Friday, October 08, 2004

Debate Thoughts

Tonight I got to actually watch a debate for the first time. Speaking as a person with some limited experience in public and extemporaneous speaking, I am really, really impressed with John Kerry's performance and rhetoric. And, well, I'm not at all impressed with the President's. Lots of people were talking before the first debate just how good a debated George Bush is, but I just don't see it at all. A few scattered thoughts: Early on, President Bush argued that Saddam Hussain intended to develop and use weapons of mass destruction. The evidence he cited seemed to amount pretty much to "Saddam wanted to releave sanctions, therefore he intended to develop WMDs."
But as we learned in the same report I quoted, Saddam Hussein was gaming the oil-for-food program to get rid of sanctions. He was trying to get rid of sanctions for a reason: He wanted to restart his weapons programs.
Questionable, very. I'd've liked a whole lot more discussion of there not being any weapons of mass destruction or links to terrorism in Iraq. The draft came up, which I was glad of. Bush stated very, very clearly that there would be no draft, period. I've never heard language that strong from this administration before -- I think Cheney said a week or two ago that a draft would be a very extreme measure, but refused to rule it out absolutely. Bush did. And he went on to say that we didn't *need* such manpower any more, thanks to happily technological advances. John Kerry mentioned the current 'back door' draft with reserves. He didn't ask the obvious question: if we don't need the manpower, then why are we so short on troops?
Because they understand that our military is overextended under the president. Our Guard and reserves have been turned into almost active duty. You've got people doing two and three rotations. You've got stop-loss policies, so people can't get out when they were supposed to. You've got a back-door draft right now. And a lot of our military are underpaid. These are families that get hurt. It hurts the middle class. It hurts communities, because these are our first responders. And they're called up. And they're over there, not over here.
I'm not convinced that Kerry's equipped to save us from a draft either, I'm afraid. But look at how Bush bullied his way to not-responding to that one. Immediately following Kerry's point:
GIBSON: Mr. President, let's extend for a minute... BUSH: Let me just -- I've got to answer this. GIBSON: Exactly. And with Reservists being held on duty... BUSH: Let me answer what he just said, about around the world. GIBSON: Well, I want to get into the issue of the back-door draft... BUSH: [interrupting] You tell Tony Blair we're going alone. [continues, never getting back to the draft]
I wish that John Kerry hadn't repeated Edwards's blunder about the percentage of casualties who are American. It'd be nice if at least *one* of our candidates appeared to care about Iraqi civilians. And the actual bad guys, for that matter. I'm less than completely comfortable with how callously -- proudly, even -- both candidates discuss killing our enemies. But, as I mentioned to Savannah, I guess a candidate who considered any killing to be regrettable wouldn't be strong-looking enough for the American electorate. It's a shame. I think that the President of the United States uttered the phrase, "battling green eyeshades" on national television tonight. I have no idea whatsoever what it means. One woman asked Senator Kerry how he would protect the American manufacturing industry against outsourcing. Here's another point where I was disappointed with the nature of politics -- politicans never bite bullets, even when they should. I would really, really respect a candidate who said "well, we can't be competitive in everything in a global market". Finally, two points where I thought Bush was really, really weak. First, his discussion of being a strong leader, willing to do things that are unpopular. He said:
I made a decision not to join the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is where our troops could be brought to -- brought in front of a judge, an unaccounted judge. I don't think we ought to join that. That was unpopular. And so, what I'm telling you is, is that sometimes in this world you make unpopular decisions because you think they're right.
He cut his sentence short before he had to finish it by saying, "...where our troops could be brought to trial for war crimes," because if he'd finished the sentence it would have been obvious that Bush's policy was tantamount to a declaration that U.S. troops are above international law. His *sole* point seems to be that he did something unpopular -- he did not in any way *defend* his position. As Savannah brilliantly put it, "He was like, this may SEEM like a bad idea, but actually, it's very unpopular!" Oh, how I wish Senator Kerry had chosen to focus things to that point. Second, President Bush really, really ought not to try to talk about Constitutional Law. He just really obviously had no idea what he was talking about, and Kerry let him get away with it. When asked what kind of person he would appoint to the Supreme Court, President Bush said he'd appoint someone who would literally interpret the letter of the Constitution, then went on to demonstrate that he didn't even know what was in said letter. Bush cited Dred Scott as a 'bad' ruling, which is obviously correct, but he seemed to think that someone who read the Constitution literally would have opposed it. That's not clear to me at all -- Bush seemed to *almost* claim that the Constitution explicitly decrees that all men are created equal. False.
I wouldn't pick a judge who said that the Pledge of Allegiance couldn't be said in a school because it had the words "under God" in it. I think that's an example of a judge allowing personal opinion to enter into the decision-making process as opposed to a strict interpretation of the Constitution. Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights. That's a personal opinion. That's not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we're all -- you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America. And so, I would pick people that would be strict constructionists. We've got plenty of lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Legislators make law; judges interpret the Constitution.
I really wish that Senator Kerry had taken a moment to explain to the United States just what a literal reading of the Constitution would amount to. All things considered, though, this Kerry-supporter is pretty pleased with the debate. (I will add quotations of what I'm talking about as transcripts become available online.)

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jonathan,

    Great post. As someone who prefers Kerry-over-Bush, I was very pleased with how the debate went as well.

    "I wish that John Kerry hadn't repeated Edwards's blunder about the percentage of casualties who are American. It'd be nice if at least *one* of our candidates appeared to care about Iraqi civilians."

    It would appear to be a blunder only if you overlook the fact that Kerry and Edwards are specifically talking about "coalition casualties." As I understand it, the coalition is the group of countries that (illegally) invaded and are currently occupying Iraq. Unless one is counting Iraq among the countries that invaded and are currently occupying Iraq, then Iraqi casualties don't count as a portion of coalition casualties.

    That said, I think they should mention the tremendous cost paid by ordinary Iraqis as a result of the invasion and occupation.

    --John Turri