And they’re off: The presidential debates

Nicole Kurker-Stewart

This past Thurs., the first presidential debate occurred at the University of Miami between Senator John Kerry and President George Bush. With anywhere from 15 million to 55 million Americans watching, it is sure to be a factor, if not the deciding factor, in the presidential election this November. So crucial, in fact, was this debate, that according to Professor Alex Wellek, negotiations between the two parties were so in depth they included a 32-page document outlining every criteria of the debate from the way to shake hands to what pens and paper those who are debating would use.

Lasting exactly one and a half hours, the debate focused on foreign policy. Each side was asked a question and given two minutes to answer. The major topics discussed were the war in Iraq, the greater war on terror, Osama bin Laden, and Bush’s mistakes. Kerry claimed he could have handled the war in Iraq more successfully by waiting and building stronger alliances. Bush responded that Kerry’s stance was inconsistent and therefore would hurt the nation and the rest of the world.

Kerry raised the questioned Bush who he thought was the greater threat: Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein? He accused Bush of ignoring bin Laden, cast as the greater threat, and pursuing the war in Iraq instead. He went on to voice his opinion that the situation in Iraq was not at all connected to al Qaeda.

“[A] free Iraq will be an example to all the Middle East and will lead to a safer world,” Bush said.

Kerry’s main accusation of Bush was that he lied to the American people. He pointed out that Bush told Americans he would only turn to war as a last resort, and would exhaust all UN resolutions and build alliances first. Now, says Kerry, Bush will not own up to his mistake and acknowledge the huge mess in Iraq. Bush said that if he will not turn away now because America cannot show weakness.

In contrast, Bush’s main accusation of Kerry was that he was inconsistent. According to Bush, Kerry continually changes his stance on the war. Kerry repeatedly stated in the debate that he had a better plan than Bush for handling the mess in Iraq through building firm alliances and sending more troops over to help the cause. Bush responded that Kerry will not be able to pay for all these promises.

In closing, Bush repeated that the United States cannot show uncertainty or weakness because that will hurt the world. He promised to reform the military, which will be volunteer only, and will remain steadfast and strong in supporting our troops. He promised to stay on the offense while building alliances to fight terrorism, with a goal of freeing both Afghanistan and Iraq as an example to the rest of the world at large. Finally, Bush committed himself and the United States to the spread of freedom, and promised to keep in word.

Kerry, in his closing remarks, vowed to get the job done in Iraq and send the troops home. He said he would win peace and safety by defending America from terrorism. He said the nation is strongest when it leads a world backed by strong alliances. Kerry said the U.S. needs allies, fresh credibility and a new start.

After the debate, an online poll showed that 71% of Americans believed that John Kerry had won the debate, while 29% favored Bush as the winner.