But I was curious, so I made my way through a transcript over the course of Friday and this morning. I'm a couple of days behind on LJ, but I expect my friends list will be peppered with post-debate commentary. I wanted to finish the transcript before I got to those entries.
It might be nice to make up my own mind for once.
Didn't quite work out; I wound up hearing about the debate from two of my Republican friends before I finished reading the transcript. But I don't think that made a big difference in my final opinion on it.
Everyone I've spoken with says that Senator Kerry won the debate, from a rhetorical standpoint. I'm told he looked better and sounded better. That shows even in the transcript: Senator Kerry made fewer grammatical errors, and was less likely to correct his word choice. The difference between the two of them in the opening of the transcript is stark: the senator's words read like an essay, while the president's are clearly those of a man speaking.
But I do miss the experience of seeing their delivery. I wonder if I would have found Senator Kerry more persuasive if I'd seen the debate?
While reading the transcript, I took some notes on what I was thinking about what was being said. For what they're worth, here they are.
There is a part of me that agrees, very strongly, with President Bush on one thing: that Senator Kerry is making a strategic error in calling Iraq "the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time". This is independent of whether or not the statement is true, in fact. Emphasizing "it was a collossal error of judgement" is terribly demoralizing. It is a soundbite that makes you think "so we need to stop, we need to get out, we need to correct this terrible error." I don't think that Senator Kerry means that -- he says that he's committed to staying in Iraq and creating a free and peaceful nation.
But that's not the effect of those strong words. The effect is to make us feel weak when we still need to be strong, to make us want to retreat when we need to stand our ground.
I'm not sure how I feel about that, overall. I generally believe in honesty and admitting errors, so if Senator Kerry thinks he and the president made a mistake in authorizing this war, I ought to favor Senator Kerry saying as much. But in these particular circumstances, I'm very uneasy with it. I want the focus in Iraq to be "what do we do next?" not naval-gazing over whether we did the right thing. When we've won or surrendered, then we can argue over what was a mistake or not. While we're still fighting, I don't want to argue about how we got here.
But is that a fair thing for me to ask? Iraq is the central question of the current presidency. It's the most important thing that President Bush is responsible for, and if Sen. Kerry wins, it will be his largest responsibility. (I think that many other things are more important to America herself, -- the economy, civil rights, health care, etc. -- but those are not issues dominated by the presidency. Foreign policy is. Especially wartime policy.) Anyway, I'm not sure it's fair of me to say "Senator Kerry shouldn't ask this question, or make this statement, because it makes us look bad." Democracy isn't about looking good, and democracy shouldn't be shoved to one side for every conflict. Not sure how I feel about that.
I should note that I don't see an inherent contradiction in this argument. There's nothing innately wrong with him voting for the war two years ago and thinking it was a mistake now. New information emerges. Fair enough. There's nothing contradictory about thinking the war was a mistake and yet still wanting to see it through to victory, either. That's a nuanced position, and people are allowed to have nuanced positions without it making them indecisive. But I still feel in my gut that the nuanced position isn't as strong a stance to take, and that in a war, you want all the strength you can get.
Another Iraq point that Kerry made, and that I found interesting, was the notion that our soldiers aren't as well-armored or equipped as they could be. I'd like to hear more about that -- this is the first I've heard on that count.
Which leads me to something Senator Kerry does which *does* seem inconsistent to me. Through the debate, he tries to cast himself as 'the right person to support soldiers in Iraq'. Yet he also hammers on President Bush repeatedly for spending too much money on Iraq. [Fact check: that $200 billion figure he threw around was wrong. I love this fact check article. I wanna see more on that]. OK, so in the senator's version of the world, the war effort is supposed to be funded by France and Russia or something. I guess this is how he can get away with saying the president isn't sending enough support at the same time that he's saying the president is spending too much. But, personally, I don't thik the senator is going to be able to pull off a coalition to *fund* Iraq. We had UN support and a coalition going into Iraq in '90, but America still did most of the spending and most of the dying. America does most of the funding for the *UN*. Hello, we're the economic and political powerhouse of the world; we are that rich guy who doesn't deserve a tax break. If we want something done, we pay for it.
And Senator Kerry's response when President Bush brought up his no-vote on the $87 billion appropriations bill was positively cringe-worthy. "when I talked about the $87 billion, I made a mistake in how I talk about the war. But the president made a mistake in invading Iraq. Which is worse?" Again, *this* makes him come across as inconsistent, and it sure doesn't give me confidence that he truly plans to carry through on Iraq. The whole thing makes it sound like his whole plan is to get the foreign aid for Iraq, which would be nice if he can pull it off. But if he can't, what *is* he going to do?
I liked President Bush's response to "What criteria would you use to determine when to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq?" I know people are supposed to love timetables and that it seems very strategic to know when you're going to leave, and evasive to say 'when the job is done'. But 'when the job is done' is the answer I want. I don't want to hear 'in six months' [Fact check: when the president accuses his opponent of saying, "Well, get me elected, I'll have them out of there in six months", that's wrong, too] or in five years or whatever. I don't think we're to which supposed to know the time frame at this stage, and I certainly don't want us to commit to a time frame and when the time's up, declare "We won, the South Vietnmaese can take it from here."
I appear to be more pro-Bush than I realized. This is probably because so much of the debate is taken up by Iraq. At the time the war started, I was uncertain as to whether or not this was the right move. But one thing I've never doubted is that, once we went in, we were supposed to stick to it and do everything possible to make Iraq stable and free. I feel confident that President Bush shares this committment. (Wow. It feels so strange to say that: I am confident a politician agrees with me. How odd.) Anyway, I don't feel the same way about Senator Kerry. He may say now that he'll support our troops in Iraq, but the sense I get is that this means replacing them with someone else's troops. If he can't pull off his vastly increased foreign support, I don't know what he'd do. But my instincts say that he'd pull America out of Iraq if world opinion remained against an occupation -- even if Iraq was still a mess.
When Sen. Kerry is asked what he would do differently on homeland security, he spent most of his response attacking the president for what he hasn't done, which annoys me. It annoys me even more that he chooses to say President Bush isn't doing enough; no mention made of the potential for abuse in the Patriot Act, for example. I guess if I want someone worried about civil liberties, I'll need to look elsewhere.
Anyway, OK, he'll fund COPS programs and firehouses (firehouses are funded federally?) and protect nuclear and chemical plants. Not sure what proposed protections are for nuclear chemical plants; I should research that. And Sen. Kerry wants to secure the former Soviet Union's nuclear materials; bully for him, because that's certainly a job worth doing.
Not sure any of this is worth a tax increase (or "reversal of the last tax cut", if you prefer.) Nobody's gonna score any points with me talking about tax increases on "the rich". I don't like taxes, but I positively LOATHE targeted increases and cuts alike. Oh, yes, that's the problem with the current tax code -- it's too SIMPLE! Let's make it more COMPLICATED! What an improvement! *ahem*. Tangent, ignore me.
Does Kerry really favor joining the International Criminal Court? Apparently, he does favor the Kyoto treaty. Ooog, not scoring any points with me on these, either.
Oooh, they started this *really* interesting discussion on what we're doing in North Korea. Much too short. Very strange, with President Bush saying that the six-way talks including China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea were effective (are they? no idea, though it sounds like an excellent idea) while Senator Kerry thinks we should hold bilateral talks (why? not clear.) This was just long enough to get me interested without explaining anything satisfactorily. Hmph.
It's nice that they both took pains to show some personal respect for each other. Kudos to them both for that.
I'm looking forward to the next debate. Maybe I'll even watch it next time.