Skip to comments.In debates, expect the unexpected
Posted on 09/07/2004 3:06:45 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
WASHINGTON The debates are coming - and they could determine the election's outcome. I sat, with several other reporters, within almost touching distance of the participants in the most famous presidential TV debate in history, when John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon locked horns in Chicago in the fall of 1960. Only a thin glass partition separated us from the contestants and in no way obstructed our view.
How I got such a great front-row seat on history I will never know. As a newsman I had been traveling with both candidates, most recently with Mr. Nixon. In fact, I had walked from a Nixon press bus directly into the television studio, where I was delighted to find I had been given one of the very few seats allotted to the large press contingents traveling with the candidates.
Nixon was supposed to demolish Mr. Kennedy. At least, that was the talk among the press - and hence that was the opinion that the public was reading and hearing. The vice president, it was believed, would be an unbeatable debater with his facility for using logic to present his position or knock down the arguments of opponents. Sure, Nixon would make the kid look bad.
Because I had seen Kennedy in action as a debater in 1952 when he was challenging Henry Cabot Lodge for his Massachusetts Senate seat, I wasn't so sure about Nixon's clear superiority. Mr. Lodge, too, was supposed to have it all over the young Kennedy. But a poised and very personable Kennedy quickly won over the Boston audience and went on from that triumph to beat Lodge in the upcoming election.
It's an old, old story now: How underdog Kennedy outshone the vice president and thereby won a debate that immediately brought him a surge of public approval that turned him into a neck-and-neck contender and eventual winner.
I had appeared on a TV panel following that debate and when asked, "Who won?", I said I wasn't sure. But then I added that I thought that Nixon had looked tired - perhaps as an aftermath of a recent illness.
Well, it turned out that Kennedy "won" that debate because he simply looked better. Nixon aides blamed the makeup man. I received a lot of angry phone calls for even saying that Nixon looked tired - even if it was true.
Some experts who listened to the debate on the radio determined that Nixon won on points. But by making a better appearance on TV, Kennedy started to shoot up in the polls. The public liked what it saw: an attractive, confident, persuasive fellow. And from there he went on to win the election - barely.
I don't know if George W. Bush actually "beat" Al Gore in the debates four years ago. My view was that the debating points were about even. But it was Vice President Gore's overaggressive, know-it-all attitude (particularly that sighing when then-Governor Bush said something Gore thought to be outrageous) that turned him into a "loser" in those debates. A bad appearance cost Gore the debates and, arguably, the election.
I think that most of us remember the Reagan-Mondale debates for the good humor and quips coming from Mr. Reagan. As I saw it, Reagan beat former Vice President Walter Mondale because of his attractive appearance - although Mr. Mondale's tax-increasing position didn't help the Minnesotan.
And now comes Bush vs. Kerry. One could argue that John Kerry, known to be an outstanding debater, will make Bush look bad. Indeed, Senator Kerry's supporters are convinced that their man possesses the better intellect and the better command of logic, and they are demanding as many debates as they can get.
But lest we forget: While Gore was making a less-than-good appearance in those debates, Bush, the underdog, remained cool as he defended himself or presented his case. He may not understand or deal with nuance the way Kerry does; but he has a knack for getting to the heart of an issue.
Bush also has a good sense of humor - which, when used right, can be a tremendous asset in these debates. Kerry hasn't struck me yet as being much on humor, although he just might fool us all by being the funnyman in these debates.
Expect the unexpected.
Horseface will either be completely paralyzed, not knowing which of his Heinz 87 positions is the "right one" to give in response, or will stick his foot in his mouth again and again.
To put it another way, I think most Americans today see anything and everything they view on TV as entertainment- it's all of equally little value, except for titillation or a laugh.
Unless one candidate really screws up. ala Al Gore in 2000, it won't mean much.
According to Kerry's personal friend and debating coach at Yale, only William F. Buckley was better than Kerry. Rollin Osterweis felt there were none better than Buckley and then Kerry. But I watched as O'Neill debated the issues with Kerry in the 70's and I didn't get the feeling that Kerry was superior in any way. And now we see Kerry coming unglued in this campaign. It will be interesting to see these debates between Bush and Kerry, for sure.
The Kerry campaign is trying to lower the bar for Kerry by talking up Bush's debating skill. My own feeling about it is Bush is in command of the issues and is more likely to give a straight story. Kerry has changed his position on many of the issues and it makes it much more difficult to be coherent. Plus, Bush is far more likeable. Kerry is arrogant and aloof. Kerry has that aristocratic european fringe about him that most Americans just aren't into. The way Osterweis scores a winner is likely very different then the way you or I might. That said, I think Bush might just walk away with these debates. Easily.
If his acceptance speech is any indication of how he performs under pressure, they'd better have a big supply of towels available or the inside of the TV studio might start looking like the flood aftermath of Frances.
I'm looking forward to them. I know, at times, it will be hard for President Bush to keep a straight face.
The dems will say he is "smirking". LOL.
Kerry should know everyone is focused like a laser on his flip flopping and it wouldn't be hard to bring that to the fore in a debate.
You should properly rephrase this to: He went on to win the election by voter Fraud. Had Nixon been of such low moral character as Al Gore he could have contested the election and would have WON. Nixon knew unlike Gore that while this was undeniably true it would have harmed the country so he stepped aside and ran again later.
Bush will be funny and POLITE.
Kerry will be plodding and SNIDE.
Kerry definately CANNOT win the debates on charm or looks. Bush has him beat in both areas hands down. I don't see Bush having a major misstep in the debates either.
Every question asked Bush can simply point out the LACK of a Kerry record on the topic (in spite of 20 years in the Senate) or the repeated waffling on it by Kerry over the past 20 years.... Kerry will be on the defensive throughout the debate if the moderators ask anything remotely relevant.
A lot of people believe Gore should have run away with the election. By using that yardstick, he did very poorly by coming in a close second.
It will be interesting to see how "old media" spins Kerry's performance.
"I'm looking forward to them. I know, at times, it will be hard for President Bush to keep a straight face."
Remember when Gore asked "What about Dingell-Norwood?" and then the look W gave him?
It instantly turned Gore from the invincible policy wonk into the annoying, whining know-it-all that everyone hated in school.
I look forward to such a moment in this year's debates. It can't be forced, though - it must come from the heart.
Bush will do better if he's misunderestimated again.
You know W is going to have a full case of ammunition that is labeled, "But what about the time you said..."
That's exactly why he will lose this election.
Expect Kerry to handed his own ass on a plate!
Exactly! I can't wait! :)
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