Debates & decisions

As we go to press, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry are preparing for their third and final debate. It is conventional wisdom that Senator Kerry won the first two debates, decisively putting the president on the defensive in the first, especially on the war in Iraq, and narrowly besting him in the second, where questions were fielded from audience members rather than a single journalist. In between those two debates, Vice President Dick Cheney and Kerry runningmate Senator John Edwards also met. Polls indicated that in the vice-presidential debate the Democratic candidate also made a more favorable impression than the incumbent.

If nothing else, the debates have shown there is little love lost between Kerry and Bush, with the president struggling, and failing, to hide his resentment of, even anger at, his opponent. This was evident in the first debate, where Bush’s body language and scowling made him appear adolescent next to the controlled posture and composed demeanor of his challenger. Kerry seems to have passed the initial test of appearing presidential, at least on stage. By most measures, the Massachusetts senator was the more articulate and cogent of the two. Bush is rarely eloquent when unscripted, and he mindlessly repeated charges about Kerry’s alleged inconsistencies and “liberalism” instead of responding directly to questions. Kerry, too, resorts to canned responses, but he is more...

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