The real debate, of course, took place across the street ... but the media isn't likely to tell us much about what Michael Badnarik and David Cobb had to say. The "debate" between George W. Bush and John F. Kerry was essentially a 90-minute, multi-million dollar, prime time campaign donation by the Presidential Debates Commission and the media to the Bush and Kerry campaigns.
In any case, here's the full transcript of the "debate" ...
... and here's my opinion.
First, I'd be lying if I said I don't have a dog in this hunt.
Yes, I am supporting Michael Badnarik's candidacy (as a matter of fact, I'm a member of his staff). I'll be proudly voting for Badnarik in November. He's plainly the best candidate.
However, I do think that it's important that George W. Bush be removed from office. Not because I think that Kerry is "better," but because an example has to be made. Bush has displayed such incompetence as Commander in Chief, such contempt for the Constitution and such flagrant dishonesty that to not replace him would tell his successors "you can get away with this, too."
This evaluation, of course, may color my judgment. Please take that into account.
I watched the debate, and the post-analysis, on Fox (I generally watch Fox, specifically in order to get a more pro-Bush perspective). When Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard opine that Kerry didn't lose the debate, it's fair to interpret it as meaning that Kerry won the debate. That's my conclusion, too.
As I see it, John Kerry came off as confident, statesmanlike, competent and presidential -- while Bush seemed shrill, defensive, pleading and very much aware that he's going to be spending a lot of time organizing his memoirs and planning his presidential library after next January.
The policy differences between the candidates were actually quite minor.
Kerry emphasized the need for international support, while Bush emphasized the need for a president who is willing to act unilaterally if necessary in America's interest (while trying to put the best face possible on his failure to assemble any genuine coalition).
Kerry held that Bush hadn't taken diplomacy far enough, while Bush held that he'd taken it as far as it could go before acting.
Bush held that Kerry is a flip-flopper (without saying the word) and Kerry held that Bush is a liar (without saying the word). Kerry defended himself better against the former accusation than Bush did against the latter.
But on overall policy, neither indicated any intention of a quick withdrawal from Iraq. Kerry thinks the invasion was a mistake, but a done deal that has to be followed through on. Bush thinks it was a necessary thing and a wise decision that has to be followed through on.
In the end, it all came down to looking at the two guys on stage and asking yourself "which one of these idiots do I want in charge?" The correct answer is "neither one of them." The realistic answer is that we're going to get one of them -- and I'd rather have Kerry and a Republican Congress than Bush and a Congress of either party.