The Last Debate (Thankfully!)
Only someone whose idea of a public debate is the history questions on Hollywood Squares could have found the three presidential non-debate Q&As a truly educational experience about the great issues of our time--most of which were treated in the most over-simplified manner possible, when they were treated at all. The Arizona Bush-Kerry duel was hardly an exception. Banalities, truth-shadings, and downright lies were observable from both podiums.
Bush's demeanor was markedly improved from the first debate--but he remains a repulsive and simpleminded little twit. However, it is demeanor and "feeling" that matters in coaxing a vote out of an elector in these televised affairs--one's 'Q" factor, as they see in the TV biz, is of overwhelming importance. And one should never forget the principle--enunciated by the late GOP Senator Roman Hruska during a judicial confirmation battle, in casting his vote for some dreadful Nixon-appointed dimwit--that "even the mediocre have a right to representation." Hruska's rule may be in operation in the heartland in Bush's favor. Bush's fractured English may be an embarrassment to the intelligent--but most Americans speak that way, and his linguistic ineptness reassures them, as did Eisenhower's.
Kerry scored on points, of course. But inspiration and vision were entirely lacking. This was particularly pronounced in the multiple exchanges about health care. Bush preposterously claimed that there are "no market forces involved" in the current soaring of health care costs--when it is precisely market greed and the profit motive that have been gouging the sick and driving up insurance costs. Yet, although this is an issue on which Bush is clearly quite vulnerable, Kerry kept insisting that the federal government had nothing to do with his plan, which would essentially leave those "market forces" undisturbed, simply offer more subsidies to them in different ways than Bush would. There was no ringing declaration of health care as a human right, not a privilege. No recalling of the fact that the U.S. is the sole industrialized democracy not to have a national, government-run health care system to assure care for all. No passionate defense of the role of the federal government as the social safety net of last resort...
What makes Kerry's offend-nobody, defer-to-private-enterprise health care strategy not only empty of content, but downright stupid politically, is that -- according to a national poll conducted by the Civil Society Institute and published just four weeks ago by Newsday -- two thirds of Americans favor a national, single-payer, government-run universal health care system like those in operation in Canada and the U.K. But the Corporate Democrats like Kerry are too afraid of having a "socialist" label pinned on them to take advantage of this enormous opening in public opinion by proposing a real national health care system. [For a detailed analysis of the Bush and Kerry approaches to health care--and why they are both inferior to the far more cost-effective single-payer model, see the Voters' Guide on the website of Health Care Initiatives, Inc.]
There is an old Latin injunction that says (if my memory has it right) Aduces Fortunas Juvat -- or, good fortune is to the bold. It may be that it is simply enough not to be George Bush--that has been the Kerry campaign's strategy from day one. But, if JFK loses this election, it will be because he was afraid to be bold, and thus bring fortune to his side--especially on an overriding and galvanizing pocket book issue like health care that affects everyone of every political persuasion.
Bush helped mobilize his traditional base with his comments about his campaign for the anti-gay Federal Marriage Amendment--which he prefaced with some feel-good, Boy Scout empty rhetoric about tolerance. Kerry's basic spinelessness was apparent once again when he failed to explicitly state his opposition to the FMA (even though that is his formal position on this attempt to insert discrimination into the Constitution). Lowest-common-denominator pirouettes like this one from Kerry probably keep as many voters home in disgust as they soften feelings of center-right voters toward his candidacy.
As to Iraq, David Broder, Washington's Pope of the Obvious, was, if anything, understating how little real issues have been joined in his pre-debate Washington Post column this morning, when he wrote of B & K:
"Neither of them, in the three hours they have spent together, has been anything close to candid about the difficulties facing us in Iraq. Almost all their arguments have been backward-looking....Neither of them has come close to acknowledging the realities we confront as an occupying power in an increasingly hostile country. Neither has presented a plausible plan for creating the model of a peaceful, unified and democratic Iraq they want to see. What either of them would actually do next year to alter a dynamic that is adverse to that outcome remains as uncertain as ever."
The flash polls on the Arizona event were once again divided: ABC's had it a draw, CNN's had Kerry up by 13 points. But I doubt Kerry's scoring of debate points against the twit will really move the already tightening horse-race numbers much. The handful of remaining undecided voters will either decide, on the basis of inchoate feelings, that they like the consistent imperialisms and religious demagogy of the war president they have, or that they prefer a fresh face with vague plans he can't adequately explain.
At least we won't have to sit through any more of these bi-partisan orgies of pandering and pablum-throwing masquerading as "debates."
Doug Ireland, a longtime radical journalist and media critic, runs the blog DIRELAND, where this article first appeared on October 14, 2004.
Other Articles by Doug Ireland
Face-Off in Miami