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09 October 2004

Bush Versus Bush Debate : Round Two

"Mindful of the spin game, the President angles for a favorable comparison with himself

The second presidential debate was a battle between two candidates: one peevish, shaky and floundering; one aggressive, active and emotional. I speak, of course, of President George W. Bush... and President George W. Bush.

In this uneven fight, second-debate Bush defeated first-debate Bush. This, of course, is the way Bush and his handlers want the media to spin this debate—"Bush improved, therefore Bush won" —since, after all, it was a fight the President was bound to win. All he had to do was avoid kicking over his stool, shouting "No fair!" and storming off stage. (In fact, on the cable networks after the debate, Bush's surrogates happily denigrated his performance in the first debate, by way of saying how decisively they believed he won the second.)

And let's be honest—for the media, it's the most tempting angle, because it allows analysts to draw a firm conclusion without being called biased. Not to mention, it guarantees they not give Kerry a 2-0 lead going into the last debate. (Much like the TV networks during the baseball playoffs, the political media has an interest in making sure there's a decisive rubber match.)

Bush defeating himself, though, is not the same as Bush defeating Senator John Kerry. The second debate—a "town hall," with questions offered by undecided voters in St. Louis, Mo.—was a format that was supposed to play more to Bush's strengths in connecting to people. The fact that the candidates were not tethered to the podium eliminated the President's problem, from debate one, of hunching at the podium while he spoke; he had an audience to smile and wink at; and simply being able to move around the stage made him appear less physically besieged."

Full transcript of the debate at

I enjoyed this debate. It felt less staged than the first debate, more honest and a lot more direct.

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