Thoughts on the debate: there is no question that Bush did much better on this one than the previous one. He started off pretty poorly, I thought, coming across as constantly angry, cutting off the moderator, winking and looking strangely bemused each time the camera focused on him. But his performance improved throughout the debate and he got in some pretty good lines (about the timber company and so on) - definitely better than Kerry in the closing part of the debate. Kerry was good too, I thought - certainly better as far as substance was concerned. Who will popular opinion say won? I haven't the slightest idea.
I don't know to what extent Bush's anti-intellectualism will play with the public. A transcript of the debate is not available as I write this, but the exchange on partial birth abortion went something like this:
Bush: I support a ban partial birth abortion and Kerry voted against it.
Kerry: I support a ban on partial birth abortion too, but only as long there is an exception allowing mothers whose health is in danger to abort. Thats why I voted against the Senate bill: because it did not have this exception.
Bush: I don't know what to say. He had a chance to vote for it and he voted against it. You cant have both sides of an issue. Either you support it or not.
Such inability to make logical distinctions is the main reason why I find Bush such a personally distasteful candidate - beyond just disagreeing with his positions. But what will the average American think? I imagine more people will sympathize with Bush here.
Off to have the media tell me who won.
UPDATE: From ABC news:
Among registered voters who watched Friday night's debate, 44 percent called John Kerry the winner, 41 percent said President Bush won and 13 percent called it a tie.So it looks like my intuition was correct: no clear victor.
Not so sure how this will get spun though. I came away from watching MSNBC with some distaste for Republican pundits. Television seems to be full of the equivalents of Hugh Hewitt - who called the first debate for Bush and the VP debate for Cheney - wrong on both counts, polls showed the first to be a Kerry victory and the second a tie. That is, TV is full of "experts" who will argue that Republicans won no matter what.
Now this is to be expected from partisan spinsters; but this should not be expected from supposed, even partisan, pundits. The reason we are playing this "who won" game, rather than "who was right on the issues," is that we are assuming that we can, in good faith, forget our partisan orientation and look objectively at the political ramfications of the debate. Whereas the democratic-leaning pundits tended to ruminate on good moments for Bush and good moments for Kerry, the republican-leanings ones seemed content to declare the event a victory for Bush and pronounce Kerry a wishy-washy flip flopper.
Then again, it might just be MSNBC.