Before I get into what the spin doctors in the media have to say, I am going to give my own critique. I will later update this critique with what the spin doctors and polls have to say.... but this next bit is all me. I will preface this by saying that I have not yet WATCHED the debates. I have taped the debates and plan on watching them this afternoon, BUT I did listen to the debates live on the radio. I point this out because of the tendency to come to different conclusions when you listen versus watch a debate - think Kennedy Nixon. I also must say that I have tried to completely avoid listening to pre-debate and post-debate analysis. I have yet to get an idea of how others have viewed the debates, this analysis is all me.
So who won the debate? I whole heartedly believe that neither candidate clearly won the debate. As I see it, Bush was better on content and was on the right side of the issues and Kerry was better on presentation and delivery.
Which is more important for a candidate, content or style, in a Presidential debate? Both! You need both to win the debate, and neither candidate clearly had both in my analysis.
Which is more important overall for America, a President who is right on the issues or is a better at delivering a flawed policy? In my eyes content is more important for the future of America, especially in a time of war; but I do not have faith in the "undecided" vote or in the "youth" vote. To the so called swing voters, I think style is as important or more important than content. How else can we explain 4 years of Clinton?
So why do I say Bush wins on Content and Kerry on delivery? Well, having listened just to the audio, Kerry seems to be delivering carefully crafted, carefully practiced answers. His tone and speed were consistent. He sounded calm, collected, and resolute. Bush's delivery wasn't nearly was well polished. It really sounded to me like Bush was shooting from the hip, giving answers off the top of his head. Bush sounded agitated at times. Some of Bush's answers sounded practiced while others sounded extemporaneous. Bush did not maintain a rhythm or tempo when speaking. Bush did not sound comfortable.
Content is a whole other matter, which I will delve into more deeply in another post. Bush wins on content because, again, Bush has been able to define Kerry's position more clearly than Kerry can. Kerry's position on Iraq can be defined as wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, but Kerry himself never said that LAST NIGHT. Bush said that this was Kerry's position about 7 times, but Kerry never once used those words last night. Kerry has said this before, but Kerry has changed positions so many times: he was for the war, then against the war, then the anti-war candidate, then he said it was the right thing to do, now he says its the wrong thing to do... Kerry has been all over the place; but time and again, Kerry is defined by Bush, not by himself and not by the Democratic Party.
When you find yourself defined by your opponent, you are destined to fail. Why else would Kerry still be trying to "introduce" himself to the American people. The left has not been able to get their version of Kerry beyond their core supporters because Bush continues to define Kerry. This is something Kerry has failed to do to Bush. Kerry has not been able to successfully define Bush or his policies to the American people. Until he figures this out, Bush will control the issues.
More importantly, Bush was able to show a better understanding of the issues. Once upon a time Bush was a candidate who couldn't pronounce the names of or recognize other important world leaders. Those days are gone. Bush was able to take Kerry to the task by saying, "I know how these people think. I deal with them all the time. I sit down with the world leaders frequently and talk to them on the phone frequently. They're not going to follow somebody who says, 'This is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time.'"
While Kerry assumes the role of the armchair quarterback, Bush IS the quarterback. While Kerry criticizes tough decisions, Bush is making those tough decisions, and Bush let the American people know this. Bush let the American people know there is a good bit of difference between a view form the sidelines and the view on the field.
I'd like to go on about this a bit more, regarding why Bush won on the issues, but I seem to be starting into sports analogies and that is always a sign that a new topic needs to be addressed. For further commentary on the debates, I plan on doing an in depth analysis of the content... so get ready to read the transcript + comments...