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The LiberalOasis Blog
October 1, 2004 PERMALINK
John Kerry did not speak in sound bites for most of last night's debate.
He raised several issues that the public knows little of and the media have generally overlooked: chemical plant security, loose nukes, nuclear bunker-busters.
He took several positions on important but obscure matters:
Against long-term military bases in Iraq, for a deal to deny nuclear weapons for Iran while granting them nuclear fuel, possible US troops in the Sudan.
A number of his answers were densely packed, jamming as much info as he could into 2 minutes, which risked burying his points.
These are the kinds of positions and responses that a political handler would never recommend or script.
And it worked.
And perhaps the most striking were the comments from a group of Ohio undecideds gathered by NBC to watch the debate:
First-Time Voter: I'm not convinced that George Bush is doing the right thing over in the war, and I think that John Kerry has really a good knowledge of foreign policy.
Former Bush Voter: [Bush's] performance was fine, but John Kerry gave me a higher comfort level, his capability of being commander-in-chief, and homeland security…I feel better about that issue.
Security Mom: I think that John Kerry will [make the country safer]. I think that President Bush puts fear in us, and I think that John Kerry was a leader, and -- just basically -- is just going to handle it.
Gulf War Vet: I think John Kerry did [have a better plan for Iraq], just for the simple fact that he wants to make it a coalition idea, where everybody gets involved.
How did Kerry make this happen?
Part of it what was LiberalOasis discussed yesterday, the Bushies blew the expectations game, setting Kerry's bar very low.
Part of it was Bush's own defensive and irritated demeanor.
(The guy has never had to debate with a controversial record to explain, and he's not naturally good at it.)
But the other part of it was Kerry's own instincts.
He chose not to panic at the polls, not to feel the need to force a KO punch.
He made the decision to be himself, which is, to be a statesman (a good contrast with Dubya).
And to not dumb down the issues, but treat the voters -- who are looking for answers in an uncertain, anxious time -- as adults.
Surrogate Rudy Guiliani's main spin point (heard on NBC and The Daily Show at least) was Kerry was "lecturing" people.
Rudy and the GOP message masters may think people are stupid, but Kerry doesn't.
By delving into the issues, Kerry's the one treating the voters with respect, not you.
The media should take note of this.
While Kerry seemed to get positive treatment from the pundits, they were mostly applauding his ability to keep his answers flip-flop free and under 2 minutes.
But there were many issues that Kerry (and Bush) raised that viewers probably didn't know much about, because the media doesn't fulfill its public service obligations.
Listen to those Ohio undecideds.
They didn't talk much about style. They praised Kerry's substance.
Voters are desperately wanting to make an informed decision in this high-stakes election.
They can't if the media is yapping about tans and podium lights.
Finally, let's not forget about 2000.
Gore won the insta-polls too after the first debate, and the GOP turned that around with trumped-up charges that caught the Gore camp flat-footed.
The Bushies won't take this loss lying down.
They will selectively quote Kerry and twist his words around to try to steal tonight's victory.
(Though they didn't seem to have figured out a consistent line of attack immediately afterwards last night.)
Kerry's got a bit of a break, because any Bush attempt to counterspin the debate will fall into the little-read Saturday news.
But let's keep our guard up through the weekend.
September 30, 2004 PERMALINK
In 2000, the Bushies diligently lowered expectations for their candidate in the run-up to the first debate.
While Gore was hyped as the "best debater in politics today" and other similar things.
Sure, there were jibes mixed in.
Mainly about Gore's fondness for attacking in debates (to make him look mean, as well as to psych him out from attacking), and a little bit about being robotic.
But that was secondary. The overarching message was: Gore is a fantastic debater.
Additionally, they privately expressed concern to reporters about their own candidate's speaking abilities.
The strategy worked. The bar was set low for Bush, and he cleared it.
This time around, there was some perfunctory stuff from the surrogates about Kerry's impressive debate skills, but their hearts weren't in it.
They couldn't resist drilling the flip-flop message, with lines about how Kerry "probably could spend 90 minutes debating himself."
They even went out of their way to publish a mock "Debate Briefing Book for John Kerry," that pushes the flip-flop image in typical snide fashion.
(The book was given to reporters, and is the main feature on the campaign's homepage. Why waste such precious cyber-real estate with info on your own record?)
Why are they throwing away Bush's tried-and-true "misunderestimate me" strategy?
As ABC's Terry Moran said last night, Bush's team is "oozing confidence, even cockiness...They almost expect...the President will [deliver] a decisive blow against Senator Kerry."
The result? Polls show more people think Bush is going to win the debate. The bar is set high.
(For good reason. Gore's bar was set high in part because he had some high-profile national debates. So has Bush.)
Furthermore, they have telegraphed to Kerry (and the world) what their strategy is.
That wasn't the plan in 2000, when Bushies refrained from using the "serial exaggerator" attack line for a few days.
In turn, the Gore camp had no idea that would be the basis of the post-debate spin strategy.
Thanks to Bush's inability to keep his cards close to the vest, Kerry knows what he has to do to win the spin:
Give clear and consistent answers, making the flip-flop charge look silly.
Whereas Bush's job in the debate is much trickier:
Explain to the nation what the hell is going on in Iraq.
Yesterday, LO suggested readers send in one-liners for Kerry. Here's a sampling:
-- "When you give a person the authority to drive your car, it's not OK if they drive it off a cliff."
-- "Imagine if FDR, in response to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, had invaded China."
-- "As President, I'm not going to pat myself on the back for catching a rat when the whole house is infested with roaches.
"Saddam Hussein was a rat of a human being, with his own special place in hell...but the roach problem is getting worse and worse."
-- "It's obvious to experts, intelligence officials, and the general public that Iraq is getting worse and worse every day, yet the President still insists that things are going well.
"I guess George has gotten so good at misleading the American people, he's even managed to mislead himself."(From The Talent Show)
-- "I voted to give the President the authority to use force. Then he Cheneyed it up."
September 29, 2004 PERMALINK
Yesterday, LiberalOasis said humor would be tough to do in a debate about foreign policy and terrorism.
Then, a reader sent in a good one-liner, and so LO had second thoughts.
Humor is always tricky of course, even when the subject isn't as serious as terrorism.
A joke that falls flat in front of a huge audience on national television is especially painful.
But when well done, it can leave a lasting impression, and be recycled by the media for the next 24-48 hours.
And while Bush uses mockery to take the hard-edge off of his negative attacks, Kerry could use it to turn the tables on some of Bush's staple themes and applause lines.
So the following are a few suggestions of how that could be done.
1. Assuming that Bush will at one point say:
"I had a choice to make: take the word of a madman, or do what's necessary to defend this country."
A mocking rebuttal could be:
George Bush is great at saying things like, "given the choice between defending America from a terrorist coup and replacing Alan Greenspan with Osama Bin Laden, I'll defend America every time."
But asserting the obvious doesn't defend America from terror.
Hard work, good planning, strong alliances, a well-managed military, statesmanship and leadership -- that's what defeated communism, that's what will defeat terrorism.
2. Kerry will almost certainly be asked to explain his "I voted for the $87B before I voted against it" line.
This is a chance for some self-deprecating humor, as well as some mockery:
You know, whenever I come up with a really good line like that, I like to keep using it.
So let me just say that George Bush was against the homeland security department, before he proposed one. He was against the 9/11 Commission, before he supported it.
And he was for providing troops enough body armor, before he decided it was better to let families have bake sales to pay for it themselves.
3. Another thing we can be pretty sure of is George Bush will say is some variation of:
"It's very important for the President to mean what he says. I don't want the enemy to be emboldened by any confusion or doubt."
That would be ripe for Kerry to bring up a little place called North Korea:
I'm wondering what you would call it when a President says he won't tolerate a nuclear North Korea, and then tolerates up to six nuclear weapons.
4. For a possible one-two punch on North Korea, Kerry could follow with a line borrowed from good ol' Zell::
What are you using to pressure North Korea? Spitballs?
5. This is what a reader sent to LO, to further clarify Kerry's basic Iraq position:
Congress, myself included, voted to give the president permission to put the bullet in the gun.
We did not give him permission to shoot us in the foot.
If you have any other suggestions for mocking one-liners, send them in. Perhaps LO will be able to post some tomorrow.
September 28, 2004 PERMALINK
The Kerry camp is probably 100 steps ahead of LiberalOasis, every pundit and every blogger when it comes to prepping for the debate, but here's a few thoughts anyway.
1. Debates have the potential to shift the dynamic of a campaign race, which Kerry wants to do since the dynamic is treating him (rightly or wrongly) like he's behind.
But the dynamic shifts usually when one guy screws up, not when one guy does great.
You can (and should) try to pressure your opponent to screw up but in the end, it's not something you can fully control.
For Kerry, he loses if he walks into the attacks, offering convoluted positions and giving long-winded answers.
For Bush, he loses if he gets rattled and defensive, undercutting his uber-certain persona.
2. Having said that, there seems to be a lot of interest in this first debate because people want to learn more about Kerry. (For example, watch this MO focus group that aired on C-Span.)
Kerry has to meet that demand, show substance, crystallize his positions, and show he's not the caricature that Bush has painted.
3. It is also in Kerry's interest to make the debate interesting to watch.
The deeper the campaign gets into substance, the better for Kerry, as a clear majority wants a change in policy direction.
Since the media can't be counted on to focus on substance, and 30-second ads by definition can't do so, debates hold the greatest potential for Kerry.
But debates are often boring, and ratings tend to decline from debate to debate.
In 2000, the first one was watched by about 47M people, the second two by about 38M each. (The electorate was about 100M).
But 1992 was different. The first one was watched by about 62M, the second up to 70M, the third falling back a little to 67M.
That was a race with an uncertain outcome, like 2000 and today, but also had the entertaining spectacle of Ross Perot.
Kerry's not going to become a Perot-like sound bite machine overnight.
But if he goes too far the other way, if his answers are flat from overscripting and overpolling, he may avoid mistakes yet kill ratings.
(However, there are other factors that will hurt ratings. The second debate is on a Friday. The third is during the baseball playoffs which will air on Fox.)
4. So there's pressure on Kerry to accomplish multiple goals in this debate.
But he also greatly benefits from low expectations as a clumsy communicator, while Bush has high expectations for the first time in his political career.
5. Kerry can beat expectations quickly by taking on his biggest perceived weakness right away: the flip-flop charge.
Everyone knows he'll be asked to state his position on Iraq, most likely very early on in the debate.
He can turn it to his advantage by drawing a contrast to Bush's perceived weakness: his reckless stubbornness.
And he could do it in the two-minute time limit with an answer like this:
In October 2002, the President said that approving the congressional resolution "does not mean that military action is imminent or unavoidable." It means "America speaks with one voice."
Soon after he said that, I announced my support of the resolution and said on the Senate floor the following:
"...In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days--
"To work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force.
"If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out."
That is my position. That there was a right way to deal with Iraq, and a wrong way.
The President did it the wrong way, and we're now seeing the terrible consequences of that.
Now, perhaps some of the confusion comes from the fact that I didn't jump all over the President as soon as he made his decision.
Because that's not me. I'm not knee-jerk. I'm not rash. I'm not stubborn.
Once we were in a time of war, I sought to show respect to the office and help keep the country unified, while keeping true to my views.
But now we have an election coming up, and democracy demands we make our differences clear, so you can make an informed decision.
And the difference is, I would have given the weapons inspectors the chance to complete their jobs, and taken the time build a proper coalition.
And going forward, I will get the international community to share the burden, something which this President is either unwilling to do, or incapable of doing.
6. To make the debate interesting, Kerry will need to find ways to make his points in new and dramatic ways.
(Humor is another way, and Kerry showed he could deliver one-liners in the primary debates, but a debate on foreign policy and terrorism doesn't lend itself to that.)
For example, he could describe the situation in Iraq in stark, historic terms:
Iraq is not Vietnam...yet.
But it likely will be if we don't change course.
A lot of people have said to me that we shouldn't be talking about a war 30 years ago, we need to be talking about the war in front of us. I couldn't agree more.
But I also believe what has happened in the last few weeks should be a wake up call.
The scars that Vietnam left on our country are still here, they are still painful, they still divide us, probably will until my entire generation has passed on.
Do we want Iraq to scar the next generation in the same way? Of course not.
And it doesn't have to, if we elect a leader who was learned the lessons of Vietnam: among them, keeping politics out of military decisions and telling the hard truths to the public.
On my campaign's website, I have laid out the truth of where we are and what we need to do differently. My plan is there for all to see.
If you go to my opponent's website, you can't find his plan for Iraq. It doesn't exist.
It says he liberated Iraq, and that's it, as if the mission is accomplished.
That's not leveling with the public. That's not charting a new course, that's not winning the peace.
7. Another value in both of the above responses is that they are largely about Kerry's views, but end on a Bush attack.
After every question to Kerry, Bush will have 1.5 minutes to respond.
If Kerry takes up his 2 minutes just talking about himself, Bush will respond just by poking holes in it.
But if Kerry finishes by tossing a proverbial grenade in his lap, Bush will have to choose between letting the attack go, or giving a defensive response.
Putting that kind of pressure on Bush will increase the chances of him screwing up, exposing him as a Two-Face, which would be the ideal outcome.
September 27, 2004 PERMALINK
Underneath that Bushie swagger, these guys are quite worried about how Iraq will impact November.
For the second time in three Sundays, Colin Powell -- the only major Bushie with high approval ratings -- was dispatched to three shows to reassure the public on Iraq.
The (supposedly) nonpolitical Gen. John Abizaid was sent out as well.
Their objective was to undercut Kerry's attacks -- that Bush lives in "fantasy world of spin" when it comes to Iraq -- by acting like realists, not ideologues.
A clear sign Kerry's attacks are working.
For example, on ABC's This Week, Powell admitted "we have seen an increase in anti-Americanism in the Muslim world. I will not deny this," as well as that the insurgency is "getting worse."
And on Fox News Sunday, Powell called the leaked National Intelligence Estimate, which was highly pessimistic on the future of Iraq, as a "sober assessment" that "wasn't…terribly shocking".
Further, Reuters even treated Powell as if he didn't speak for Bush: "His comments were less optimistic than those of President Bush..."
There was also some confusion in reporting Powell's attempt to clean up this week's contradictory statements by Rumsfeld and Powell's right-hand man Dick Armitage on the planned Iraq elections.
Rumsfeld said that if ongoing violence only allowed elections in 3/4 or 4/5 of Iraq "so be it, nothing's perfect in life," while Armitage said the election "has to be open to all citizens."
(The fear of going the Rummy route is that it could further division in the country and push it towards civil war.)
The W. Post reported Powell's election remarks as widening the rift with Rumsfeld:
[Powell] rejected the notion, put forward recently by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, that it would be sufficient to hold elections in most, but not all, of Iraq.
This kind of White House disarray (whatever happened to speaking clearly and not sending mixed singals?) was not what they had in mind by sending Powell out.
Especially since Powell's comments were not really in conflict with Rummy and Abizaid.
If anything, they were in conflict with Armitage.
While Powell's tone was more democratic than Rummy's, he left this massive hedge on Fox:
I think [the election] has to be throughout the country.
It doesn't mean that everybody got to vote on that particular day.
So, the Bush plan seems to be: nominally say everyone can vote.
And if turnout's really low (say, 0%) in certain areas because people are afraid they will killed, well (in Rummy's words) "so be it."
Or as Abizaid so kindly put it on NBC's Meet The Press:
I don't think that Iraq will have a perfect election.
And if I recall looking back at our own election four years ago it wasn't perfect either.
So, now the stolen election is a barometer of acceptable democratic activity.
That might explain this story in Time Magazine:
U.S. officials tell TIME that the Bush team ran into trouble with another plan involving those elections — a secret "finding" written several months ago proposing a covert CIA operation to aid candidates favored by Washington...
...A senior U.S. official hinted that, under pressure from the Hill, the Administration scaled back its original plans.
Asked about this on CNN's Late Edition, Powell didn't exactly reassure the world that we're not playing puppetmaster:
POWELL: Well, obviously, we never discuss covert programs.
But in this instance I will say that we have a record of overtly supporting candidates for government, candidates for office in governments that are going through the process of transitioning to democracy.
And so we will be providing assistance for capacity building in parties so that we can see a political system come alive in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and we'll be doing it overtly.
WOLF BLITZER: Overtly. So there's not going to be a covert program?
POWELL: I don't discuss covert programs, but I will say that we do have overt programs, and everybody knows about them.
That is far cry from saying there's no covert program and no attempt to influence the outcome.
Freedom is not on the march. It's lounging about in an undisclosed location.
What else would you expect from this Two-Face administration?
Oh, That Tora Bora!
On This Week, Stephanopoulos raised Osama's 2001 escape from Tora Bora:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But what Senator Kerry said specifically is that President Bush let Usama bin Laden get away because he didn't put American troops into Tora Bora, relied on Afghan troops.
POWELL: I don't know where Senator Kerry gets that.
I don't know what happened at Tora Bora, whether he was actually there or not.
It was a tactical decision made by commanders on the ground. And President Bush wasn't the commander on the ground.
And I have no idea whether or not they were that close to Usama bin Laden at Tora Bora or not.
Apparently, Powell never read the Christian Science Monitor's "How Bin Laden Got Away":
In retrospect, it becomes clear that the battle's underlying story is of how scant intelligence, poorly chosen allies, and dubious military tactics fumbled a golden opportunity to capture bin Laden as well as many senior Al Qaeda commanders...
...Pir Baksh Bardiwal, the intelligence chief for the Eastern Shura, which controls eastern Afghanistan, says he was astounded that Pentagon planners didn't consider the most obvious exit routes and put down light US infantry to block them.
"The border with Pakistan was the key, but no one paid any attention to it," he said...
..."And there were plenty of landing areas for helicopters, had the Americans acted decisively. Al Qaeda escaped right out from under their feet."...
...Meanwhile...the Afghan warlords enlisted by the US to attack Tora Bora were also cutting deals to help the Al Qaeda fighters escape.
The Blog Wire
Oliver Willis' Rapid Reblogger will be using a team of bloggers to live fact-check tonight's debate
Moose and Squirrel has Gene Lyons on the GOP's bible-banning scare ads: "I doubt the GOP tactic will work ... but why would [they] act desperate?"
MahaBlog on views of guns in New York and Ohio
The Majority Report Blog has 2002 audio of Bush and Kerry on the force authorization resolution
Opinions You Should Have: "Al Qaeda Tapes Accidentally Erased From FBI's TIVO: Replaced By 'Must-See TV'"
IBD/CSM/TIPP poll: Kerry-Bush tied among registered voters, Kerry leads by 1 with likely voters
DailyKos: "Just got off the phone with a reporter from USA Today who is writing a story on potential problems with the Gallup poll, and the liberal blogosphere's work [see The Left Coaster] in bringing attention to the issue."
Lone Star Iconoclast, Crawford newspaper, endorses Kerry
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