Why Kerry didn’t really win Thursday’s debate

From where I was sitting in the Convocation Center last Thursday, it appeared the two candidates in the presidential debate were evenly matched. Each candidate had his own strengths as well as his weaknesses. It seems that I’m not the only one who thought that at the time, as the C-SPAN microphone indicated when it overheard senior Kerry advisor Joe Lockhart say to the person next to him that the debate was a draw.

As these things tend to go, the opinion of the people in the hall differed from the people who watched the debate on TV. To them it appeared that Kerry won. While I won’t deny that Kerry is a superb orator, he failed to accomplish the mission he needed to accomplish.

There’s no denying that President Bush didn’t look his best. Many times he looked visibly annoyed and appeared to be on the defensive, completely unfamiliar debating ground for him having so often been the challenger in the past. He even appeared to be shorter than normal because he was leaning forward on the podium. Placed next to Kerry’s natural patrician demeanor, these things presented the President in a less than optimum light.

I thought Bush’s delivery, however, was very good overall. Yes, Kerry’s delivery was certainly better. When it comes right down to it, Kerry is a good orator. Kerry is also a very skilled orator. Unfortunately, Kerry is not a great orator, and at this all-important debate, a great orator was what he needed to be.

Nobody is going to sit here, especially me, and tell you that Bush is a great public speaker because he just isn’t. He’s certainly better than he used to be, but still not great. No one expected that he would be great, and it wasn’t necessary for him to be. All he had to do was be steady and stick to his message, something he accomplished without difficulty. It wasn’t Oscar-worthy, but it got the job done. The bottom line was that Kerry needed to hit a homerun out of the park, and while he played a very good game and scored some good runs, in the end he failed to do this.

The best post-debate analogy I heard was in football parlance: “All Bush had to do was run out the clock.” While the clock isn’t out yet, Kerry missed the touchdown. And the game is almost over.

Scott Wacholtz can be contacted at s.wacholtz@umiami.edu.