That very morning a Las Vegas television station broke the news the RNC funded Voters Outreach of America was under investigation by the FBI in Vegas, in Reno, and even in the State of Oregon for massive voter registration fraud. By game time the news was flashing across the country, things looked rough in Mudville. George Bush needed to come out swinging for the fences in the final presidential debate. He managed to provide his “armies of compassion” with his strongest at bat so far, but it was well short of a homerun. Unfortunately for the home team, Bush’s best swings seemed to be devoted to batting his microphone around.
Oh there were some improvements to be sure. A near realistic smile had been surgically grafted onto the president’s face and the seams were barely showing, though not quite taut enough to keep Dubya from lapsing into his trademark smirk. And, he only choked on his water once, when trying to retort to Kerry’s most cogent explanation yet of his health care plan. But then Bush attempted to leap frog over his podium hastening to answer moderator Bob Schieffer’s question on abortion before it got asked. And he learned a page or two from Cheney’s playbook: when it’s question about a topic you don’t have a winning cliché for, it’s best to just shut up. An insight he used when explaining why he let the assault weapons ban lapse, why he doesn’t like affirmative action, raising the minimum wage and whether or not homosexuality is a matter of choice.
But, of course, there was still plenty of the Bush’s patented knee-slapper doublespeak, though nothing quite as hilarious as his debate #2 reiteration of his environmental debacle as if it were a record. (“Healthy Forests?” “Clear Skies?” Oh stop Mr. Bush, you’re killing me.) But seriously, there’s the point in the evening when he claimed to encourage marriage, supposedly just so long as those aren’t gay marriages. He then capped the paragraph by boasting he didn’t tell citizens how to live their lives. One can only suppose he meant after they’d signed their loyalty oaths. Or, how about when he called for “unbundling government contracts” while talking about Affirmative Action? You can bet Cheney’s pacemaker skipped a beat on that one. Or the more than once Bush called Americans, “Armies of Compassion.” One can only imagine that that must be the exact adjective the Iraqis use for our armies, everyday.
He did learn to stop humiliating himself with talk of a grand coalition in Iraq (perhaps the Moroccan government decided they needed their monkeys back), though he couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth on the issue of Osama bin Laden. In perhaps the most jaw-dropping rebuttal of the evening, Bush attempted a bald faced prevarication by denying that during the run-up to the Iraq invasion he said he not only didn’t know where Osama bin Laden was, he wasn’t thinking about him and wasn’t that concerned. But of course anyone can look it up in his March 2003 CNN interview with Kelly Wallace.
He also attempted to lie, er, excuse me, equivocate his way out of the middle class fallout from his tax cuts by claiming most of the cuts went to middle and lower classes though anyone who looked at the August Congressional Budget Office report could have told him otherwise. Between that little tax thing, a social security plan Kerry called an “invitation to disaster” and Bush’s trillion dollar deficits it’s no wonder Kerry eventually noted that, "being lectured by the president on fiscal responsibility is a little bit like Tony Soprano talking to me about law and order in this country."
Most interesting of all was Bush’s attempt to wear out his brand new catch-phrase, ‘but let’s talk more about education.’ Throughout the debate Bush returned to the issue seven times, with predictably diminishing returns. At one point the president was even scrabbling to call “No Child Left Behind” a jobs bill, further proving liberals assertion that NCLB can be called almost anything but a success. As a recent Stanford University study of students in fifteen states concluded, "no consistent pattern of gains in children's reading skills can yet be detected" due to NCLB. No wonder when Kerry tried to get Bush to explain why he cut funding for after school, Bush was oddly silent.
Perhaps he was remembering his earlier ed retort about the problem of kids who just get shuffled through school and wondering how many of us in the audience were thinking we were watching one such kid, all grown up and striking out.
Mikel Weisser teaches social studies and poetry on the West Coast of Arizona. He can be reached at: email@example.com
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