But I Still Support Kerry

I don’t see how anybody who watched the full debate could conclude that George W. Bush won. I do, however, see how a person reading editorials or reports on the debate could conclude otherwise. Here’s my take.

Bush could not adapt to the question in front of him. His mode throughout the evening was to judge which of his soundbite fields best encompassed the question, and then rattle off those soundbites. It was embarrassing to see that he wasn’t aware of how many times he re-used stock phrases. How many times did you hear that fighting in Iraq is “hard work” to euphemistically describe American deaths? How many times did he remind us of his idea that the world is “safer without Saddam Hussein”? Rather than emphasizing, Bush’s repetition fatigued the ear and led to a natural tuning out of the same idea received once, twice, three times, four. He effectively muted himself.

Kerry, on the other hand, adapted quickly and crisply. When covering the same ground he came up with new evidence or at least a new phrase to drive a point home. He made it clear that whether or not the world is safer without Saddam Hussein is debatable and, moreover, NOT the reason we invaded Iraq. I wrote on July 12th that Bush’s cowardly reaction to the dearth of WMD is what turned me against him. When he should have said there are no weapons here so we’ll wrap up as quickly as possible and move on to the next front in the war, he instead changed the focus of the war from weapons to Saddam. By just changing the mission goal he could easily get to mission accomplished. That’s unforgivable, in my view.

Kerry did not say, but rather showed that what the Bush campaign calls “flip-flopping” is actually careful analysis. One of the criticisms of Kerry’s performance centers around his following some statements with the word “but” and then further information. For example, the Wall Street Journal editorial page calls Kerry a “but-head” and lists several instances of this. You will note, however, that the Journal does not complete Kerry’s lines of thinking. It always stops at the “but” as if that tells all there is to know about the argument. Let’s look at one.

The journal shows this:

I have nothing but respect for the British, Tony Blair, and for what they’ve been willing to do. But . . .

The implication is that the “but” leads to Kerry reversing his position and saying that in fact he doesn’t respect the British. That’s not at all the case. Here’s Kerry’s point in its entirety:

The president says that I’m denigrating these troops. I have nothing but respect for the British, Tony Blair, and for what they’ve been willing to do.

But you can’t tell me that when the most troops any other country has on the ground is Great Britain, with 8,300, and below that the four others are below 4,000, and below that, there isn’t anybody out of the hundreds, that we have a genuine coalition to get this job done.

You can’t tell me that on the day that we went into that war and it started — it was principally the United States, the America and Great Britain and one or two others. That’s it. And today, we are 90 percent of the casualties and 90 percent of the costs. And meanwhile, North Korea has got nuclear weapons. Talk about mixed messages. The president is the one that said, “We can’t allow countries to get nuclear weapons.” They have. I’ll change that.

That’s not a flip-flop, that’s a further explanation of the issue. And who’s being honest? Bush, who calls a team that’s 90 percent American a coalition, or Kerry, who honors those who are helping us but points out that the war is overwhelmingly ours to fight?

It’s not hard to isolate tidbits of speech to manipulate a speaker’s message. Why we could even apply the technique to President Bush. He said:

I understand how hard it is to commit troops. Never wanted to commit troops. When I was running — when we had the debate in 2000, never dreamt I’d be doing that. But . . .

Aha! He’s a flip-flopper. The implication is that the other side of that “but” contains a mindless reversal. But it doesn’t. Here’s the full segment:

LEHRER: Mr. President, new question. Two minutes. Does the Iraq experience make it more likely or less likely that you would take the United States into another preemptive military action?

BUSH: I would hope I never have to. I understand how hard it is to commit troops. Never wanted to commit troops. When I was running — when we had the debate in 2000, never dreamt I’d be doing that.

But the enemy attacked us, Jim, and I have a solemn duty to protect the American people, to do everything I can to protect us.

Folks, the word “but” is simply a conjunction used to connect related elements in a thought. It’s a tool of our language. It CAN signal a change in position, but does not necessarily do so. I just used the word “but” in the previous sentence. Did I change my position? No, I completed a two-part point.

This speaks to the need of all voters to get to source material whenever possible. You cannot trust the judgment of others. You can trust only your own. Therefore, watch or read the debate yourself and decide which man you’d rather have at the helm.

As for me, I feel that President Bush means well, but that he can’t see clearly through the complex issues facing America. John Kerry can.

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