Thursday, October 14, 2004

Post Debate Observations

Wow. Post-debate analysis in the blog world is a fascinating thing. I live-blogged the thing, figuring that raw first impressions were no substitute for detailed analysis, but were fascinating in their own way. Others seem to be beating themselves this morning up for not seeing the full implications of every single point, as well as grasping the big picture while simultaneously live-blogging. That’s a pretty high standard.

Jay Reding went so far as to actually make himself watch part of the debate a second time. Geez, man! Let it go. You did fine.

I also notice a lot of people beating up on moderator Bob Schieffer, whom I thought did well. Sure some of the questions were a bit goofy, but to me they clearly goofed both right and left. Are we perhaps unhappy about the domestic theme of the debate, and CBS in general, and projecting this onto poor Bob? This seems to make me a distinct minority, but I’m sticking by my opinion. Schieffer did just fine.

Reading some of the live-blogged shots at Schieffer it seems like a lot of the issues themselves piss some people off. But they are real issues that really do sway votes – homosexuality, religion, affirmative action, social security. Those aren’t “soft-balls” for Kerry just because you’re worried the Democrats have better canned sound bites on them. I also thought Bush seemed well prepared for these topics, and I wasn’t remotely surprised to hear them brought up (except for the flu vaccine question).

I made a post-debate comment last night that seems to hold up better than most of the others. I’ll recap it here: “I think both camps came out of tonight with all the talking points they wanted. So now it comes down to which campaign is reading the tea-leaves correctly.”

This is why I think so many on the left are convinced Kerry won, and so many on the right are convinced Bush won, and also why so many strong dissenting opinions are shooting all over the map. The real significance comes down to strategy, and debates are tactical. If you’re confident in the Bush strategy, you came away from the debate confident in your guy. Same for the Kerry side.

And if you want to focus entirely on the tactics of the debate itself, you probably came away mighty frustrated, because both candidates had areas they wanted to talk about, and others they had decided not to, and it didn't matter what the questions were. Bush was a bit better at this than Kerry, almost to the point of fault. But their styles in handling this are quite different. Kerry fills the air with empty babble which seems to be answering the question when it isn't. Bush pauses, gives a short talking point sort of on topic and then awkwardly transitions to some other topic he actually wants to talk about. Kerry sounds more pleasing to the debate tacticians, but I think the Bush camp comes away happier with his style strategically.

Incidentally, I think this is the source of so many frustrated watchers on both sides thinking their guy missed a great opportunity to hit a “home-run” on certain issues. If those “home-run” talking points didn’t align with the strategy, neither candidate wanted to swing. Bush on abortion, and Kerry on his Senate votes were good examples. If they gave those issues a nice – even winning – soundbite, that issue could dominate the post-debate campaign coverage and take them off the issues they want to focus on for the final three weeks.

You can go several places to see nice post debate round-ups. The Moderate Voice has it’s typical gigantic round-up from all political perspectives, as well as offering its own. Stones Cry Out links to some debate coverage at sites you may not see linked to many other places (and gives me a nice compliment too – thanks Rick). Jo's Attic gives a nice summary of the Patriot/NARN debate bash at the Hilton last night.

Speaking of my own live-blogging experience, I just have to say that yes, I can usually spell better than that. But no, I’m not going back to clean up the spelling. Live-blogs are rarely read in their entirety anyway. But they are pretty interesting if you take the time. Check out a few over the next couple of days.

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