Thursday, October 14, 2004

‘The Final Cut’

As I’ve mentioned before the presidential debates are nothing more than a series of expectations, appearances and spin. My opinion about this is firmer than ever after this year’s three presidential debates.

I think most media mutts, like me, were watching the debates and looking for that one moment, frozen in time, that would swing the election one way or the other. The one, single and decisive moment we were expecting never came.

As we assess how each of the candidates performed – after the fact – I think that, perhaps, we DID see a moment and missed it. We missed it because we were all expecting the one gaffe, misspoken word or zinger phrase that we’ve seen in previous debates.

The “moment” was not what we all expected.

That’s not to say that the debates were not decisive in this campaign. I think they may have been.

There are several factors I’ve noticed, concerning the debates, and how these factors have and will affect the election’s outcome…

Firstly, there was the “expectations” game:

Do you recall how Kerry headed into the first debate on the ropes, far behind in the polls and one body blow from being blown out by the Bush team?

Whatever your level of support for Bush I don’t think anybody believes things are the same way after three debates. The polls have tightened up considerably.

Everybody expected that Bush would dispose of Kerry in the first debate on foreign policy. It obviously didn’t happen, as it was Bush who blew the first debate with his demeanor, hesitation and scowling.

This was the only major mistake by either candidate in all three debates. Bush allowed Kerry back into the game because you never get a 2nd chance to make a first impression.

Secondly, there was the “appearance” game:

Long before John Kerry showed up at the debates Bush had been selling, via commercials and rhetoric, Kerry’s “wishy-washiness,” “flip-flopping” and “indecisiveness.” For six-months the Bush team hammered away at the senator’s stance and flip-flopping on the issues. The public bought the Bush vision of Kerry and the polls reflected this.

But, unfortunately for Bush, the “left-wing, flip-flopping, three-eyed, wish-washy car salesman from Massachusetts” was not the person who showed up at the first debate.

Rather, Kerry “appeared” to be decisive, sure of himself and steady, next to the president who “appeared” to be “out of touch,” “indecisive” and “unsure” of himself.

It was at this debate that millions of people saw John Kerry and saw the two candidates side-by-side for the very first time. Along with what they were told to “expect” and what “appeared” on their TVs is our “moment frozen in time.” It is these two factors, I believe, that will turn out to be the deciding ones of the campaign.

Thirdly, there is the “spin” game:

As we all waited for the “gotcha” moment of the campaign, during the 2nd and 3rd debates, the strangest thing happened: The moment never came.

Rather, Bush held his own, somewhat, in the 2nd debate and he did just fine last night at the 3rd. The problem for Bush is that Kerry did just fine too. There were no more points earned by either candidate. BOTH campaigns can use these debates to solidify their base.

It is these factors that swing the debate series slightly to Kerry. And it just may be enough to swing the election to him as well.


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