Despite problems with subject-verb agreement and a longing to give “some wood” to moderator Charlie Gibson, George Bush came out for Friday’s debate prepared, relaxed and determined not to repeat his first debate debacle. Admittedly, George Bush doesn’t possess the same debate skills and rhetorical flourish of John Kerry — perhaps owing to how they spent their years here at Yale — and at times, it showed. On issues such as the importation of Canadian drugs, health care, defending his abysmal environmental record and owning up to his mistakes, Bush failed miserably, prompting my friends — all zealous Democrats — to curse the television, and me to drown my disappointment in a certain kind of beverage.
Yet all was not lost. In foreign policy, George Bush soundly defeated John Kerry, and at moments, voters saw the Republican candidate of four years ago: charming, witty, down-to-earth and calmly self-assured. Meanwhile, Kerry’s debate strategy was to drop the names of various generals, former presidents, celebrities and politicians — Democrats and Republicans alike — all of whom agreed with him on issues ranging from chaos in Iraq to stem-cell research. The message was clear: Anybody who is anybody or knows anything is voting for John Kerry, while anybody who votes for George Bush is either ignorant or insane. If you’re involved in politics on campus, this is likely a tactic you know well.
Though Kerry flagrantly name-dropped in that way only a lifetime Washingtonian can manage, his choice of names to drop was sometimes odd. Kerry held up Ronald Reagan as the paradigmatic president who brought together European allies to defeat Communism. The part Kerry failed to mention was that, throughout the ’80s, he voted to cut Reagan’s open-ended military spending — spending that led to the collapse of the Soviet system.
Kerry also parroted his oft-repeated myth about Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki, who told Secretary Rumsfeld that more troops would be needed for an invasion of Iraq, and noted that “they retired General Shinseki for telling him that.” Good story — too bad it’s not true. General Shinseki, in keeping with four-year rotations, was scheduled to retire long before his comments on troop levels.
In keeping with the name-dropping theme, Kerry cited Michael J. Fox to hammer home his faith in the prospects of embryonic stem-cell research. Kerry asserted that now “we have the option, which scientists tell us we do, of curing Parkinson’s, curing diabetes, curing … a paraplegic or quadriplegic or, you know, a spinal cord injury.” If only John Kerry were president and the floodgates of embryonic stem-cell research opened, Michael J. Fox would be cured. Unfortunately, this is a cruel and irresponsible lie. While adult and umbilical stem cells have yielded over 50 treatments for life-threatening diseases, embryonic stem cell research has not even brought about one. If no doctor or scientist can tell a patient with Parkinson’s or diabetes that there is now “the option” of a cure, why does John Kerry?
The debate’s discussion of foreign policy sharply delineated the choice between the two candidates. Kerry, harping on the lack of WMDs in Iraq and using his inestimable wit, claimed that President Bush has “turned his campaign into a weapon of mass deception.” Not only was the president deceived into believing that WMDs existed; so was the CIA, British MI5, Russian intelligence, Hans Blix and John Kerry himself. Unsurprisingly, in light of the overwhelming evidence, John Kerry labeled Saddam “a grave threat” and gave the president the authority for war. Two years later, it seems that Sen. Kerry still hasn’t made up his mind. Ninety minutes revealed his consistent inconsistency on the issue: “Well, let me tell you straight up: I’ve never changed my mind about Iraq. I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat. I always believed he was a threat.” And then, speaking about Iran: “And what’s interesting is, it’s a threat that has grown while the president has been preoccupied with Iraq, where there wasn’t a threat.” On whether Saddam would still be in power if Kerry were president, the Senator responded in typical fashion: “Not necessarily.”
Overall, John Kerry made some bold promises in Friday’s debate: that the government would balance the budget while increasing spending and maintaining tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans; that he would build “a true global coalition”; and that he could successfully finish the job in Iraq.
I suspect that the American people know better. They know that the math doesn’t add up. They know that Germany and France are beholden to domestic politics and former contracts with Saddam Hussein. They know that Iraq is destined to fail under the leadership of someone who claims the whole enterprise was a “mistake.” They know that George W. Bush may not possess the rhetorical talent of John Kerry. They also know who they’re voting for.
Keith Urbahn is a junior in Saybrook College.