The wrong stuff

Posted: Oct 12, 2004 12:00 AM

 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.

 At the end of the debate, a woman asked Bush to name three mistakes he has made. Nice try, lady, but Bush is not going to give Camp Kerry any more ammo. In fact, while Kerry faults Bush for not admitting his mistakes, Kerry doesn't really admit he made any. You see, the savvy senator was "misled" by Bush, so he voted for the "wrong war" at the wrong time because the wily Bush snowed him.

 A new report by intelligence analyst Charles Duelfer, which lays out that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction -- the big Bush mistake -- demands a column of its own, and I'll write on that later. Right now, I would like to return to the Kerry line on the war in Iraq. Hint: It works best for people with no memory.

 Kerry told the St. Louis crowd that he voted for the Senate resolution to authorize force in Iraq -- only after he went to talk with U.N. Security Council members. "I talked to all of them to find out how serious they were about really holding Saddam Hussein accountable. I came away convinced that if we worked at it, if we were ready to work at letting Hans Blix do his job and thoroughly go through the inspections, that if push came to shove, they'd be there with us," he said.

 This is part of the Kerry "last resort" fable about how he thought Bush would only go to war as a last resort after exhausting all U.N. venues. The problem is, before the vote, Bush had told the United Nations that the body could be either irrelevant or a real peacekeeping body and enforce its resolutions.

 The Senate resolution makes no mention of a "last resort." It was a muscular document that repeated Bush's call that "the Security Council resolutions will be enforced, and the just demand of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable."