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October 3, 2004

everything's relative

I've been trying to figure out why my perception of last Thursday's debate was not especially favorable to John Kerry, when various polls and focus groups have consistently declared him the winner. Note also that the big liberal bloggers were lukewarm about Kerry's performance on Thursday night, but they have become more bullish since reading the polls. I suspect that the debate appeared very differently to people with different baseline assumptions about the candidates:

  • Regardless of your politics, if you're pretty well informed, then you have heard it said that John Kerry is a competent and experienced national politician, whereas George W. Bush, despite having some strengths as a leader, is often inarticulate and not terribly thoughtful. You have also heard the standard arguments against the Iraq war: namely, that Saddam didn't have anything to do with the attack on Sept. 11, nor did he possess weapons of mass destruction, so the invasion was optional and dangerous. Whether or not you agree with these points, you are aware of them. Therefore, you were expecting John Kerry to make these arguments, and to make them reasonably well. Measured by that standard, he performed no better than expected, although not worse either.

  • On the other hand, if you have been barraged by ads and news stories asserting that John Kerry is a prize waffler and flip-flopper; you don't know much about his actual record; you still confuse Saddam with Osama; and you're under the impression that our president is always cool and forceful under fire, then the debate may have been something of a revelation. Simply because he could stand next to the president and speak directly to the audience for 90 minutes, John Kerry proved that the caricatures of him are grossly exaggerated. Thus the debate may have been a big success for Kerry because the attacks of the Bush campaign had created unrealistically low expectations for the Democrat.
  • October 3, 2004 11:04 AM | category: none


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