Okay, I'm getting set up now for the big live-blog of the last debate. I've been pre-linked by Instapundit (thanks and best wishes for his dad) and I've already seen the day's traffic level shoot up, even though I can't be live-blogging yet. It hasn't started. Keeping to my standard form, I'll number the paragraphs to indicate the updates, starting a new number after each upload. I'm going au naturel tonight--i.e., no TiVo pausing--just straight live blogging--and not just so N.Z. Bear won't call me a sissy. I'm doing it because I'm weary--weary I tell you!--of all this ersatz debating. If I eschew TiVo, the ordeal will necessarily end in ninety minutes. You start TiVo-pausing and you can find yourself still struggling to get to the finish line three hours later. I'm not so interested in recording the details of the domestic policy disputes anyway, for reasons blogged about earlier today. So I'll just observe what I observe as the real-time minutes click by. I am not looking to find fault and run anybody down or plump anybody up. I'll honestly or humorously pass along the observations I happen to make.
1. Back to the clunky, oak-grained lecterns. Bush winks. Kerry's looking happy. Will our children live in a secure world? Kerry: Yes. Bush looks bright red on a broadcast channel and I switch to CNN and he isn't bright red anymore. Kerry is blaming Bush for any existing unsafeness (the ports and the cargo hold again). Bush also says we can be safe, unsurprisingly, and he's got a strategy for making us safe. Bush seems a bit jazzed up.
2. A question about the flu vaccine shortage gets Bush talking about tort reform and Kerry talking about health care reform. Bush is smiling a lot, and the left side of his mouth nevertheless turns down oddly. A glob of foam forms on the right side of his mouth! Yikes! That's really going to lose the women's vote. [UPDATE: the NYT and the WaPo take note of this, and only this, observation and I react to that attention here. Belmont Club also links to this observation, and I discuss that here.]
3. Taxes. Didn't listen, sorry. Jobs. Kerry doesn't like that Bush talked about education when asked about jobs. He makes an analogy between Bush and Tony Soprano, but he's speaking quickly and I don't quite pick it up. Another jobs question: maybe the President doesn't have that much control over jobs. Kerry says it's not all the President's fault, but Bush, of course, nevertheless has many faults that have resulted in the loss of jobs. Kerry's left eyelid is sagging. There's a lot of policy spewing right now. Bush: "wooo!" That's kind of how I felt. Bush slowly spells out the tax advantages he's given people. When you have more money in your pocket, you're able to buy things you want--I agree! I really doubt if many people would stick around to watch this.
4. Homosexuality: do you think it's a choice? Bush: I don't know. Tolerance is important, he says carefully, then launches into an explanation of why he's doesn't want courts to impose gay marriage on the country. Kerry firmly states that homosexuality is not a choice and spends a creepy amount of time re-informing us that Cheney's daughter is a lesbian (so what?) and that it's not a choice for her. He expresses trust in the restraint of the courts.
5. Abortion. Kerry repeats his position that he opposes abortion as an "article of faith" but can't impose it on others. He also says "faith without works is dead." He asserts that his public service is God's work, but he also supports the right to choose. A hard set of beliefs to fit together, but I think decent people do fit them together, though it's hard for abortion opponents to accept. Bush repeats his "culture of life" way of speaking about abortion. Unlike Kerry, Bush does not bring in religion, except to the extent that it is implied by the concept of "a culture of life."
6. Health care costs. Bush does a lively presentation of his proposals here. Kerry blames Bush for higher health care costs because a bill in Congress was blocked (but earlier he complained that Bush has never used his veto). Bush: Kerry has no record of leadership on health care--after so many years in the Senate. Kerry is able to cite an example of a health care bill of his, so Bush is misleading us again, he says.
7. Still with the health care costs. Kerry is reeling out a lot of proposals that sound pretty good, but that I am in no position to evaluate right now. Bush starts to insult the news media, then stops himself. That was sloppy. Bush points out the fundamental difference between him and Kerry: Kerry will move us to a government-run health care system and urges us to reject that. It will leave us with poor quality health care. Kerry responds that he isn't proposing a government run program. It's hard to tell if he is or not. Again, we're hearing a torrent of policy, and I think this is off-putting to most people. They're talking about insurance really. Don't you want to run when someone starts talking insurance at you? Not that it isn't important....
8. Saving social security. Bush says he will and explains various plans. Kerry objects to the part about letting young people set up separate accounts. He warns us of a two trillion dollar hole in social security. Somehow this makes Bush laugh. Kerry claims to be the fiscal responsibility candidate. And he won't cut benefits. Lots of promises. The key question is which candidate is inspiring more trust, because we really can't evaluate the proposals themselves. In this effort, Kerry presents himself as a competent problem solver, and Bush tries to warn us that Kerry will do those things liberals do.
9. Illegal immigration. Bush is vigorous and passionate here. He was a border governor. He expresses real empathy for those who are seeking employment. Kerry goes back to the subject of tax cuts from the previous question. I dislike going back to an earlier question, especially, as here, where it is done to repeat standard lines about taxes. It makes it seem as though he's not interested enough in the issue that is on the table. "It's against the law to hire people illegally." Gee, thanks, but isn't everything that is illegal against the law? "We have thumb-print technology," Kerry says wiggling all of his fingers.
10. I hope there aren't too many typos and glitches in these posts. I'm sure I'll cringe over them later. Back to the live-blogging: does Kerry want to raise the minimum wage? Of course! Raise away! If we pay people more, they will have more money and will buy more things! Okay. Bush: the key thing is education! No Child Left Behind.
11. Will Bush look for judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade? Bush: I won't have a litmus test. Both candidates rely on the idea that they will pick good judges. Kerry uses his time to go back to the subject of No Child Left Behind. He doesn't seem too interested at all in talking about what kind of judges he wants. Bush rebuts, saying Kerry clearly has a pro-Roe litmus test for judges. Bush adds some material about No Child Left Behind and Kerry uses his rebuttal to talk about that. Kerry never denies that he has a litmus test for judges.
12. The problem of overuse of the National Guard. Kerry uses this as an opportunity to repeat his points about Iraq (we went to war the wrong way, we need to work with the rest of the world, etc.). This is Bush's big final chance to defend his Iraq policy. Let's see what he does. "The best way to take the pressure off our troops is to succeed in Iraq." He has talked to the troops, and "their spirits are high." Speaking slowly, he brings up Kerry's "global test," and becomes emphatic saying that he won't give up our security decisions to other nations. Bush wins this exchange, I think.
13. Guns! Bush: go after the criminals, not the guns. (Not surprising.) Kerry: he's a hunter, you know. But we need to control assault weapons. Terrorists will come here and go to gun shows and buy assault weapons.
14. Do we still need affirmative action? Kerry: sadly, yes, and Bush is actually doing things that are making affirmative action more needed. Kerry's for affirmative action for women and for other groups as well as for racial minorities. But he is opposed to quotas. Bush: he doesn't like quotas either, but the key here is (again) education. He speaks about the affordability of education. (Pell grants are mentioned a lot tonight.) He wants to encourage entrepreneurship: "That's hopeful, and that's positive."
15. What part does faith play in making presidential decisions? Bush: he speaks well here. Faith is important in his life, he prays a lot, and he feels the prayers that are offered for him. He speaks of the importance of inclusion. "I believe God wants everybody to be free" and that belief has driven his foreign policy. He says he thinks God made it possible to bring freedom to Iraq, which I'm sure he'll catch hell for. Kerry: "Everything is a gift from the Almighty." Kerry does not chide Bush for what he's said about melding religious belief and governmental decisionmaking, which is a wise choice on his part. But I think his supporters will jump all over Bush for this.
16. Bringing the nation together. Kerry: Bush has squandered the goodwill that existed right after 9/11. Bush has been divisive and ideological. Kerry is going to work with "my friend John McCain" to bring more campaign finance reform. Bush expresses disappointment at how partisan Washington is. But it was nice how they got No Child Left Behind passed (that law is getting a lot of mentions tonight). He makes a big point of saying McCain is for him ... because of Iraq. The lectern is pounded.
17. Talk about the strong women in your life. Bush gets some laughs from the audience who aren't supposed to make a peep. He can't say how much he loves Laura, and he sounds really sweet and warm. Kerry laughs saying both men "married up," and it seems to be too much a reference to how incredibly rich Teresa is. Without saying that he loves his wife, he switches over to talking about his mother!
18. Kerry's closing statement: something about "ideers" and reaching higher and grabbing dreams. "Embark on that journey with me." Pretty platitudinous. Bush: there's painting in the Oval Office that has something to do with seeing the sunrise and hence with the way things are getting better in the U.S.
19. Tim Russert is saying Kerry went all out trying to appeal to women, but Kerry's biggest mistake was snickering over his economically beneficial marriage and forgetting to say a thing about loving his wife right after Bush seemed almost overcome with emotion saying how much he loved Laura!
20. Rudy Giuliani is saying that Bush did a great job expressing his love for his wife--I agree--and his deep feeling about religion, while Kerry was just spewing statistics. I think both candidates spend a lot of time blabbing about policy details that you couldn't really follow competently, but that at those two key points, as Giuliani said, Bush revealed the deep personal side of himself, while Kerry was always cool and businesslike. Dukakis-like.