1. These debates were contentious. We've only seen the first one this year, and this was the final debate from 2000, but Bush and Gore went after each other constantly. Sniping back and forth. Most of it would start with a bullshit charge from Bush, many outright lies, and Gore was clearly agitated. He would chastise Bush when it was his turn, and showed his displeasure when it wasn't. We all know now how this would come back to haunt him.
2. Gore -- Al Gore might have been the most well-prepared, intelligent guy to ever run for President. The thoroughness of his answers, the expertise he seemed to offer on every answer from farming to non-proliferation, to renewable energy, was nothing short of amazing. I still believe that he would have been a tremendous President. He was just that good--virtually a Presidential machine, a robot programmed to perfectly perform the job. I remember in 2000 knowing his resume, and sitting there being impressed with his ratttling off figures and terminology, knowing he was kicking Bush's ass and walking away with the race. But he wasn't programmed to become the President.
Gore really did lack an ability to "connect" with the audience. He was too perfect. In posture. Pronunciation. In a funny way, he he really did "know it all," and it's hard to fault him for that, but his style really wasn't good. He wasn't "robotic" in charisma, but rather, he was something worse. He was kind of off-putting, and at times even kind of a jerk. He must of been at his wit's end with Bush lying about him and issues on the stump and in the debate, because he was really kind of a dick about it at somem moments. He didn't quite make Bush sympathetic, but he often left those exchanges looking like the jerk, not Bush. I can see how it hurt him. It would never have influenced my choice, my mind was already made up, but I can see how an undecided voter in a non-incumbant election might have gone for the "other guy", even if it was George W. Bush. In fact, perhaps because it was George W. Bush.
The good news: John Kerry, for all his flaws, is not Al Gore. I think he'll be much better attacking Bush and not looking like the jerk at the same time. Kerry may have seemed like a stiff and not the best campaigner at times, but he is more smooth than Gore.
3. Bush -- It may be 20/20 hindsight, but I can see how he won. Up against Gore, he was perhaps the perfect opponent. Truly the anti-Gore. And since most people knew little about him, he wasn't too scary to take a chance on. He lied his ass off, spoke in broad, simple strokes, and hit all the right notes, plus offered voters the nice bribe of free money. In the coin flip election of 2000, it was a winning formula. Since the media wasn't going to call him on it, and Gore looked like a baby trying to do it by himself, Bush got away with it.
The good news? This isn't 2000. Kerry is challenging the incumbent Bush. Bush has a record everyone is familiar with now. He is no longer an unknown quantity. Also, I think his honeymoon with the media is ending. He was pretty widely panned after the first debate, not declared winner for simply not soiling his diaper. Exhibit A:The picture on the front of yesterday's USA Today shows the pre-debate handshake, and they choose one with a Presidential Kerry towering over a particularly pinheaded, awkward faced Bush.
But the best news is this: The George W. Bush of 2004 looks like he's undergone four years of shock treatment compared to the guy I'm watching from 2000. It's astounding how much Bush has lost off his fastball. 2000's Governor Bush is answering a question on education for two minutes off-the-cuff and in a conversational, appealiing way that I really don't think he's capable of anymore. Perhaps he's just that much better in the Town Hall format, but I don't think so. He hasn't looked this good in a while, and I don't know if they can massage it out of him again in time.
4. What Is and What Might Have Been -- During the debate, each candidate had an eerie moment of precognition... Both in response to the same question. Here's Bush's:
MEMBER OF AUDIENCE: What would make you the best candidate in office during the Middle East crisis? [Now remember, this is a Israel question. There is no other Mideast crisis in 2000.]
BUSH: I've been a leader. [huh?] I've been a person who has to set a clear vision and convince people to follow. I've got a strategy for the Middle East. [blah, blah...] A leader also understands that the United States must be strong to keep the peace. Saddam Hussein still is a threat in the Middle East. Our coalition against Saddam is unraveling. Sanctions are loosened. The man who may be developing weapons of mass destruction, we don't know because inspectors aren't in....
Don't forget, this is in the year 2000!!! And we are supposed to beleive this wasn't something thay had planned all along? It only came up after 9/11? This was before the election! It slipped right by, because who the hell cared about Saddam Hussein back then? Cheney & Co. tipped their hand early... And Gore's precog moment:
In the Congress, in the House of Representatives, I served on the House Intelligence Committee and I worked hard to learn the subject of nuclear arms control and how we can diffuse these tensions and deal with non-proliferation and deal with the problems of terrorism and these new weapons of mass destruction. Look, we're gonna face some serious new challenges in the next four years...
Too bad he wasn't the President. He likely would have read a report titled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US." with a bit more gusto. Geez, he probably would have written it.
Follow-Up -- As I typed this, the VP Debate came on, and Lieberman sure as hell didn't do Gore any favors. God he is awful. Cheney's practically upbeat next to him... A terrible choice.
It's often easy to just dismiss Bush as an idiot, and kind of wonder how the hell anybody voted for the guy. Watching this old debate has given me a little better feel for how Bush got the election close enough to steal. An it leaves me feeling a little bit better about our chances this time.