Editorial: Presidential debates

Michael Pistone

After months of campaigning, indirect attacks, commercials and speeches, the two presidential candidates finally took the stage together in a debate on national security issues Thursday night. Speculation was rampant about how the debate would result; many said President George W. Bush would have a clear advantage because of his direct, simple speaking style, while Kerry would have a harder time keeping his responses to the time allotted, and thus be a less effective debater. Nothing could have been further from the truth after the end of this debate.

I for one had expected the debate to focus on harsh personal attacks. However, John Kerry came out and immediately focused on how he can run the war on terror more effectively. He observed the main problems that America is facing are the facts that we are financing 90% of the war, and suffering 90% of the casualties. He consistently discussed a summit for all of the allies for the United States to gain support and strength for our army. He also brought up the point that the war on terror was diverted inappropriately from a focus in Afghanistan to a focus in Iraq. He mentioned that in his administration, the focus would be Osama Bin-Laden.

I tend to agree with what John Kerry has said here. What is the point in attacking a terrorist who “might” have links to Al-Qaeda when actual members of Al-Qaeda including their leader, are still free? The current president has sent ten times as many troops into Iraq as are currently in Afghanistan. We have captured Saddam Hussein who “might” have links to Al-Qaeda, but again Osama Bin-Laden has not been brought to justice. Kerry quoted that “Invading Iraq in response to 9/11 would be like Franklin Roosevelt invading Mexico in response to Pearl Harbor.”

President Bush countered Kerry’s claims against his administration with attacks of his own against the Democratic presidential nominee. He claims, “You cannot change positions in this war on terror if you expect to win,” and that “As the politics change, his positions change. And that’s not how a commander in chief acts.”

To be fair, I was trying to listen to the points President Bush was trying to make, but he did not substantiate his arguments at all. He repeatedly claimed that Kerry has an inconsistent message, and that his decisions changed over the course of the war. However, he never provided examples of how Kerry did this, when Kerry did this, or what Kerry even specifically did. Furthermore, he insisted that a President must remain consistent in their stance, regardless of the results. This is akin to saying that the world must be flat because we originally thought it was flat, and even though we know it is not flat we must continue to say it is flat because that was what we said in the beginning.

Overall, most people agree that the debate was in fact won by John Kerry. Many Bush supporters submit that this is not a problem, since there are two more debates, and four of the last five presidents have lost the first debate. However, I feel this debate was critical for George Bush, as its focus was on National Security, which is the current Presidents main agenda. The fact that Bush could not win the debate on the issue, which is the most critical for his re-election, is a bad sign for Bush and a great sign for those of us looking for a new direction.