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  • Ohioblog: A Swing State Journal

    Sunday, September 26, 2004

    The debates of our lifetime 

    Ohio voters and those elsewhere don't want talk about a better America. They want to make one.

    This week, however, talk is what the two presidential candidates have to offer as they begin under odd circumstances a series of three debates. President Bush, who can be dismayingly inarticulate, doesn't lose debates. He simply doesn't. He whipped Ann Richards. He whipped Al Gore. And by all rights, he'll whip John Kerry.

    This man who has trouble with his native (and very own) tongue is nonetheless a helluva talker.

    The president can talk in soundbites. Challenger John Kerry talks in sound mouthfuls. The president can stay on message. John Kerry can become lost in the verbal wilderness. The president can make the audience like him even when it doesn't
    like the things he is saying. This is John Kerry's last stand.

    Count on an aggressive Kerry who is in command of the minutest details of policy. That's what Texas Gov. Richards and Vice President Gore had going for them, too, points out David Von Drehle of the Washington Post.

    The Commission on Presidential Debates has been unable to reach final agreement with the two campaign camps for Thursday's first debate on foreign policy. ABC News has said a senior commission official puts the blame squarely on the Bush campaign. Don't worry. W will show up. The one sure way he can lose the debate, and perhaps the election, is not to debate.

    Debates are not supposed to matter. We remember gaffes and signs, sweat shining through five-o'clock-shadows and bullying. None of this changes an election's outcome, the empirical data suggest.

    Robert V. Friedenberg, a Miami University professor of communications who has worked as a speechwriter for many Republican candidates, explained to The Cincinnati Enquirer's Greg Korte why debates don't affect elections.

    ``One of the principal effects of political debates,'' Friedenberg said, ``is they tend to reinforce existing attitudes. Bush supporters and kerry supporters are likely to see in the performance of their candidate what they want to see.''

    So that brings us back to the small percentage of undecided voters in this most polarized of elections. Bush will try to win them with his daunting self-confidence, a man sure of the course he has chartered for a country to which polls attribute more ambivalence. Kerry will counter as the classically trained debater he showed himself to be in a 1996 Senate campaign showdown against Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld. Kerry may have learned to debate in prep school and at Yale but he learned to fight in tougher environs, including during his unfairly criticized Vietnam service.

    If they weren't so important to the course of the nation, the debates might even be considered great entertainment.

    - Steve Love

    posted by Ohioblog: A Swing State Journal at 1:32 PM

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