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Friday, September 17, 2004

Who's going to win the U.S. presidential debates - Kerry or Bush?

Will the Eye Opener come right out and say that John Kerry will whip George Bush Jr. in this fall's Presidential debates? No. Bush has never lost a debate since he won the governorship of Texas in 1994. Will the Eye Opener bet Bush will beat Kerry? No, Kerry has never lost a debate since he got into politics.

Bush and Kerry will debate for 90 minutes on September 30, October 8 and October 13 (click here for more details) . Vice-President Cheney and Senator John Edwards will debate on October 5 we don't know who's going to win that one either - Edwards looks charismatic but slick; Cheney looks shy and quiet but solid.

The Commission on Presidential Debates doesn't run the debates by the normal rules of debate (click here for more details). If they did, Kerry would win hands down. When Kerry went to Ivy League Yale University, Kerry captained the Yale debating team, won every debate (Bush also went to Yale but didn't debate there). Yale's debating coach Rollin Osterweis described Kerry as " ... one of the greatest debaters ever to come to Yale." His classmates elected him class orator. Kerry looks smart and knows what he is talking about. Fast on his feet, Kerry loves a fight, loves surprises; has only been rattled once (he did "freeze" once at Yale but even Winston Churchill once "froze" in the British House of Commons). And Kerry has lots of guts - on one British vacation, Kerry mounted a soap box at London's famous Speaker's Corner mixed it up with heckling anti-American English peaceniks and bested them. Bush is six feet tall but Kerry looks much taller than Bush (everything else being equal voters vote for a tall man or woman over a short one).

Bush looks as stunned as a puzzled chimp. Some political watchers claim Bush is just putting on a Texas hayseed act. Others claim Bush is as stunned as a puzzled chimp. But don't count Bush out - he follows orders and he works hard at following orders. Bush does exactly what his chief spin-doctor, Karl Rove (for more about Karl Rove, click here) tells him to do. And Bush spends long, long hours memorizing his marching orders. We can imagine the two of them practicing:

Rove: "George, if Kerry or Lehrer (September 30 moderator, Jim Lehrer) asks you a question - ignore it. Stick to the script we spent three days memorizing. Repeat the script George, now."
Bush: "O.K. Karl. One - I'm compassionate. Two - I'm a family man. Three - I'm tough."
Rove:"Perfect, George. Now let's pretend. Kerry asks: 'How come you didn't fight in Viet Nam, Mr. President?' What do you answer Georgie Boy?"
Bush: furrowing his brow monkey-like, hesitating: "I'm compassionate?"
Rove: "Ya got it George."
Rove calls this technique "staying on message". Rove inserts the Energizer battery, Energizer bunny Bush goes and goes and goes. Rove writes the message, Bush memorizes it, repeats it, repeats it, repeats it. By making Bush "stay on message", Rove beat then Texas Governor and top debater, Ann Richards (she coined Bush's nickname "Shrub") in the 1994 Texas Gubernatorial Debate.
Richards:"You've failed at every business you've ever tried. You've bankrupted three oil companies. Mr. Bush, how do you think you could ever run the State of Texas?"
Bush, furrowing his brow: "I think this is a diversion away from the issues that face Texas. I want to talk about: One - welfare. Two - education. Three - teenage crime."
No one called Bush to task. The debate's moderator didn't call him; Ann Richards did not call him. And since neither the moderator nor Richards called Bush out, Texan TV viewers thought Bush's answers were O.K. And Bush won the election.

In a real debate, the Texas moderator would have jumped on Bush right quick - debaters are required to stick to topic - "Get to the point" - "Cut out the B.S." - "Answer the question". If the moderator had made Bush stick to the rules of debate, most of that Texas TV audience would not have voted for Bush. If, in the September 30 debate, moderator Jim Lehrer (Charles Gibson of ABC's Good Morning America is the moderator of the October 8 debate; CBS's Bob Scheiffer is the October 13 moderator) has the guts to jump on Bush, insist that he answer questions and stick to issues, Kerry will beat Bush. But Canadians who watched our leadership debate last June remember how Anna Maria Tremonti let a constantly interrupting (the rules of debate don't permit interruptions when someone else is talking) Bantam Jack Layton kill that debate. If the moderator is weak, Kerry must have the guts to aggressively shame the moderator into sticking to the rules. If Kerry has those kind of guts, he will beat Bush.



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