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October 14, 2004
Final Thoughts On The Debate

The early spin is in, folks, and the MSM has decided to crown John Kerry the winner of the third debate -- a conclusion they must have reached before air time, because the grim and stumbling performance that Kerry gave was easily the worst of the three debates thus far. CNN attempted to ensure that spin by having paid Kerry advisor and paid CNN consultant Paul Begala give his commentary on the night's events. (So much for the non-partisan, objective Old Media.)

Ironically, in an election where the Democrat has fallen behind with women, Kerry's post-debate troubles will be on two talking points about women: Mary Cheney and his answer to Bob Schieffer's "strong women" question. Lynne Cheney came out swinging after the second time the Kerry/Edwards ticket has used her lesbian daughter as a debate prop:

Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Cheney, accused John F. Kerry on Wednesday night of "a cheap and tawdry political trick" and said he "is not a good man" after he brought up their daughter's homosexuality at the final presidential debate.

Mary Cheney, one of the vice president's two daughters and an official of the Bush-Cheney campaign, has been open about her lesbian status. The candidates were asked if they believe homosexuality is a choice, and President Bush did not mention Mary Cheney. Then Kerry said, "If you were to talk to Dick Cheney's daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she's being who she was, she's being who she was born as."

Lynne Cheney issued her post-debate rebuke to a cheering crowd outside Pittsburgh. "The only thing I can conclude is he is not a good man. I'm speaking as a mom," she said. "What a cheap and tawdry political trick."

Bush not only didn't mention Mary Cheney, he told Schieffer he didn't know about whether gays and lesbians were born to their orientation or not, but that they should be treated with respect and dignity regardless. Nor did Kerry's answer or stated policies differ in how to treat gays and lesbians, as he endorsed Bush's position on marriage. Bringing up Mary Cheney serves only one purpose -- to try to embarass the Cheney family, an odd thing to do for someone who purports to sympathize with gays and lesbians.

It would be equivalent to Bush using Julia Thorne, Kerry's ex-wife, to refute Kerry's insistence that he is a practicing Catholic and that Kerry respects families. If Bush were to bring up Kerry's annulment -- another interesting parallel to his Massachusetts mentor -- he would rightly be blasted by Democrats as a nosy busybody engaging in smear tactics. Why are Democrats so silent now, and why do people like Steve Fisher from the Human Rights Campaign (a gay activist group) rationalize the objectification of Mary Cheney?

The second stumble that sealed Kerry's lousy performance came on an unimaginably easy softball specifically designed for Kerry to broaden his appeal to women. Schieffer tossed this grapefruit for Kerry to wax emotional about his love for strong women, and he whiffed it:

SCHIEFFER: We've come, gentlemen, to our last question. And it occurred to me as I came to this debate tonight that the three of us share something. All three of us are surrounded by very strong women. We're all married to strong women. Each of us have two daughters that make us very proud.

I'd like to ask each of you, what is the most important thing you've learned from these strong women? ...

KERRY: Well, I guess the president and you and I are three examples of lucky people who married up. (LAUGHTER) And some would say maybe me moreso than others. (LAUGHTER) But I can take it. (LAUGHTER)

Can I say, if I could just say a word about a woman that you didn't ask about, but my mom passed away a couple years ago, just before I was deciding to run. And she was in the hospital, and I went in to talk to her and tell her what I was thinking of doing.

And she looked at me from her hospital bed and she just looked at me and she said, "Remember: integrity, integrity, integrity." Those are the three words that she left me with.

And my daughters and my wife are people who just are filled with that sense of what's right, what's wrong.

They also kick me around. They keep me honest. They don't let me get away with anything. I can sometimes take myself too seriously. They surely don't let me do that.

And I'm blessed, as I think the president is blessed, as I said last time. I've watched him with the first lady, who I admire a great deal, and his daughters. He's a great father. And I think we're both very lucky.

Take another read on his response -- no names, no mention of love or trust ... just how they keep him honest, as if that was their entire purpose in life. He talked about his mother on her deathbed, and rather than talk about her life and how her outlook shaped his (which he's spoken of before, and compellingly), he instead told an insipid story about how she gave him campaign advice while she was dying. "Integrity, integrity, integrity"? As a number of people have already commented last night, why would his own mother feel the need to give him that advice as her valediction to her own son?

Truly awful. And watching it was even worse, because as I wrote at the time, he stumbled over the entire response, even though he answered after Bush on this question. It came across as cold, lecturing, and frankly, rather strange.

A couple of other eyebrow-raising points, too. Kerry attempted to blame Bush for all of the poisonous partisanship in Washington DC, while Bush mentioned that quite a bit of it existed prior to his arrival, helped in no small part by idealogues like Kerry. But this passage by Kerry was too off-the-wall to be spontaneous:

And I think the hug Tom Daschle gave him at that moment was about as genuine a sense of there being no Democrats, no Republicans, we were all just Americans. That's where we were.

That's not where we are today.

That might be news to the people of South Dakota, who have watched Tom Daschle hug, squeeze, kiss, and worship George Bush during his re-election bid. South Dakotans are overwhelmingly pro-Bush; he carried the state by 22 points in 2000 and will likely win by a similar marging next month. Daschle faces the challenge of his career against John Thune and has done everything but post W signs at his campaign events to shake Thune off. Bush isn't the problem -- it's the hypocrites like Daschle that obstruct Bush's Constitutional authority by using unprecedented filibusters and then run home and pretend he's Bush's best buddy.

On faith, Kerry again slipped into lecture mode when given the opportunity to humanize himself, in contrast to Bush who spoke at length about the personal value his faith gives him:

Well, I respect everything that the president has said and certainly respect his faith. I think it's important and I share it. I think that he just said that freedom is a gift from the Almighty.

Everything is a gift from the Almighty. And as I measure the words of the Bible -- and we all do; different people measure different things -- the Koran, the Torah, or, you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a higher being. And people all find their ways to express it.

I was taught -- I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.

We have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America. There's one for the people who have, and there's one for the people who don't have. And we're struggling with that today.

And the president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith. I talked about it earlier when I talked about the works and faith without works being dead.

I think we've got a lot more work to do. And as president, I will always respect everybody's right to practice religion as they choose -- or not to practice -- because that's part of America.

It's worse than a non-answer. It's an interminable lecture, and the puzzlement is why Kerry kept whiffing the softballs. He showed himself incapable of connecting in a human way to the audience yet again, taking a golden opportunity and instead droning on about guaranteeing freedom of worship as president, as if we have a problem with that now.

The media may spin to its heart's content today and maybe tomorrow. However, the multiple stumbles and humorlessness that Kerry provided in last night's debate will start seeping through the media fog shortly.

UPDATE: Talk-show host and all-around great guy Kevin McCullough has more thoughts on this as well:

When Dick Cheney gave his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention only one of his daughter's appeared with him on stage and it was not the one sited by John Kerry last night.

What's worse was not only the mere invoking of who it was but naming her name, referring to her sexual preference/inclination, and in some way trying to make himself seem sympathetic to folks watching all at the same time.

In other words, in the John Kerry's self-obsessed "John Kerryness" he can not see the forest for the trees. And this time the tree he is focused on is himself.

That's the problem with John Kerry - it is all about HIM. It's never about the people he's going to Washington to supposedly serve. If so he would have attended more votes in the Senate instead of missing 90% of them over the last two years.

Last night he allowed his obsession with his own selfish desire to win a point overshadow the appropriate boundaries of taste, compassion, and kindess.


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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 14, 2004 6:44 AM

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