Wonkie Impressions From The First Debate

Wherein I sonorously supplant the colossal bloggers

I don’t blog. I write for publication. But the bloggers were so lame in the hours after the presidential debate that I thought, to use one of John Kerry’s weathered but tiresome Kennedy clichés, “We (meaning I) can do better.”

HOME ISSUES: Kerry and President Bush were opposed on two issues with peculiar relevance where I live (Santa Fe): Bunker busters and North Korea.

Kerry said, without equivocation, that he would stop the Bush program to develop “and use” (Kerry) a new kind of tactical nuclear weapon. Macho Bush did not respond, not even on the accusation that he would use the thing.

Probably already being computer-tested at Los Alamos, the theory of this bomb is that you can contain a nuke by augering it in.

The casing would penetrate the ground, and you would have something like an small underground shot in Nevada, melting the evil dictator’s underground fortress. The politicians who champion this idea do not seem to understand that nuclear explosives exceed conventional explosives by a factor of about 1 million. A mistake could be very costly.

Former President Clinton first raised this issue in an interview with Tim Russert. So maybe the Clinton advisors to Kerry are at last doing their political imagery job. Nobody will copy the mistake, if it was a mistake, of LBJ’s famed “daisy girl” commercial against Barry Goldwater, but bunker busters are scary, scary. The difference between this program and the cold war programs is that the bunker buster is designed to be USED.

Regarding North Korea’s nuclear armament, a strange difference emerged over the wonkie problem of multilateral (Bush) versus bilateral (Kerry) negotiations.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who talks to Kerry and Colin Powell, immediately came to mind. The Bush administration (except Powell) was in such an axis-of-evil swagger that Dear Leader’s people had no one to talk to in his (Kim-Jong II’s) perverse move to get a little global respect. So they came to Santa Fe and talked to Richardson in what a bright AP writer christened “chili diplomacy.” The results were never disclosed.

But, look. Richardson is a personification of diplomatic skill in the New World order. He is bilingual and intelligent and third-worldly, but he also used to do amateur boxing. He was Clinton’s backdoor negotiator, ambassador without portfolio, and he was quite successful in getting captured pilots returned from bad places like Iraq and North Korea. So Kim sent his guys to Santa Fe.

All that came to mind when Kerry advocated negotiation mano a mano between America and North Korea to get Kim to stand down. I could see him calling in Richardson to get the job done with finesse and intelligence. Bush, uncharacteristically (because he abhors deferring to the global community) pushed for negotiations involving other Asian nations, particularly China, which he said could effectively pressure its nuclear neighbor. The president surprised me with his bow to the PRC, acknowledging with a tone of acceptance that China has a great deal of power in that part of the world. A new Nixonian policy on the nation that Bush once said was always in U.S. nuclear sights?
What brought out both these issues, bunker busters and North Korea, was Jim Leher’s question: what is the primary threat to world security? Kerry answered without hesitation, “nuclear proliferation,” and Bush seemed to copy, except that the president inserted a qualifier – namely, proliferation of nuclear weapons “in the hands of terrorists.” Kerry did not pick up on this, probably because of the spin problems it entails. But it occurred to me that somebody ought to ask the followup question: how do you define a terrorist nation?

PRESIDENTIALITYNESS: The bloggers I viewed didn’t go into boring matters with words like multilateral or proliferation. One even confessed that he turned off the sound at first to get a better idea of the two candidates. Others blogged in clichés that could have been written before the debate: Bush’s “smirk,” his bearing like a 2nd grade school teacher frustrated by pupils who did not divine him, etc.

The cutaways kept showing Kerry nodding knowingly and writing things down with a really big pen. Bush by contrast gripped the podium and listened and watched. My advice to Kerry: don’t take notes, man! You’re not a reporter, you’re supposed to be presidential.

Also, Kerry, get a writer. “We can do better” is a dead slogan more appropriate for a mayor’s race in Cleveland. The attempted Kerry catch phrase, “more of the same,” didn’t work because he did not punch, did not dramatize, its source, the national intelligence estimate on Iraq.

Pundit opinion to the contrary, Kerry is not good with words. He lapses into worn rhetoric. Because of his senatorial bearing, he also likes to use sonorous phrases like “colossal,” as in colossal mistake in judgment in Iraq (sounds strong, but what exactly was the mistake?). And they get him into trouble because he goes for the sound rather than the meaning.

Bush wins on language because he talks Texan. At least when he reads the script right. His taunt about Kerry sending a “mixed message” to our enemies (scary) was a contemporary cliché, even if he slipped once and started to say “Mexed missage.”

The president kept telling the world what hard work it is to make commander-in-chief decisions and to talk, for example, to a war widow. I don’t know what his many Freudian consultants had in mind by repetition of hard. But I thought, if the job is so daunting and difficult, maybe Bush needs a new one.