October 1st, 2004

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The Debate

I feel strangely obligated to comment on the debate but I feel like I have nothing to say that isn't obvious. The debate was characterized for me by formulaic shallowness. I expected nothing more and Bush and Kerry gave nothing more.

Everyone seems reassured that Kerry defended himself so strongly against the flip-flopper claims by being resolute and confident. Was there really any doubt that this would happen? I mean, the flip-flopper thing have been the main attack against him, and it's a stupid and specious attack. Do people actually give Bush's attack tactics so much credence that they think they might hold up to observation?

Of course Bush stumbled over words. Of course Kerry had more interesting facts. Of course Bush "talked plain". This was like watching a joint press conference or some kind of interspliced parallel viewing of campaign advertisements. There was no new data, no new revelations, no time to elaborate positions, and no real explication of substantial differences in their plans for the future (other than their different approaches to Korea).

I was annoyed, but not surprised, to hear Kerry promise to "hunt down and kill" terrorists. Kerry, like Bush, supports extra-judicial executions with impunity. Check. I mean come on. The civilized world isn't about "hunting" and "killing". At least use a euphemism like "bring to justice" that at least lets us pretend that maybe you'll attempt to give suspects a trial. If someone attends a recruiting meeting of a terrorist group to see what it's all about but doesn't actually participate in terrorism, will they be "hunted and killed"? If someone lives in a house with someone who has lent some minor logistical support to a terrorist group, will they be "hunted and killed"? How about the Reclaim the Streets protestors that the FBI has declared to be domestic terrorists, will they be "hunted and killed"? Do we not put people in jail anymore? Do we not have trials anymore?

I was surprised that the two had substantive and vaguely technical differences in their approach to North Korea. I'd have liked to hear them spend much more time actually hashing out their views on that because I'm honestly not sure which approach I agree with (6 way regional talks vs. bilateral talks). I'm not sure I'd end up liking either of their approaches but I'd like to hear more. It seems, on the face of it, to be ironic that here we have Bush pushing for an international coalition approach of negotiations and Kerry pushing for a bilateral direct approach. It seems like the opposite of their positions over how Iraq was done.

I was annoyed, but not surprised, that in this debate on foreign policy, they did not bring up any issues besides Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. What about South America? What about Venezuela and Argentina and Brazil? What about the FTAA? What about the WTO? What about Africa? There was a passing mention to Darfur but nothing in depth about the many other issues facing Africa. Maybe this was largely the fault of Lehrer and not the candidates. Just because we live in a post 9/11 world doesn't mean that the pre 9/11 issues that are of vital importance to our relationship with 90% of the world have gone away.

That either of them could be characterized as "winning" this thing is absurd. I suppose neither of them really lost. But it wasn't a real debate. It was a joint press conference. It was a head to head spin session. It served only to increase my disdain for the process of having millions of americans choose between two polished alternatives that are mutually unrepresentative of the populace. Our politicians are about as healthy for our world-view as magazine cover models are for our self-view.