If John Kerry's weakness is foreign policy, George Bush has a lot to worry about come November. Kerry, who has been widely criticized as the weaker of the two on foreign policy, decisively showed in last night's debate that he can measure up to - and significantly surpass - the president.
While President Bush looked unprepared and flustered, Senator Kerry was poised and articulate.
Bush was clearly caught off-guard by the intensity of the debate and stumbled through anything not prepared for him in advance. He interjected several times, only to realize he didn't have anything to say. Kerry, on the other hand, came prepared to defend his record and attack the president's, and his speech was consistently measured and reasoned.
It would be easy to assume the difference between the two candidates was merely their ability to debate - something for which Bush has never been well-known.
However, the differences run far deeper than speaking ability.
Bush sounded like a broken record, insisting repetitively - to the point of comedy - that John Kerry was "inconsistent" for saying that the war in Iraq was "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time." His message was, effectively, that we can't afford to look weak to our enemies by changing our strategy half-way through the war.
Kerry countered - correctly - that there was nothing "inconsistent" about wanting to change strategy in the middle of a war. The war has been demonstrably mismanaged until this point, so an upheaval in how it's run is not only logical, but necessary.
The contrast between the two treatments of war strategy made President Bush appear dogmatic and stubborn, as someone who wasn't willing to confront the realities of war with flexibility, resilience or logic.
Maybe it's true that we don't want a president who believes that the war in Iraq was the "wrong war." But do we really want a president who believes it was the right war, handled in the correct way, despite what reality counsels?
Kerry also scored points for making it clear that his combat experience would make him a strong commander-in-chief. He spoke of intimately understanding what American troops were experiencing in Iraq, making sure that they weren't giving their lives unnecessarily and not confusing "the war with the warrior" - an effort to counter the charge made by many of Bush's advisers that Kerry doesn't support the men and women fighting in Iraq.
Bush, on the other hand, claimed that he understood the trauma of war because he "(sees) it on TV." That may be true, but it's hardly an argument to present to someone with three Purple Hearts. You don't hire a major-league baseball coach because he's watched a lot of games on TV. You hire him because he knows what it's like to - and how to - play.
Kerry claimed several times that Bush's message for 2004 was "more of the same." Rather than refuting that depiction, Bush's time was spent reinforcing it. His primary tactic seemed to be to claim that switching presidents would be inconsistent and would appear weak.
That should leave many Americans wondering: Is that really a reason to re-elect a president? If his policies aren't working, why should we stick with him? To appear consistently misguided?
John Kerry presented a clear proposal to the country last night: "Vote for me, and I'll win the war in Iraq swiftly, get your children home and repair our relationship with the international community."
Bush's message? "Vote for me for president because I know what's right for the country. And I know what's right for the country, because I'm president."
Opinions are determined by the Wildcat opinions board and written by one of its members. They are Brett Fera, Caitlin Hall, Susan Bonicillo, Andrea Kelly and Nate Buchick.