Debra J. Saunders

 Hey, I thought George W. Bush won debate No. 1, not on style but with his arguments. That's in part because I have grown used to "nucular" and the many "ums" that speckle his sentences. I have made myself accept that Bush is not Cicero, so I grin and bear Bushisms, such as "Science is important, but so's ethics." Most important, what Bush said in the first go-round worked for me, while Sen. John Kerry's remarks didn't sit well next to his record.
My verdict on debate No. 2? Again, Kerry had the better vocabulary, more fluency on the issues and a better speaking style. Still, Kerry failed to change my mind about either him or Bush. Kerry was smoother but not convincing.

 Kerry was best on health care. I don't see how he would pay for it -- he says by dumping the Bush tax cut for top income earners, but he uses that pot to pay for every rainbow. However, I do like Kerry's plan to have the government pay for catastrophic health-care costs. It would help employers, reduce the disincentive to hire more workers and reduce the burden on families struggling to absorb rising health-care costs, too.

 Kerry was clever on the Kyoto global-warming treaty. Bush invoked Kyoto, noting that "it would have cost America a lot of jobs. It's one of these deals where in order to be popular in the halls of Europe, you sign a treaty."

 Kerry was on his game. He noted Kyoto was "flawed." Then, he hit Bush for just saying goodbye to a flawed treaty rather than trying to negotiate fixes.

 Kerry always hits Bush not for what he does but how he does it. That gets old. In debate No. 2, Kerry largely dumped "wrong war," "wrong way" and "wrong time" phrases, so I have to figure someone in Camp Kerry figures those lines sound hackneyed. Like a parody, Kerry illustrates how shamelessly he will bash Bush for doing what Kerry says he would do -- only better.

 The pundits predicted Bush would not do as well talking on domestic issues. Certainly, Dubya fumbled his answer on stem cells. (As in: "Science is important, but so's ethics.")

 On the other hand, Bush gave great answers about the deficit, federal spending and the economy. Asked about his unconscionable failure not to veto a single spending bill, Bush noted, "We're at war, and I'm going to spend what it takes to win the war."

 And later: "I am not going to shortchange our troops in harm's way, and I am not going to run up taxes that will cost this economy jobs." I still think Bush should have vetoed a spending bill, but he has a point.

Debra J. Saunders

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