Thursday, October 14, 2004
...the debates, that is.
Thanks be to God, of course. My take is rather simple: Kerry won the first one, but not enough to pull ahead of Bush. This was proven by Kerry's inability to pull ahead at all in virtually all of the serious polls taken within a week after the first debate. The second debate went to Bush because he did "better than expected". The third debate also went to Bush, because he thrived in the domestic agenda thicket, Kerry's strong suit. If you ignore the media spinners, who are shilling for Kerry by and large, then out of all of this, Kerry did himself little good other than to stay in the game.
After all this, he still averages between one and three points behind Bush.
To reiterate: this is not about who was the better debater. That title goes to Kerry. Rather, it is about who was able to close the sale with the American people as a whole. I'm not sure that Bush closed the deal, but he came damn close last night. Here's why.
This is a khaki election. We are in the midst of war, and the outcome remains uncertain. In the back of everyone's mind is the eventuality of an Al Qaeda follow-up attack on the American homeland. Women are mindful of the Beslan attack, in which schoolchildren were deliberately massacred. I was reading Fort Lauderdale's liberal fishwrapper, the Sun-Sentinel yesterday, and came across a column by Kathleen Parker that had been published back in early October. She starts by quoting Aragorn of Gondor in a climactic scene from J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:
"A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day. This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"
Parker believes that this is an election between people who believe that this war is a climactic, titanic struggle between the Evil and the Good and those who believe that the struggle is manageable. Money graph:
The nation is essentially divided into two cinematic camps: (1) those who believe that America's story was best told in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, and (2) those who think Peter Jackson pretty much captured the essence of current events in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece of the same name.
In Moore/Kerry metro-blue-state world, Bush is a moron and the war on terror, especially the war in Iraq, is a tall tale told by an idiot. In Tolkien/Bush retro-red-state world, we are in a global struggle against Mordor's Orcs (radical Islam's terrorists) to save Western civilization.
Her conclusion is foreordained, even if one should agree with it:
Such is the Tolkien view and the Bush view, even if it takes a Tony Blair to articulate it clearly. Those who believe that the Orcs are hellbent on snuffing out the light of Western civilization will vote for Bush. Those who believe that we've merely stirred up a hornets' nest by taking the war to Iraq and need a more nuanced, law-enforcement approach to terror will vote for Kerry.
And so, fortified by such a column, I turn to Bevan's column at RealClearPolitics.com today. He appears to see the khaki election in the background, as do I. Here's the nub of his opinion:
But I still firmly believe this is a national security election at its core and that in order for the average middle-class voter to even get to the question of jobs and healthcare they first have to be satisfied that John Kerry will keep the country safe. I'm not convinced he's fully passed that test yet with the American people as a whole, let alone middle-class voters in Ohio and Wisconsin.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe John Kerry has made the sale on the War on Terror and national security - even though the internals of the polls don't show it. But if, over the course of nine months, a convention, three debates and tens of millions of dollars in advertising, John Kerry still truly hasn't convinced the American public he'll fight the war on terror and keep them safe, there is little reason to believe he'll be able to do it over the course of the next 18 days.
Kerry did not come close to closing the deal with the American people, either last night or in the two previous debates. He did not match Kennedy's achievement of 1960, and in an environment in which the Republican Party has matched the Democratic Party in its turnout and ground game efforts (something that Republicans simply didn't have in 1960, or in the year 2000, for that matter...), I continue to believe that Bush still holds the strategic high ground going into the last eighteen days of a long campaign.