George’s W. Bush’s real face is starting to peek out from behind the mask. He’s got a mean streak, like a lot of good ol’ boys, and doesn’t like it when people disagree with him. Kerry makes him mad, questions from the audience make him mad, and even the moderator Charlie Gibson makes him mad.
He’s been asked the same question several times by now, and is still unaware of having made a single mistake during the last four years. This isn’t really the guy whose finger you want on the nuclear trigger.
“What’s this — the swimsuit competition part?” asked my son when he saw Bush strutting around in front of the cameras. Bush’s confrontational body language is familiar to anyone who’s ever encountered an ex-con who rehabbed with Jesus and picked up the street-preacher game. Intimidating “damned sinners” is a big part of their new operation, and they are not required to suppress their meanness in the slightest.
Contentwise, Bush’s performance was mostly misrepresentations and demagoguery. There were some questions about Kerry’s plans which might have been reasonable, if they hadn’t come from the worst American President since the Civil War. (Bush is not really in a position to lecture about fiscal conservativism, for example.)
Bush still has to perform one more time, and he doesn’t have a lot of options left. My guess is that in the next debate he will up the ante, go even more negative, and look even less Presidential. (The pre-spin should give us some warning).
Increasingly it’s starting to look as if the Bush strategists plan to rely entirely on Bush’s demented core constituency, voter suppression, and Diebold. I hope that we’re better prepared for the post-election fight this time than we were last time.
P.S. The Bush flacks choreographed an elaborate post-debate victory dance:
“They high-fived, slapped backs and flashed grins at a roomful of reporters, who
were still busy decoding a flurry of arguments over tax cuts, health care and
The Bush team believes that reporters are weak-minded people who might be influenced by that kind of thing. They’re probably right about some of them, though the reviews of Bush’s Missouri performance haven’t been all that great. Republicans have been reduced to claiming that Bush won because he wasn’t as bad as he was last time, or that Bush won because the Missouri debate was “a draw” (which it wasn’t).
The six (!) Newsweek writers who produced this 1100-word piece play on both sides in a nice, postmodern way. They let you know that the Republicans were shovelling out cheesy BS, and they warn you that there’s more to come, but their headline (perhaps written by a seventh person, possibly Karl Rove) just relays the Republican line:
“Bush limped into St. Louis, but bounded back out—confident that his debate
performance left the race dead even.”
Bush lost the debate and looked sort of scary, but that’s not the script these guys were working on.