Debate No. 1. Last post I promise (okay, I promise I will try; this one is great). One reason Kerry won -- Debate Victor: Iraq's Reality.
By Richard Cohen
The Washington Post
October 3, 2004
As with his turn to religion, this president -- once he gets there -- sticks to his message. It's why he lost the debate with John Kerry.
Kerry seemed to have the better of the argument because in fact he did have the better of the argument.
To the unrebuttable charge that he initiated a foolish war and then mismanaged it, Bush could only say that being president was tough work and, oh yeah, stay the course. To the accusation that the war in Iraq diverted troops and much else from the effort to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, Bush could only say stay the course, the presidency is no gambol among the tulips and, yeah, his opponent was inconsistent and had seen the same intelligence data -- a kind of so's-your-mother rebuttal that was just plain silly. Bush, not Kerry, was the president.
Bush is right about one thing: Kerry has been inconsistent. What's more, Kerry's purported plan to end the war or, at least, lessen American involvement, is rooted in fantasy. Our European allies -- not to mention our Middle Eastern ones -- are not about to gallop to our rescue. Neither France nor Germany will allow their soldiers to die to rectify an American mistake. No sirree, John, this ain't about to happen.
What we saw the other night was one man's pitiful attempt to defend a failed policy. Nothing George Bush could say alters the facts on the ground. No repeated recitation of a fable changes the fact that Saddam Hussein was not in cahoots with Osama bin Laden and that weapons of mass destruction did not exist. These facts -- hard, awful facts -- are what emboldened Kerry and undermined Bush. The president stayed on message -- lashed to it like Ahab on the whale. It's what sank him.