No, I didn't watch the debate [sic] last night (had a meeting). I got my impressions of it from brief clips later on the cable news networks, and from articles on the web.
That's how most people are getting their impressions of these affairs. Why watch paint dry when someone else will do it for you and let you know how it peeled?
If you're interested, here's a transcript. Hat tip to HundredPercenter NewsWires.
I continue to hold that what counts in the "debates" is not specific issues stands or policy proposals, but personal impression. William Saletan of Slate summed it up in that respect better than I can:
"The closing statements confirmed the tide of the race. Kerry spoke like a man closing a deal. He recalled his service to his country, promised 'tested, strong leadership that can calm the waters of the troubled world,' and vowed to protect the nation in the tradition of FDR, JFK, and Reagan. Bush spoke like a man pleading for a second chance."
That's really what it comes down to -- not just in the "debates" but in the election itself. Yes, Kerry has a record (one he's done his best to minimize). But Bush has a record as president.
A sitting president has to run on his record.
A sitting president with a real chance of re-election refers to what a great job he's done and watches the votes roll in.
A sitting president in trouble defends his record, convinces people that he's done a great job and watches the votes roll in.
A sitting president who's not going to get a second term does what Bush has done through three "debates" now. He talks about what "hard work" it is. He talks about the problems he's "inherited." He asks for another chance. And he watches the votes roll out.
Nearly every Republipundit on the spin scene -- the obvious exception being Hugh Hewitt -- sees the writing on the wall. They know their guy's going down. Some of them are trying to put a brave face on things; others are getting frantic; most are already beginning the post-election autopsy.
Here's the key (and it's nothing I haven't already said, elsewhere if not here):
"Gimme a mulligan" doesn't work with undecided voters.
If a sitting president doesn't have someone's vote in pocket after nearly four years in office and six years on the campaign trail, it's an uphill battle.
"Do-over" doesn't get it.
Unless Bush can convince those undecided voters to ignore the nagging uncertainties of their own experience and to re-write the last four years of their own lives as an era of Bush-induced paradise, complete with 72 houris -- they are not going to vote for him. They're undecided because they have doubts; unless the doubts are erased, they're going to roll the dice, not stay the course.
Bush has all his money on the pass line -- and it looks like the shooter is about to throw craps.