Debater Analyzes Final Presidential Debate
Bush and Senator Kerry met Wednesday for the third and final debate
of the 2004 presidential election. The debate, from Tempe, Ariz.,
focused exclusively on domestic issues and ranged from homeland
security and the shortage of flu vaccines to gun control, abortion
and religion. Dan Boada, a top student debater, assesses their
to read Dan's bio.
Evaluating the winner of the third 2004 presidential debate depends
on evaluating the goals of the competitors trying to "win."
Unfortunately, the realization of those goals depends more on
post-debate spin than anything else, but it's still worthwhile
to evaluate the performances themselves.
if the Kerry campaign is looking to accelerate further as a result
of this debate, it probably won't happen; his performance was
little, if at all, stronger than last Friday's, and the polls
were barely effected by that round. In terms of holding momentum
though, Senator Kerry certainly did not falter, and that should
cause the Bush camp some concern.
President Bush, for his part, made ground on several arguments
and solidified his image as clear and principled, while opening
a new front on some of Mr. Kerry's statistics that the senator
did not have time to fully cover.
The thing we can't forget though is that the debates are dubious
thermometers of the political climate; after the media reshaped
the public's image of the debates in 2000, President Bush "won"
and shot up from four to nine points in most polls, although he
lost the popular vote by half a million ballots.
The most obvious development in style was behind Senator Kerry's
podium. Earlier in the debate he was slightly personal in his
description of his Roman Catholic upbringing, his disagreements
with the archbishop and his stance on homosexuality. He opened
a completely new horizon, though, in his response to the final
question on the effect of strong women on his life. Beginning
with an open jab at his own marriage to billionaire Teresa Heinz
Kerry, he then moved to describe the death of his mother, bringing
up the "Integrity, integrity, integrity" quote he utilized
in the early campaign. Both the incipient comedy and the dramatic
personal reference were uncharacteristic of Mr. Kerry's prosecutorial
mien, and revealed a dynamic in his person that voters had never
President Bush, for his part, opened the debate with strong attacks
and empirical evidence against Senator Kerry's fiscal responsibility,
in a very Kerry-like manner. His new elaboration of Mr. Kerry's
senate voting record numbers, the over 1 trillion dollar tax gap
in the senator's plan (which Mr. Kerry never defended), and his
dichotomy of Senator Kerry's plans as either complaint lists or
unfunded "bait and switch" politics made his opening
attacks seem much like the aggressive, warranted speeches that
won the first two debates for Mr. Kerry. The fresh attack settled
down quickly though, and as the questions moved through outsourcing,
health insurance and social security, Senator Kerry moved back
onto the attack.
All things considered, the president tended to have stronger
stances and a more fitting style for the value oriented arguments:
faith, abortion, and gay marriage. The dramatic pauses and charisma
in his speeches naturally beat out Senator Kerry's formal, surgical
approach to his speeches, shown in responses on questions like
the influence of faith on his leadership. Mr. Kerry stood stronger
on policy issues such as immigration or the minimum wage, and
his capacity for summoning statistics and explaining them well
outmatched Mr. Bush's.
One of the best examples of the senator's familiarity with the
numbers is the dispute over educational Pell grants. Mr. Kerry
opened by assaulting the president for weakening the grants; Mr.
Bush responded by calling Kerry's attacks "misstatements"
and citing the 1.1 million dollar grant increase under his administration.
The senator came back strong in his rebuttal, explaining that
the reason the number of grant applicants that were accepted increased
was because the president's poor economy increased the number
of students poor enough to be eligible. Mr. Kerry went on to explain
that those receiving the grants were not getting their promised
$5,100 because of the president's cuts in funding. President Bush
never responded to this argument, and later in the debate summoned
the same 1.1 million dollar new grant number, ignoring Senator
Kerry's earlier comment. While certainly not a "knock out
punch," small clashes like this evidenced Mr. Kerry's strength
in policy issues.
the final stretch
The third presidential debate, of course, fell victim to the
one thing it could scarcely avoid: recycling. With moderator Bob
Schieffer being left with few new avenues of debate for the candidates
to explore, the candidates were siphoned into what Lynn
Elber of the Miami Herald described as "familiar answers
and edited stump speeches." Familiar sound bytes like "the
liberal senator from Massachusetts," the "global test"
(now Senator Kerry's revamped quotation, the "truth standard"),
and "1.6 million jobs lost" reminded voters of how well
our nation's candidates practiced for these performances, without
really providing them with many new reasons to make up or change
Of the three, this debate will probably have the smallest influence
on the voters, but it does mark the last 30 million viewer audience
either candidate will see until Inauguration Day. With less than
three weeks remaining before Decision 2004, the candidates left
the podium with handshakes and smiles, and the voters with a final
reiteration of what it is they will be voting for.
Daniel Boada, a senior at North Allegheny Senior High School in