People have been talking about Kerry's absolutely fabulous poise and his clear mastery of the material. Those things are great, no doubt, but what made this debate an ass whooping was the way he put pressure on Bush. He didn't slam him viciously, strangely enough people feel sorry for the frat boy when it's made clear what an idiot he is, maybe it's cognitive dissonance for those who stupidly voted for him, and Bush was clearly trying to portray Kerry as disrespectful. He kept repeating the weird claim that it's wrong to criticize the war in Iraq because it disrespects the soldiers, apparently making the claim that blind allegiance to all wars we might engage in is the only thing to do if one is a patriot. Taking this logic to its extreme Bush would have supported Hitler's wars in the 1930s-40s because to do otherwise would be disrespectful to the soldiers. I'm not comparing Iraq to WWII, but anyone who has use of a brain can figure out that if a war's wrong then it's just plain wrong, and not saying so is just compounding the error.
So to use a boxing metaphor, Kerry carried Bush through the debate, not slaughtering him so badly that he would get sympathy and not letting up on him so much that he couldn't score big points. I was watching with a friend and every time I shouted at the screen urging Kerry to bring up an issue he did so within a minute or two. Bush looked like a boy in there up against a man. He scrunched his face in frustration when Kerry was talking, stumbled over his words CONSTANTLY, making several statements that revealed his true character (such as informing us about how hard it was for him to sympathize with the widow of a dead soldier. I'm sure he had to spend a few hours working on his "caring" face in the mirror for that one. Dead American soldiers don't seem to bother him much, why else would he be so hell bent on producing more of them?) Kerry was calm and collected, he knew what he was talking about and what he wanted to say. Bush had been coached and it showed as he spent several seconds trying to remember back to when Karl told him what he should say and stumbled over his words until he could find the rehearsed statement. For me the laugh out loud moment of the debate was when Bush declared "I know Osama Bin Laden attacked us, I know that!" Congratulations president Moron. You know the most basic facts about the slaughter of almost 3000 people during your watch. Want a cookie, or a gold star? Only someone with a South Carolina education (AKA worse than none) could think that Bush won the debate or has the character or intellectual rigor necessary for the job of president. Frankly I'd have a hard time recommending him to manage a T.G.I. Fridays. He'd probably drink most of the liquor and pass out in the supply closet covered in rum and novelty umbrellas.
Of course that doesn't mean I'm jumping on the rpeate ludicrous optimism bandwagon just yet. I don't know how much of an impact the debates are going to have these days, undecided voters are not going to spend time actually learning stuff. It might energize the democratic base some, seeing Kerry as a strong and confident leader who seems like he could actually BE president. It was funny how Bush kept talking about how confident and sure he was while he stumbled over what he was saying, and Kerry presented things in an incredibly articulate and well-thought out manner. The press is afraid to say the obvious, which is that Bush came off like the moron he is while Kerry came off like a well-educated debate-team captain veteran who isn't afraid of anything. I still don't love Kerry, I wouldn't sleep with him, but maybe if I had a few shots of goldschlagger I'd let him feel me up in the coat room and lose my number.
Things are going to get interesting. If Karl gives Bush a good spanking, reminds him he needs to both stay on message AND sound like he has a brain in his head rather than a puppeteers hand up his ass, he could redeem himself by improving a lot in the next couple of debates. Kerry can't improve. Short of being a LITTLE stronger in his attacks there's really nothing he could have done better. Maybe a little more specificity in terms of policy, but that's a gamble because big words and complicated concepts can turn off the huge moron vote. Maybe leave that stuff on the website and mention it a few more times.
The highlight of the post-debate would have to be Bill O'Reilly's "impartial" analysis that Bush won the debate because he showed emotion and looked human, rather than Kerry who looked, you know, like he belonged up there. Fox News has already reached the point of self-parody. It should come with a laugh track.