Time for debate simulblogging. I'll use TiVo to keep from getting mixed up, but I'll also try not to get too severely time-lagged. I'll keep all my comments in this one post and number the paragraphs to indicate the updates. Chris, my 21-year-old son, is here watching with me and may contribute some comments. He's for Kerry, by the way.
1. The ground rules are delivered sternly, as if we were being told to follow them. Bush has a blue tie; Kerry has a red. They are positioned on the opposite sides of the stage from the positions they took last week. The first question, to Kerry: are you wishy-washy? Kerry begins his answer with various thanks, then addresses Cheryl by name. He uses the question as an opportunity to state positions on assorted issues, inserting the phrase "that's not wishy-washy" here and there. Bush starts with thanks too, then states some examples of Kerry changing positions. He never uses the term "wishy-washy" (or "flip flopping"); he says Kerry "changes his mind ... because of politics."
2. The second question is about invading Iraq, addressed to Bush. He's speaking much more quickly and confidently than he did last week. He moves around on the stage well. He's saying many of the things he's said before about Iraq, and notably says Kerry would have left Saddam Hussein in power. Somehow Kerry's rebuttal refers to "health care" and "No Child Left Behind." He does that puppy-tongue lick of his lower lip that someone should tell him to stop doing. Give this man some ChapStick. Then he gets to Iraq, speaking really quickly: "I've never changed my mind that Saddam Hussein was a threat." Bush didn't go to war with Iraq the right way, he "took his eye off the ball," and now Iran is more dangerous. That's saying a lot very quickly, and it was a bit strange the way Iran popped in at the end. Chris says, "Everything he just said was perfect and the whole thing was great. He just did that so well."
3. Bush gets some extra rebuttal time and he talks about Kerry's "global test" language from the previous debate. Kerry gets some more time and says that the goal of the sanctions was not to remove Saddam Hussein but to get rid of WMD, and that the sanctions were working. He's facing Bush as he says this and Bush is laughing in his face! Bush raises a finger to indicate he wants to respond and he looks raring to go. But Bush is not given another chance to respond.
4. Kerry is answering another Iraq question. He sounds strong and emphatic. Bush is tapping his foot. Bush slowly rises to answer and talks about meeting with Allawi in the Oval Office. [UPDATE: The reference here wasn't to Allawi but to the Iraqi finance minister. Here's the transcript.] He mocks Kerry's summit proposal (made last week). "Nobody is going to follow somebody who doesn't believe we can succeed ... who says follow me into a mistake." Kerry follows up: "the right war was Osama bin Laden." Both men are quite vigorous tonight.
5. Bush defends his decisions against the accusation that he's lost support around the world. He's made "unpopular decisions" but he's done "what's right." You don't want a President who just tries to be popular. Chris: "He did that really well. I think they're both doing really well." Me: "I do too." Kerry: Bush is promising you more of the same for the new four years. The Security Council would have been with us, he says, if only we'd taken more time. Bush's answer is about relying on generals to fight the war. Bush missed a chance here to come back and say that the Security Council would never have come along with us. Kerry's response is to brush aside the matter of the generals and to say: "The President's job is to win the peace."
6. A question to Kerry about Iran. Kerry says Iran is a threat but Iraq wasn't, so our attention to Iraq missed a chance to engage with Iran. But what would Kerry have done about Iran? Join with allies and lead the world to crack down on nuclear proliferation. Bush: "That answer almost made me want to scowl." A reference to last week's bad face-making.
7. The bugaboo of a draft. Bush: we're not going to have a draft. Kerry: "I don't support a draft." Then he names a bunch of generals who support him and who think the military is overextended. His military won't be overextended because he will build alliances with world leader. Bush jumps up and talks over the moderator. He's really fired up, talking about the members of the existing coalition and how offended they would be by Kerry's attitude. A bit too hot-headed, I think, and we've heard this standard comeback before.
8. A questioner points out that we have not had further terrorist attacks. Kerry: "It's not a question of when ... excuse me ... it's not a question of if, it's a question of when." He claims he'd be better at fighting terrorism, without giving any regard to the cited fact, that Bush seems to have done something to have staved off terrorist attacks. Of course, Kerry doesn't credit Bush for that. Bush jabs Kerry for voting to cut the intelligence budget. Kerry has a bit of a simpering expression on his face here, and now he's smirking and jotting something down. Bush repeats the point that you can't win in Iraq if you don't believe it was the right thing to do, blending the topics of terrorism here and the war on Iraq.
9. Importing drugs from Canada. Bush just wants to make sure the drugs are safe. Now it's domestic policy time, issues that will need to be hammered out in Congress. I'm much less interested in what the Presidential candidates have to say about issues like this. Kerry lumbers off his stool and seems a bit slowed down. He seems to be stumbling around the stage. He's droppin' his "g's" now and saying "'em" for "them." "Ahm fightin' for the middle class." Both candidates are doing the "I care about you" routine now. Bush finishes his answers early, it seems. He winks at the end of one answer.
10. Tort reform. Kerry: Blah blah blah I have a plan blah blah. Oh, and the tax cut is bad. Bush: Senator "Kennedy" is the most liberal Senator. D'oh!
11. Spending. Bush defends both his spending and his tax cuts, unsurprisingly. That "earpiece" lump Salon wrote about today is visible on Bush's back. Oh, I'm losing my focus as the candidates spew the usual statistics about economics. Kerry: "The only people affected my plan"--he seems bored with this part too as he reels out stock phrases and drops the word "by."
12. Taxes. Senator Kerry, will you look into the camera and pledge not to raise taxes on those making less than $200,000? Well, what can he do? He gets right up in the camera and pledges. Tax cuts will be rolled back, though, for the over $200,000 crowd. "Lookin' around here at this group here, I suspect there are only three people here who are going to be affected." Himself, Bush, and the moderator. Hey, he just kind of insulted the audience! There's not one successful businessperson in the audience? Chris: "Looking around at you people, I can see you're all poor."
13. Significant difference appears on environment. Kerry is more oriented toward working with the rest of the world, improving the Kyoto treaty and so forth. Bush is oriented toward research and development and solving problems through technology.
14. Stem cells. Kerry "respects the feeling" in the question about refraining from using embryonic stem cells. He argues that it "is respecting life" to pursue cures and give people hope. Bush: "balance science and ethics."
15. Supreme Court nominees. Bush won't tell who he'd pick, but he'd pick a "strict constructionist." And he wouldn't pick someone who'd say you can't have "under God" in the Pledge. He brings up the Dred Scott decision, a bit strangely. Kerry quotes Bush saying Scalia and Thomas are his favorite judges. Kerry doesn't want conservative or liberal judges, but just a good judge.
16. Kerry is asked about not spending tax money on abortion: he's Catholic--former altar boy--but he can't impose his "article of faith" on others. There's a right to abortion, and he has to respect that. Bush: "I'm trying to decipher that." The audience laughs. He speaks of "the culture of life" with some feeling. Kerry: "It's not that simple."
17. Bush is asked to name three mistakes. He admits he's made bad decisions. He takes responsibility. But he stands by his big decisions: Afghanistan, Iraq. He defends these decisions and does not, as asked, enumerate any bad decisions. He indicates the mistakes he would name would be appointments, but he won't say who. Kerry now gets to point out Bush's mistakes, rather than his own, and naturally we hear about how Bush rushed to war, without a plan .... Bush, on rebuttal, slots in the criticism of Kerry that he "voted for the war before voting against it."
18. Both candidates get their closing statements out about as they'd planned them, it seems. Bush strikes me as more natural and impassioned, Kerry more robotic. [Who was better?] Chris? "I wasn't paying attention. ... Probably Kerry."
19. Generally, overall: I think both men performed well in terms of style and getting their statements across. There is little basis for going on about who performed better tonight. People will have to pick between the two based on substance this time.
20. Ah, wait. One key style point. After it's all over, Bush plunges into the audience and interacts warmly and enthusiastically with the people, while Kerry goes over and hangs around with the moderator and then hugs his wife. Bush is posing for pictures with people. Where's Kerry now? He's milling about with people now, but in a more restrained way than Bush has been doing.