Friday, October 08, 2004

No two people ever sees the same debate

It's strange watching the American reaction to the second US presidential debate. If my reaction to the first debate tallied with the pundit bloggers (a decisive win to Kerry, acknowledged (albeit tacitly) even by National Review Online), my reaction to the second seems way off the curve. Rather than the CNN instant poll sample, who scored it 47 percent Kerry-45 percent Bush, my own reaction was that I had just witnessed Kerry absolutely massacre Bush.

Strangely, even the partisan liberal pundits don't score it that way. But for mine, the evidence of Bush losing it just lept out; Bush's absolutely bizarre shouting at the moderator, demanding to be allowed to respond when the moderator was, in fact, trying to offer Bush a chance to respond. Bush's painfully incoherent response on stem-cell research, declaring his conviction creating a stem cell means destroying a human life, and then immediately pointing to the fact that he's the first president ever to provide funding for stem-cell research. Bush could only ramble as the blatant inconsistency of these two talking points dawned on him. It took until the rebuttal before he remembered what the "nuanced", National Review approved straddling position actually was. When Bush can't even remember his own sophistry, it's a sign of a candidate in trouble.

The unwittingly revealing moment of the night was when Bush was asked who he'd nominate to the Supreme Court should a justice retire. His answer was that he wasn't telling, and didn't want to nominate someone because he wanted all the judges to vote for him. Was I the only one who found this painfully redolent of Bush versus Gore? And shocked by the vulgarity of this virtual admission that what Bush was after was a partisan judge of the type who could expect reward if only that judge "votes for him?"

His strangely chosen example of the Dredd Scott case only reinforced the point. Leaving aside the complexities of whether the Dred Scott decision truly was "judicial activism" (slavery was, after all, a practice specifically provided for by the US constitution at the time) the bench that delivered the Dredd Scott case was a partisan court controlled by southern Democrats! In fact, at that time, every single justice on the bench of the Supreme Court was a politically connected southerner, to a man devoted to preventing the legal foundation for slavery from being eroded. So the moral of Dred Scott must surely be "beware of ultraconservative political appointees to the bench."