WASHINGTON—Contrary to all the press predictions, John Kerry easily overcame George Bush in Thursday night’s debate, taking the attack from the very beginning and never once losing control. It was a knockout—with Bush going down almost immediately and never getting back on his feet. The president appeared confused, left to mumble aloud on the subject of Iraq, “It’s incredibly hard work.”
In debating terms, Kerry controlled the floor from start to finish with one rapid fire attack after another. Bush never was able to break through. His famous frat-boy disdain was reduced to goofiness. Kerry made him look by turns ignorant,
deceitful, churlish, and just plain out of it.
Bush tried to use his campaign’s flip-flop line against Kerry, but it went nowhere. Kerry had such a clear control of facts and argument that the charge fell almost immediately, a spent and useless weapon.
Sometimes the president looked like he didn’t know what Kerry was talking about. Bush would shrug his shoulders, try one of his little sneers, or chime in with “That’s absurd” or “I don’t appreciate the candidate saying” such and such. Time and again he reverted to his punch-drunk line that “it’s incredibly hard work. . . . We’re making progress.”
The president went for the slime almost from the beginning. In answer to a question from moderator Jim Lehrer as to whether Kerry’s election would increase the chance of a terrorist attack, Bush did his little frat-boy twitch and smugly said, “I don’t believe it’s going to happen,” meaning that Kerry would never be elected and distinctly leaving the impression he thought we would be more open to attack if Kerry were elected.
Tonight Bush repeated much that he has said before: That 75 percent of all Al Qaeda leaders are in prison, that we are winning the war in Iraq, and that there are hopeful signs in Afghanistan, where 10 million people are registered to vote. The capture of Saddam had made America safer. To which Kerry responded by ticking off the rising U.S. casualties, our inability to gain control of the security situation in Iraq, and the global spread of Al Qaeda.
Kerry said again that Bush had Osama bin Laden penned up, but instead of sending skilled American troops to get him, Bush turned the fight over to warlords who had been on the opposite side only days before, letting Osama escape. Kerry said Afghanistan was a disaster, with more Americans being killed every month and opium
Kerry argued Bush had invaded with no plan to win the peace, said his administration would make it clear the U.S. has no long-term designs on Iraq, and declared he would use a pre-emptive strike only as a last resort after international negotiations had failed.