The Third 2004 Presidential Debate

My apologies for taking 24 hours to get this analysis done and posted—the universe has conspired against me.

Part of it too was that the debate did not present much in the way of new things to talk about. Both candidates seemed pretty much in the same style as the 2nd debate, both threw around half-gibberish numbers, they poked at one another and criticized one another and generally stayed away from anything substantive or unexpected.

Kerry seemed tired, or perhaps slightly ill. His performance did not suffer significantly as a result, but he did seem a little off and/or slightly groggy. I can’t blame him, I was admittedly a little groggy watching the debate myself.

Bush, on the other hand, was almost excessively exuberant at times. While he did a pretty good job verbally (well . . . as good a job as he ever does when speaking English), he seemed far too apt to slam his hand on the podium. Perhaps he was trying to appear sure and energetic, but to me it seemed childish . . . like a temper tantrum.

I am not a fan of the format used in the first and third debates. It’s too bland and uninteresting. The candidates have too much of an opportunity to repeat the catchy lines and accusatory percentages that they hone in their stump speeches and not enough time to . . . well . . . debate. Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this campaign is both candidates’ reluctance to go out on a limb and be daring. To me, this says that they’re both insecure about their respective platforms.

Kerry strikes me as bipolar. What I mean by this is that he can be a pit-bull when talking about job losses and the war in Iraq—sometimes he really went for Bush’s jugular—but he rarely (if ever) utilized his rebuttal time to set Bush’s exaggerated numbers straight. The president and the Republicans keep bantering about the greatly-inflated number of times that Kerry has voted for tax increases, for example. Kerry should set that straight every time he hears it. Because he never did, the 90-something number sticks in our voting brains uncontested.

I have to admit that there were a lot of good questions posed by moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News—tough ones about gay marriage, the makeup of the Supreme Court, and how much control the president has over jobs (right answer: very little). But both candidates failed the answer with anything groundbreaking or new. That was a disappointment.

The last question was slightly bizarre—”All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We’re all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud. I’d like to ask each of you, what is the most important thing you’ve learned from these strong women?” Both candidates, however, gave good, humorous answers that showed us a little of what’s inside these men’s heads when they’re not discussing policy or badmouthing one another.

Both candidates also closed with strong, emotive closing statements (these are usually decent, possibly because they’re rehearsed and the candidates don’t have to think).

All in all, it was an acceptable debate . . . but I didn’t learn anything new about either candidate. I did learn, however, that it’s a bad idea to let the candidates pick the debate styles—they’ll pick the least informative, least difficult, and least interesting methods available. I don’t watch a debate to hear a stump speech, I watch them to see a debate. I want more town-hall and less podium. I want more unscripted audience questioning and less moderator monopoly. I want more of the candidates questioning one another and less of them badmouthing one another.

I want to really learn something from a presidential debate.

Anyway, you can check out the transcript from the Commission on Presidential Debates and I’ll link you to the free iTunes download when it’s available. I hope you watch, read, or listen to all the debates and—most importantly—cast your vote on November 2.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.