Saturday, October 30, 2004

Scrap the Presidential Debates?

Fred Barnes says scrap the presidential debates because we learned very little except that Bush can "grimace and scowl" (first debate) and Kerry was capable of a "gratuitous and nasty reference to Vice President Cheney's daughter Mary as a lesbian." Mr. Barnes asks: "Is this what campaigns for the presidency should turn on?" "The answer," he says, unsurprisingly, "is no." But wait a minute. What if instead of bloodless ciphers who probably have an axe (or butter knife) to grind, like Ifill, Gibson and Schieffer, we had the likes of William F. Buckley, the late Daniel Moynihan, or any of a number of forensically skilled questioners who are experienced in taking depositions, questioning witnesses and marshalling ideas into the verbal tools necessary to get information out of a reluctant candidate? I think the most striking thing about the debates this year is how Kerry used his reputation as a skilled political debater. Mostly, he lied. Mostly he obfuscated. Prez Bush did less of this but his other attempts to convey information was overly-controlled and talking-point-constrained. His steam-rollering of Mr. Gibson concerning Kerry's disparaging of our allies comes to mind. A simple example should suffice. In one of his answers, Senator Kerry said: "Well, let me tell you straight up: I've never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat. I always believed he was a threat. Believed it in 1998 when Clinton was president. I wanted to give Clinton the power to use force if necessary." Most folks find it ludicrous for Kerry to say he "never changed [his] mind about Iraq," but wouldn't the rest of the answer be fertile ground for follow-up? Always a threat? Even when you voted against removing Saddam from Kuwait? Wanted to give Clinton the power to use force? What power did he ask for? What power did he use? For Prez Bush, a questioner asked: " Mr. President, since we continue to police the world, how do you intend to maintain our military presence without reinstituting a draft?" Wouldn't you have wanted to know, exactly how many of our armed forces are committed to North Korea? To Europe? How are we going to effectuate your goals of making America safer if we don't find the armed forces to do the job? Are there allies out there willing to provide resources to trouble spots around the world? Are these allies all a part of the so-called "Anglosphere?" Can we ever count on the French and/or the Germans? Now, only a naif (such as yours truly) might suggest that candidates with so much at stake would expose themselves to thoughtful questions. But if I weren't an optimist, I wouldn't bother to jettison these (ahem) thoughts to the ether, now would I? The Standard article here


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