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Eve of the Debate
Wednesday, 2004 September 29 - 11:14 pm
Well, here it is, one night before the big Presidential debate. I have some advice for Kerry (just as thousands of other people do).

Every Democratic pundit in the country is cringing at the prospect of Kerry "pulling an Al Gore" in tomorrow's debate: sounding too snooty and intellectual, not controlling the message, and losing to a C student. So John, here's my advice to you.

First: in the very beginning, attack. Suck the life out of Bush's arguments. You know what he's going to say, so pre-empt him.

My opening statement would be this: "In this debate, President Bush will try to distract you with talk about terrorism, even when you ask him a question about a completely unrelated topic. He will insult our intelligence by trying to reduce every important issue to a three-word sound bite or some clever quip. He will show his hypocrisy by calling me indecisive, when he himself flip-flops on recommendations from the 9/11 commission, flip-flops on using the U.S. military for nation-building, flip-flops on foreign trade issues like steel tariffs, flip-flops on the rights of states to make decisions on gay marriage, and on and on. He will try to exploit the horrors of 9/11 to his own political advantage, and try to convince you that just because he happened to be reading 'My Pet Goat' during the worst tragedy in our nation's history, that he's best qualified to be President. He will criticize my economic plan even as he himself is proposing $3 trillion in new government programs with no way to pay for them. He will try to convince you that everything is fine in Iraq, that everything is fine with the economy, that everything is fine with our health care system, and that he has never made a single mistake while in office, because he thinks that it's right to shift the blame to everyone else. President Bush thinks the American people are dumb enough to fall for that; I'm out to prove him wrong."

Second: in the heart of your debate, make sure you grab the "leadership" mantle, because all those attack ads have really hurt you. Swing voters say that they dislike Bush, but don't trust your leadership. So say this: "You are not just voting for the leader of the United States; you are voting for the leader of the free world. You need to decide who can best represent this country, who will be more trustworthy, and who will be more respected by our friends and allies around the world. Terrorists already are in fear of our might; we do not want our allies to be in fear of our recklessness. Leadership is more than just tough talk and a cowboy attitude; it is the ability to convince people that we are in the right, and clearly, the Bush administration has failed in that regard."

Third: defuse all the unspoken criticisms by owning up to them, and turning them around. "You know, I'm sure some people think I talk too much. Some people think I'm too intellectual. I'm that guy that no one invited to their parties. I accept that. But remember this: you're voting for President. You're not voting for the guy most able to sneak booze into a dorm room; you're not voting for the fraternity hot-dog eating champion; you're not voting for king of the senior prom. You're voting to decide who is smart enough to understand that complex issues require complex thinking. You're voting to decide who will think with his brain instead of his Tomahawk missile."

Fourth: argue each point once and stop. If you keep talking about something, people will lose interest in what you're saying, and think you're being too defensive about it. Think of this more like a jury trial than a college debate: you don't need to win on facts, you only need to win on perception.

Fifth: don't take the bait that George will dangle. He will call you names and tell outright lies, to put you on the defensive. Instead of responding directly to each attack, say this: "I believe the American people are smart enough to know that just because President Bush says something, doesn't make it true. His record on Iraq and WMDs should be enough to tell you that. If you have an honest disagreement with something that I've said or done, I respect that; but, if you disagree with something President Bush falsely claims that I've said or done, then I'd like the chance to have you hear the truth. I'd like you to listen to what my position on Iraq is, what my economic plan is, and my vision for a safer America. All I want is for you to listen to the facts, instead of the Republican party's blatantly misleading attack ads."

Finally: relax. You have the luxury of being in the right on most of the issues. It won't take much to win on issues; you only need to concentrate on winning on style, and that will happen if you get your message out calmly and smoothly. You don't want to seem flustered at any point, and you don't want to have it seem that Bush's arguments have any weight with you. Don't talk to him, talk to the camera, and stick to your message.

I'll be keeping score for Kerry on how closely he follows this advice. I'll be keeping general score for both candidates on each question, based on four things:

- Did the candidate answer the question that was posed to him?
- Did the candidate provide factually correct information?
- Did the candidate speak in a credible and convincing manner?
- Did the candidate answer in a way that would resonate with viewers?

My prediction is that Kerry will win on the first two questions, and that Bush will win on the last two... unless Kerry follows my advice! Stay tuned for the results tomorrow.
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Posted by Ken in: politics


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