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  • Ohioblog: A Swing State Journal

    Wednesday, September 29, 2004

    A debate about the debaters 

    Everyone is giving John Kerry advice about Thursday night's presidential campaign debate, the first of three. It's no wonder. As former Vermont Gov. and previous presidential candidate Howard Dean said on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, the debate isn't about President Bush. It's about John Kerry. Can people trust him enough in dangerous times to replace Bush?

    Al Gore has written an op-ed piece titled ``How to debate George Bush'' for The New York Times. Gore should know. Even when he got the better of Bush early on in the 2000 debates, he lost because the Bush team won the post-debate debate. The media, as columnist Paul Krugman puts it, put swagger ahead of substance.

    Gore would have Kerry hone in on a Bush performance in office that ``amounts to a catastophic failure.''

    ``The biggest single difference between the debates this year and four years ago,'' Gore writes, ``is that President Bush cannot simply make promises. He has a record.''

    Like 1960 and 1980, this is a year when the debates should matter. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 61 percent of those polled intended to watch the debates compared with 43 percent who said they would watch in 2000.

    ``Historically,'' the Pew Center reported, ``two factors distinguish those debates that have proven decisive in the election outcome. First, debates have had the greatest impact in close races, or in campaigns where the lead switched back and forth. Second, debates have been most influential in campaigns with unresolved questions about the personal character of one, or both, of the candidates. The upcoming Bush-Kerry debates would appear to fill the bill on both counts.''

    As the debate on the debates continues, Jim Lehrer, host of the News Hour on PBS, reprised interviews about the value of the debates that he did with former presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr. and Clinton. All of the former presidents saw value in the debates except George H.W. Bush.

    ``Generally,'' Lehrer asked Bush, ``what kind of expericne was it for you?''

    ``Ugly,'' Bush Sr. said. ``I don't like them...I wasn't too good at them. Secondly, there's some of it's contrived - show business. There's a certain artificiality to it, lack of spontaneity to it.''

    Maybe Kerry should ask to face the senior Bush instead of Brash Bubba Bush, king of the debaters.

    posted by Ohioblog: A Swing State Journal at 11:28 AM

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