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"It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and be wrong."--
Sen. John Kerry
My battery died and my WiFi spluttered, and so that should teach me not to waste resources on goofy observations. I was actually impressed with how substantial and serious the debate was. My previous comments aside, one could maintain a decent level of respect for either candidate, and still disagree with him on policy. If this was the only Bush I ever saw, I would have a lot more baseline respect for him, yet I still would have been persuaded by Kerry to deeply disagree with the President. I also think that Kerry showed a superior demeanor and command of the facts. Stripped of the ability to mock and joke, Bush's lesser command of the facts was much more obvious. If we had started the election conversation out with debates like this back in April or May, when it was clear that Kerry was the Democratic Candidate, voters have been better informed by several orders of magnitude. One of the organizers noted that they cannot force the candidates to attend debates, and I wonder to what extent Congress could at least theoretically mandate earlier and more frequent debates, even if such a mandate is politically unfeasible.
The Washington Post has a nice transcript
, though, as Eric Umansky at Slate's Today's Papers
pointed out, it's too even-handed just for the sake of being even-handed. Umansky prefers the LA Times version
, which is more informative; I have to give the WaPo massive style points for using a much better new media format, however--it's much easier to read. My key take away points on factchecking:
- Bush, as usual, overstated the case for what's going well in Afghanistan and Iraq: 10 Million people are almost certainly not properly registered to vote in Afghanistan, and 100,000 Iraqi troops are almost certainly not adaquately trained.
- Reporters jumped on Kerry for referring to the cost of the war in Iraq as $200 Billion, pointing out that as of June "only" ~$120 Billion was spent. But the difference of ~$80 Billion is almost certain to come out in the wash over the next years budget, and when I tell someone how much a car costs me, I don't just cite the downpayment, but the cash I know I will have to spend in future installments.
- As I noted earlier,I was totally taken aback at the quibbling over North Korean Bilateral talks vs. Hexilateral talks, and almost willing to give Bush some credit for having some bizarrely sophisticated thinking on the subject. It turns out I was being too generous, and everyone agrees that he has no idea what he's talking about: The Washington Post points out that Bush's much touted China wants him to engage in bilateral talks. Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo wonders if Bush knows his own policy. The LA Times also notes that Bush's claims that America worked with France, Germany, and the UK to put diplomatic pressure on Tehran's nuclear program are either incorrect or a very sudden public revelation of very secret endeavors. Since both candidates agreed that nuclear proliferation is the main security concern of the next four years, the Presidents screwing up the facts about two of its biggest fronts is pretty damning.
- Reporters also jumped on Kerry for referring to OBL as hiding in Afghanistan, when the consensus is that he's somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border. This is a bit silly, since it's one of the most ill-defined borders around. They also fault him for blaming Bush for OBL's escape from Tora Bora, saying that General Franks has taken responsiblity for the "outsourcing" of the job to Afghan War Lords. But as Bush is so fond of pointing out, he is the commander-in-chief, and for such a major operation he needs to take responsibility. Moreover, it doesn't really matter what Franks says in public and on the record. Even a cursory familiarity with the extant reporting on the subject, like articles such as Dean Lemann's work in the New Yorker or James Fallows' article in this month's Atlantic, will confirm the substance of Kerry's charge. By being overly and too quickly focused on Iraq, Bush lost sight of the real target in Afghanistan. It was a colossal error of judgement, and he must be held accountable for it in November.
Over at The Columbia Journalism Review, Campaign Desk is justifiably pleased at the flurry of fact checking. ("Indeed, after months of suggesting just this sort of thing, Campaign Desk is starting to feel like a new father. If we had any money, we'd pass out cigars.") Really, this was such a surprisingly substantial debate, it would be really wonderful if, instead of getting caught up in spin over how Bush is short and Kerry was too tan and what the pollsters are finding, the media take advantage of the sudden leap in conversationally quality, and stick to finding out the important facts.
Unsurprisingly, the best lines of Democratic Victory-Crowing I've found come from Matthew Yglesias:
"The point is -- Kerry wins. And next we get our charismatic guy (Edwards) against their evil troll."