his faith-based initiatives, which have "unleashed the armies of compassion."


Does this not seem weird? When I think "compassion," "army" is not one of the words that easily free-associates itself. Weapons of mass destruction and guard dogs are "unleashed." You don't "unleash" compassion. Armies fight. Armies destroy. They may defend, but they do so by killing. Armies of compassion? This is an image that's just not working for me, sorry. In fact, I think it's indicative of the idea that this President can't envision changing the world except through force.

In response to a question about the current partisan atmosphere of the country, Bush said, "The No Child Left Behind Act, incredibly enough, was good work between me and my administration and people like Senator Ted Kennedy." The same Senator Kennedy from Taxahomochusetts? What do you suppose he meant by, "incredibly enough"?

The evening wrapped up with what my colleagues agreed was a great softball, a question about the influence of women in their lives. Bush was direct and brief and sincere. Kerry got in a 1-2 joke, at his own expense, that actually got a laugh. (Still, it didn't erase the cringe-inducing memory of Tony Soprano.)

I'm voting for John Kerry. How 'bout you?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

BRAVO!!! Now if we could just get this information into the hands of the "undecided" and Bush supporters...