What do you want to achieve in a presidential debate? You want to hammer home your campaign themes. You want to put your opponent on the defensive. You want to sell yourself personally. And you want to avoid a gaffe or a damaging sound bite. Bush did all four in Wednesday night's third and final nationally televised debate with John Kerry. It was his best debate performance ever and that includes his three debates with Al Gore in 2000. As a result, it may have won Bush a second White House term.It may have done so (though I doubt it). But professional pundits should pull their pants up and make a prediction. I can tell you that it may have done this-or-that. Earn your money, Freddy.
For the ultimate indulgence in partisan post-debate self-delusion, here's Noam Scheiber with the opposite fantasy, that Kerry kicked ass . . . yet again:
I've never thought the chances of John Kerry winning this fall were very good, since it's become clear these last four years that George W. Bush and his advisers are more cynical and ruthless than pretty much any group of politicos in the country's history. [Uh, Noam, ever heard of Lyndon F*cking Johnson?] I figured that even if the race got close--or, God forbid, Kerry surged to a late lead--Rove et al. would pull some dirty trick and that would be that. This may still happen--the forthcoming anti-Kerry "documentary" being exhibit A in this brief. But, after last night, I'm not sure it matters. Kerry won so decisively I don't see many ways for Bush to recover.Well, at least he's taking a stand. That said, both Johnson and Nixon were scorched-earthers to make Bush and his team look like a knitting circle. Scheiber must live in a pretty typical "Evil Republicans" fantasy world. How else can he point the finger at Dirty George with both Kerry and Edwards taking every opportunity to remind the world that, ahem, you know, not to put too fine a point on it, but . . . Dick Cheney's kid is a kiss-curl bulldyke, wink wink. This dirty trick is, of course, not mentioned at all at TNR -- the point being that if you bring it up, you must think there is something shameful about being queer. (Lizzie "Nearsighted from Watching the Krispy Kreme Sign" Edwards said as much about the Cheneys themselves.) Like it or not, there are a lot of people in the country who are still uncomfortable with homosexuality. Kerry knows it, Edwards knows it, and they are just, er, tickled pink to spend lots of time "complimenting" the Cheneys on their daughter.
Update: Even TNR's own Pete Beinart was unequivocal, calling Kerry's comment "a cheap shot" while talking to Hugh Hewitt. (Afraid to put it in an editorial, Petey? Might hurt John-John's chances.) Plus Hugh's got Mary Beth Cahill on record calling Ms. Cheney "fair game." That's a hunting metaphor. It means you can shoot at her. Which Kerry did. Watch her try to weasel out of that one.